Two Brooklyn charter schools that were likely to be turned down for renewal will be shuttered at the end of this school year, after their board voted Thursday night not to seek another term.
The two elementary schools, Citizens of the World Williamsburg and Citizens of the World Crown Heights, are part of a California-based network that got off to a rocky start in New York City in 2013 and has struggled to show signs of academic promise.
It is rare, but not unheard of, for New York’s charter schools to close schools for poor performance. The State University of New York, which oversees 160 schools in New York and authorized Citizens of the World, has seen six schools shuttered since 2004. In some instances, SUNY sends preliminary notice that the school’s chances of renewal are slim, as they did with Citizens of the World, and the schools chose to accept the outcome rather than fight SUNY.
“This is one of the most wrenching decisions that any board will ever need to make,” said Erin Corbett, the interim executive director of Citizens of the World Charter Schools New York, in an emailed statement. “This decision is very painful for all of us and even more painful for the families we serve. We love these schools and all that they stand for.” (These are the only two schools run by Citizens of the World in New York City.)
Charter schools buy into an “autonomy for accountability” bargain where they receive freedom from some district rules, and in exchange, agree to hit academic benchmarks. If they fail to show enough progress, the schools risk closure.
In the end, the board decided the schools’ failure to improve their scores gave them a small chance of securing renewal and chose to focus its energy instead on helping families and teachers find new placements for next year, Corbett said.
Both schools — which are located on Leonard Street in Williamsburg and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights — serve grades kindergarten through fifth grade. The network’s website says the curriculum includes learning through projects and “personalized learning,” or instruction specific to each particular students’ understanding.
Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said that while the schools were underperforming, she appreciated the board’s choice to take a responsible route and not fight SUNY’s recommendation for non-renewal.
“While the school did not achieve the promise that they offered in their application,” Miller-Carello said, the charter school’s board “was very honest with themselves and us about both schools’ inability to fulfill the things that they agreed to when they got their charter.”
The network received a cold welcome in New York City, with a group of parents filing a lawsuit opposing the schools by claiming that there was not enough community support for them. The schools also came under fire for an enrollment strategy that targeted affluent families.
Since then, the schools have struggled with leadership turnover at their regional office and within the schools themselves, said Miller Carello. They are also some of the lowest performing schools authorized by SUNY, she added.
At each school, more than 85 percent of students come from homes considered in poverty and the vast majority of students are either black or Hispanic. Roughly one in five students passed the math or English state test last year. At the school in Crown Heights, only 12 percent of students passed math. Citywide, about 41 percent of students passed English and 37.8 passed math. (Roughly 40 percent of students statewide passed both the math and English tests.)
They also fall far below the overall charter school average in New York City. Among charter school students citywide, 52 percent pass state math tests and 48 percent pass the English test, according to the New York City Charter School Center.
From the beginning, the neighborhood did not need another school while other schools in the community remained under-enrolled. The school’s finances were an “abomination,” and the leadership was ill-equipped to oversee the schools, said Brooke Parker, a parent in the district who fought the schools from the start.
“We did everything we could because we didn’t need the school,” Parker said. “It was going to be a waste of resources.”
Charter school advocates say the decision is an example of how charter schools can be forced to pay the price if they are not measuring up for students.
“My guess is that there are probably some parents who deeply disagree with the decision because they feel they don’t have a better option for their child and that is heartbreaking and tragic,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. But, he added, “This is the autonomy for accountability trade off playing out, and this is what happens.”