closing time

City will shutter Fahari, Ethical Community charter schools, Fariña’s first closures

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Fahari Academy Charter School, above, will close in June.

The city will close the long-struggling Fahari Academy Charter School and The Ethical Community Charter School at the end of this year, officials said Thursday. They will be the first schools closed by the de Blasio administration.

The city was the authorizer of both charter schools, which have been at risk of closure in the past. And while the city recently appealed to the Board of Regents to be allowed to spend more time helping struggling charter schools before closing them, Thursday’s decision indicates that there is a limit to the city’s willingness to help schools that have foundered for years.

“I’ve been clear that closing schools is a last resort, however, if a school is not demonstrating progress, then all options are on the table,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “These two schools were given time to show student progress, and they failed to do so. I will not let failure continue.”

The Fahari decision represents a reversal for Fariña and the city’s charter school office, which saved the school from closure only eight months ago because city officials said they saw signs of improvement. After visiting this year, however, they concluded that underlying problems that have dogged the school for years, such as weak instruction and leadership, had not been addressed.

In its lengthy statement announcing its decision, the department cited the schools’ low proficiency rates on state tests, as well as high teacher turnover and high suspension rates. A spokeswoman added that Fahari met just two of seven of the academic goals that were negotiated before last June’s one-year renewal.

Despite the schools’ track records, the decisions are awkward ones for the city, which has said that struggling district schools should be given resources and time to improve and criticized the Bloomberg administration’s reliance on school closures as a mechanism for improving schools. But the city also acts as the authorizer to 70 charter schools, which operate with the explicit bargain to succeed or be closed.

State officials expressed doubts about the city’s ability to act as an authorizer because of de Blasio administration’s reluctance in closing low-performing district schools. But “it’s finally beginning to understand what being an authorizer is and how that’s not the same as being a district administrator,” a source familiar with the decision said.

Both Fahari and Ethical Community have struggled for years, and had already been put on a short leash.

Fahari was put on a one-year probation in 2012, just three years after opening. The school’s founding principal was replaced after hoards of students and staff fled, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Bloomberg administration from recommending its closure a year later.

The school’s arrow seemed to be pointing up last November, when it was deemed “good” or “excellent” at showing academic progress in all four categories, according to the city’s new school-evaluation tool. Still, just 11 percent of students were proficient in English, below the district average, and 15 percent were proficient in math, the same as the district.

Fahari did not immediately comment on the city’s decision.

Recent results looked worse for The Ethical Community Charter School, where only half of teachers said order was maintained and proficiency rates on state tests were less than half of its district averages. Ethical Community had already received one chance to improve — a two-year renewal in 2013.

Fahari currently enrolls 390 students in fifth through eighth grades, and Ethical Community enrolls 260 students in kindergarten through fifth. All of the students who aren’t going on to high school or middle school, respectively, will have to find seats in other schools next year.

The schools join a growing list of charter schools set to close in June. The UFT Charter School’s elementary and middle school grades, which serve more than 600 students, will close then, as will Innovate Manhattan Charter School. New Hope Academy, which has fought its closure recommendation, is likely to close as well.

“When a charter school doesn’t meet its goals of improving student achievement, then the appropriate response is closure, especially where a school has been given time to show improvement,” New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said in a statement.

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.”