SUNY makes rare move to close a Brooklyn charter school

A Brooklyn charter school started by an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio could become the first city charter school to be shut down in several years.

The SUNY Charter School Institute recommended Tuesday that New Hope Academy Charter School close at the end of this school year, citing the school’s academic struggles, high staff turnover, and a board unable to contain the school’s troubles. The closure — which must still be approved by SUNY trustees — would be a rarity for the city’s charter-school sector.

New Hope Academy, which serves about 380 elementary school students in East Flatbush, was founded in 2010 by Bishop Orlando Findlayter of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn. (Findlayter made headlines last year after the mayor called a police official to ask about Findlayter’s arrest after he was stopped for driving with a suspended license.)

SUNY’s report notes that the school has been in violation of federal law by not having a functioning program for English language learners. Turnover at the school has been high, with 36 teachers leaving between the 2012-13 school year and fall 2014, and two principals also leaving that fall, according to the report. And though the school outperformed the district on state tests in 2011-12, it has lagged since then.

Older reports indicate the school’s problems stretch back to the spring of its first year, when SUNY reviewers wrote that “quality instruction is not evident.”

But charter schools, which must have their charters renewed after five years in order to stay open, rarely face closure so quickly — even when they aren’t top scorers. Often, struggling charter schools facing their first renewal deadline earn a short-term renewal of three or fewer years. (The city, which also directly oversees some charter schools, recently came under pressure from state officials to reduce the amount of time it gave struggling charter schools to improve and shortened some renewals to just 18 months.)

The SUNY Institute’s report says the school’s problems were too wide-ranging to justify even a short-term renewal. New Hope officials will have the chance to convince SUNY trustees otherwise on Feb. 19 before they decide on the school’s closure.

In a lengthy statement sent to Chalkbeat by a spokesman on behalf of the school’s principal and board, New Hope officials said the SUNY Institute had gotten their school wrong. They noted that the school had not been put on probation or cited for fiscal concerns, that is has devoted parent volunteers and a strong focus on the arts, and is a place “where children are learning and feel nurtured and are growing — in many ways that are not measured by test scores.” The school also did better than other schools with similar populations on the state English test in two of the last three years. 

“We admit our academics aren’t yet where we want them to be at this moment. But we believe in our team and our plan and we hope the SUNY Trustees will give us a second chance,” they wrote. 

If New Hope does survive, it would join a number of city charter schools that have managed to escape closure in recent years. Chancellor Carmen Fariña intervened early last year to offer Fahari Academy Charter School, a school authorized by the city, one more year to show improvements. The troubled UFT Charter School earned a last-minute, two-year lifeline in 2013, and Peninsula Preparatory Academy and Williamsburg Charter High School both survived closure attempts in 2012. The SUNY-authorized Harlem Day Charter School was restructured and taken over by the Democracy Prep network in 2011.

The city did close East New York Preparatory in 2010 and Ross Global Academy in 2011.