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Only One New Charter School Gets Go-Ahead, While Two Others Must Close

While renewing 14 charters for existing schools, state officials also reject closely watched plans to turn two Camden public schools into charters

Hespe
Credit: Amanda Brown
State Education Commissioner David Hespe

The Christie administration has approved just one new charter school in its latest application cycle, while rejecting two applications to convert existing Camden district schools to charters.

Meanwhile, it also approved the renewal of 14 charter schools now operating, and announced two others will be closing.

The state Department of Education released the information late Friday, and said it would provide more information in the coming days.

But the dearth of new approvals and the rejection of the two proposed conversions were notable in themselves, given the debate over the administration’s charter school policy and the ongoing discussion in the Legislature over the state’s charter application process.

The one newly-approved school was the Hudson Arts and Science Charter High School, serving Jersey City and Kearny. The plan is for it to open in 2016; it will require one final approval before the opening.

The two proposed conversions had been more closely watched, as they were the first existing public schools in the state to seek charter school status. The fact that they were both in the Camden school district, newly placed under state control, made it even more interesting.

But state officials said in the letters to the schools’ leaders that they did not meet the state’s standards. The two schools were Camden Arts and MetEast High School, both small specialty schools in the district.

“The application did not provide sufficient evidence that it could effectively implement an art based program in a charter school,” wrote state Education Commissioner David Hespe in the rejection letter to Camden Arts.

“The application was poorly written and did not demonstrate the founders have the organizational capacity to convert from a functioning public school to charter status.”

Hespe said in the letter to MetEast that it had not shown it could provide the promised program.

“The proposed program is heavily reliant on developing community partnerships and creating a comprehensive internship program for students,” Hespe wrote. “There was little evidence in the application that the founders have the support of the community to implement this program that is vital to the educational program.”

The two schools that the state said will close at the end of this school year are Central Jersey Arts Charter in Plainfield and Galloway County Charter in Atlantic County. Both had been on probation for several years, and state officials said in letters that required improvements had not been achieved.

At the 15-year-old Galloway County Charter, Hespe said academic performance continued to lag, and that site visits confirmed those findings.

“Based on this evaluation, it is been determined that the school is not providing a high-quality education to its students,” Hespe wrote.

The evaluation of the Plainfield charter school, in its ninth year, was even more damning. Hespe, in his letter to the school, said its state test scores remained “dismal,” with few signs of positive growth. Just 32 percent of its students were found proficient in language arts in the state’s tests last year, and just 58 percent were proficient in math.

In addition, he said there were deficiencies in the Plainfield school’s fiscal controls and in the general operations of the school as seen in site visits.

“In summary, there is a lack of evidence that the school is providing students with a quality education or that it has the capacity to dramatically improve student achievement in the future,” Hespe wrote.

All schools not approved or renewed by the department have the opportunity to appeal the decisions, although rarely – if ever -- are those decisions overturned.

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