Pulling the charter and placing the students
As charter schools have gained surer footing in North Carolina, it’s been interesting to watch their evolution. In this region, we have both outstanding charter schools and traditional public schools, as well as schools in both categories that are struggling.
In Carrboro, PACE Academy has been one of the schools that has struggled, financially and academically. The Charter School Advisory Board found several issues with the school, citing patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance and concerns about financial sustainability.
Because of those concerns, the State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday not to renew the school’s charter, based on the unanimous recommendation of the advisory board. It’s one of six schools to have lost its charter since charters began operating in the state in 1997. If the school does not appeal, it will close its doors in June, and we believe, based on the findings, that would be the best course of action.
If PACE closes, that would mean that this fall other schools will have to absorb its students, many of whom are classified as exceptional children (students with disabilities).
Among PACE’s defenders in keeping its charter was the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School System, which sent a letter to the state supporting the charter.
It’s curious that arguably the best school system in the state would support a charter school with which the state has repeatedly found issues.
Perhaps, part of it is monetary. Jeff Nash, spokesman for CHCCS, noted that if even 50 of PACE’s students enroll in a CHCCS high school, that would be the equivalent of two additional classrooms for students. What Nash didn’t say, but members of the Durham school board have, is that it is impossible to budget for an unknown number of students.
An even more jaded perspective, though, is that the school system might not want the students enrolled at PACE. CHCCS sets the bar for the state on test scores, but exceptional children often do not test as well as some of their peers.
Some of the students also face behavioral issues or other challenges. In its report to the State Board of Education, the Charter School Advisory Board found that 89 students were present on the day of its visit, 43 were absent, 11 were in court and 26 were coming in later in the day, so almost half the student body was out for at least part of the school day.
That’s a challenge that any school would find difficult to handle. But in a culture where we profess to want what is best for our children and to prize education, a qualified educational institution needs to step up to the plate for these kids.