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Two Charlotte Charters To Close; Revised Charter Report Released

John D. Simmons
Charlotte Observer
Kennedy Charter recently moved to the campus of Johnson C. Smith University.

Crossroads and Kennedy charter schools in Charlotte will close at the end of this school year. The State Board of Education made that decision Thursday. The board also approved a revised annual report on charters after the Lieutenant Governor deemed it too negative last month. And board members hired a new director to oversee the office of charter schools.

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey.

RUMSEY: First, Lisa, why did the board decide to close Kennedy and Crossroads? 

WORF: A big part of it is performance. Both schools have been open about 15 years. They take some of the most struggling students. Crossroads is a high school for those kids who are at-risk of dropping out. Kennedy once operated as a part of program that helped kids in foster care and with mental health issues. The school is now open to anyone. Both schools had seen some growth in test scores, but not consistently. Last year, the scores dipped. Only about 19 percent of students at both schools were deemed to be on grade-level. There were also concerns about the schools’ finances and, for Crossroads, documentation about spending. 

RUMSEY: Did the state board seem to struggle with these decisions?

WORF: There wasn’t much discussion about Crossroads. But a few board members said they felt conflicted about Kennedy. Three years ago, the board told them they had to improve. At the time, Kennedy leaders noted their pending move to the campus of Johnson C. Smith where it’s now located. They expected test scores to improve. But last year, scores dropped significantly. Kennedy leaders say the disruption of that move is partly to blame. The head of the advisory group that vets charters made his case to the board last month for not renewing the school’s charter. That’s Alex Quigley. He got a lot of questions then and this was his response. 

QUIGLEY: This is something we don’t take lightly and is a very serious matter. I’ll say as a former leader of a school that was low-performing many years ago, it probably should’ve been shut down. And it made a pretty dramatic turnaround, but that was year after year you saw continued growth. 

WORF: State board member Buddy Collins said Thursday he’d honor the advisory group’s recommendation to close Kennedy. Still, he noted there are plenty of traditional public schools that have similar students and test scores just as low.  

RUMSEY: Lisa, with these closings how many students will be looking for a new school next year?

WORF: Kennedy now has about 340 students and Crossroads about 160. 

RUMSEY: The board approved also this revised annual charter schools report today.  How did that one go over?

WORF: They approved it without any discussion, so it seems to have gone over well. 

Last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest criticized the first version, saying it was misleading and didn’t highlight the successes of charters. This week Forest said in a statement the report “presents a much more fair picture of the status of North Carolina schools.”

RUMSEY: So how did the report change?

WORF: It now includes information on wait lists for charters. It also includes a section highlighting charters that have won awards and those with high populations of poor kids that have made big gains in test scores. A section that points out charter schools have a lower proportion of students from low-income families acknowledges that data isn’t reliable because it’s based on families reporting their own status. And here’s another example of how it changed: The original report notes most of the money to charter schools is diverted from state funds going to traditional public schools. This new version makes the point that’s not always the case. The money for those students leaving private and homeschools comes from expansion funds set aside to pay for growth in schools. 

RUMSEY: So, Lisa, the state has a new director of charter schools.

WORF: Yes, David Machado will oversee the state’s department of charter schools.  He’s currently the head of Lincoln Charter School in Lincoln County. He’ll takeover July 1st. The former director left to run one of the state’s two online charter schools.