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SUNY makes rare move to close a Brooklyn charter school

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
SUNY Charter School Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker, SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, and general counsel Ralph Rossi in 2014.

A Brooklyn charter school started by an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio could become the first city charter school to be shut down in several years.

The SUNY Charter School Institute recommended Tuesday that New Hope Academy Charter School close at the end of this school year, citing the school’s academic struggles, high staff turnover, and a board unable to contain the school’s troubles. The closure — which must still be approved by SUNY trustees — would be a rarity for the city’s charter-school sector.

New Hope Academy, which serves about 380 elementary school students in East Flatbush, was founded in 2010 by Bishop Orlando Findlayter of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn. (Findlayter made headlines last year after the mayor called a police official to ask about Findlayter’s arrest after he was stopped for driving with a suspended license.)

SUNY’s report notes that the school has been in violation of federal law by not having a functioning program for English language learners. Turnover at the school has been high, with 36 teachers leaving between the 2012-13 school year and fall 2014, and two principals also leaving that fall, according to the report. And though the school outperformed the district on state tests in 2011-12, it has lagged since then.

Older reports indicate the school’s problems stretch back to the spring of its first year, when SUNY reviewers wrote that “quality instruction is not evident.”

But charter schools, which must have their charters renewed after five years in order to stay open, rarely face closure so quickly — even when they aren’t top scorers. Often, struggling charter schools facing their first renewal deadline earn a short-term renewal of three or fewer years. (The city, which also directly oversees some charter schools, recently came under pressure from state officials to reduce the amount of time it gave struggling charter schools to improve and shortened some renewals to just 18 months.)

The SUNY Institute’s report says the school’s problems were too wide-ranging to justify even a short-term renewal. New Hope officials will have the chance to convince SUNY trustees otherwise on Feb. 19 before they decide on the school’s closure.

In a lengthy statement sent to Chalkbeat by a spokesman on behalf of the school’s principal and board, New Hope officials said the SUNY Institute had gotten their school wrong. They noted that the school had not been put on probation or cited for fiscal concerns, that is has devoted parent volunteers and a strong focus on the arts, and is a place “where children are learning and feel nurtured and are growing — in many ways that are not measured by test scores.” The school also did better than other schools with similar populations on the state English test in two of the last three years. 

“We admit our academics aren’t yet where we want them to be at this moment. But we believe in our team and our plan and we hope the SUNY Trustees will give us a second chance,” they wrote. 

If New Hope does survive, it would join a number of city charter schools that have managed to escape closure in recent years. Chancellor Carmen Fariña intervened early last year to offer Fahari Academy Charter School, a school authorized by the city, one more year to show improvements. The troubled UFT Charter School earned a last-minute, two-year lifeline in 2013, and Peninsula Preparatory Academy and Williamsburg Charter High School both survived closure attempts in 2012. The SUNY-authorized Harlem Day Charter School was restructured and taken over by the Democracy Prep network in 2011.

The city did close East New York Preparatory in 2010 and Ross Global Academy in 2011.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”