The Christie administration quietly told two charter schools over the last month that they must close, one of them among the most established in Newark and the other a brand-new school in Camden.
The first to be signed by acting commissioner David Hespe, the decisions were not publicly announced, but came in letters to each of the schools as they were finishing up the year. The schools must close by the end of June.
In both cases, the shutdown orders were largely due to student test scores below those in the host district, even if for just one year, and the lack of necessary steps to improve them, according to the letters sent by Hespe.
For the Greater Newark Charter School, opened in 2000 and in its 14th year, it may not have been wholly unexpected as the school had been on probation and a decision on its charter’s five-year renewal was delayed since March.
The leader of the City Invincible Charter School in Camden said it came as more of a surprise, as the school was only in its second year.
The elementary school had also been on probation, and John Frangipani, its principal, acknowledged the school had a difficult first year with its 275 students posting some of the lowest achievement levels in the state.
Just 11 percent of students passed in language arts and 23 percent in math, both below the Camden school district.
But Frangipani said new programs and interventions in the second year had yielded results in benchmark assessments aligned with the state’s annual tests, and he was confident there would be significant progress as the students started taking the NJASK this month.
“I think there would be have been real growth,” he said yesterday, as the school considered whether to appeal. “Too bad we’ll never see those scores if the school isn’t here.”
Hespe in his letter to the school’s board acknowledged some changes had been made, but said they had not yielded the required results.
“The school’s administration failed to make the necessary changes to dramatically improve student learning and outcomes at the school,” Hespe wrote in the May 1 letter.
In an interview last night, Frangipani said he knew the odds were long in the city, where larger charter organizations are moving in.
The KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Mastery networks each have at least preliminary approval to open up to five schools in Camden over the coming years under the Urban Hope Act.
Frangipani said Uncommon had even called looking for possible recruits before the school was even told it was closed.
“We’re on the outside looking in, I get that,” he said. “We’re a small operation, and the state wants to bring in the larger ones with the track records. But at least give us a fair shot to prove ourselves.”
Frangipani said the school was considering an appeal, but he knew it would difficult to win in a state where the courts have granted commissioners wide discretion on charter decisions.
Efforts to reach the leaders of the Greater Newark Charter School last night were unsuccessful.