Phila Tribune: Truebright School fights to keep charter
May 10, 2013
When the leadership of the School District of Philadelphia recently announced the system would not expand charter school options for the ensuing school year, thoughts turned to the existing charter schools that are up for renewal at the end of the year, and to those schools that appealled the initial non-renewal decision.
One such school is the North Philadelphia-based Truebright Science Academy Charter School, which has made steady gains since receiving its charter for the 2007-08 academic year. Those gains may not be enough to convince the School Reform Commission to grant a charter renewal to Truebright, however.
The SRC has recently completed ten days of hearings on Truebright’s future, which is to be followed by a 30-day public comment period, which ends on June 10. After that, a written report will be handed up to the SRC, which will then make the decision on Truebright.
Truebright CEO Bekir Duz went item-by-item in defending Truebright’s advancements, noting that all the items of concern relating to the SRC’s decision have been satisfactorily addressed, and there is no incurable issue or reason to deny Truebright’s renewal.
“I am optimistic, because under the state’s charter school law, there are five grounds on which the SRC can revoke a charter,” Duz said. “On financial health, the SRC didn’t claim anything, and even in our original report, it says that we are in good shape financially, and that there have been no corruption and the school is not in debt. So our financial health is real good.
“The next is ‘violation of charter school rules’ or a violation of state and federal laws, and the SRC hasn’t claimed anything, and Truebright isn’t in violation of any of those rules,” Duz continued. “The only thing [the SRC] is claiming is academic performance, but we have proved that Truebright is outperforming the district schools surrounding us, and we’ve made Adequate Yearly Progress last year.
“They can only claim we didn’t make AYP on the year of the renewal visit, which is not grounds for charter school renewal denial.”
Last year, the district announced that several charters wouldn’t receive renewals, Truebright among them; district spokesman Fernando Gallard said that Truebright’s charter wasn’t renewed at the time, due to concerns the SRC had regarding Truebright’s academics, finances and customer service.
“The SRC voted for non-renewal last year, and Truebright has appealed that ruling, and the appeals process just finalized with hearing in front of an SRC Hearing Officer,” Gallard said. “Now the Hearing Officer makes recommendation to the SRC based on those hearings.
“We are waiting for that process to be completed, but we are well into the nonrenewal process [for this year].”
Duz said that should Truebright lose its appeal here, it can appeal the decision at the state level, but would prefer to not have to engage the district in what could be a lengthy and costly court battle. Duz did say that he and his staff are “100 percent sure” that Truebright will win its appeal; meanwhile, Duz hammered home Truebright’s improvements – many of which go beyond pure academics.
“Students are looking for a safe environment, and it is very important that people understand this. The school district is closing 23 schools, and if the SRC decides to close Truebright, what happens to the students? Now they will have to go back to their old school or some other school, where classrooms are more crowded, maybe with 30-40 students,” Duz said, noting that he has had parents who transferred out of Truebright, only to return later, teary-eyed, asking to transfer back into Truebright. “The district failed them before they came to Truebright, and closing our school will fail them again.
“One child left Truebright and got jumped seven times at the new school. And if the SRC closes Truebright, then what happens to them? It’s not fair to the students,” Duz continued. “The SRC cannot deny parents the opportunity to send their children to a safe school that graduates more than 90 percent of its students, and you cannot close a school that is outperforming district schools in the area.”
Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at 215-893-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.