Delaware school officials hear final plea for failing charter schools

 Reach Academy students ask school officials to keep their school open (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

Reach Academy students ask school officials to keep their school open (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

Parents of students enrolled at two charter schools in Delaware pleaded with education officials on Wednesday night to keep the schools open.

Last month, the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee recommended not to renew the charter’s for Reach Academy for Girls in New Castle and Gateway Lab School in Wilmington due to poor academic performance.

The state is collecting public testimony ahead of Education Secretary Mark Murphy’s final decision, which will be handed down later this month.

During the Reach Academy hearing, many parents and students got emotional when talking about how the school has made a positive impact on their lives.

Crystal Collins has two daughters attending Reach, an all-girls school serving more than 370 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Collins explained that her daughters were bulled at their other school and would fake being sick so they wouldn’t have to attend class. Since they started attending Reach, Collins said the children wake up every morning excited to go to school.

“I know that I can rest easy during the day when I’m at work, that I’m not going to get a phone call from the teacher or principal saying my daughter has been beat up on the school bus,” she said.

Tara Allen, head of Reach Academy, said that while the school’s standardized test scores aren’t perfect, students have been making academic strides but the progress hasn’t been recognized by the state.

“I can tell you the number of times any member of the charter school accountability committee and or Secretary Mark Murphy has even visited Reach Academy for Girls to observe that progression, by the way that number is zero,” she said.

Many parents worry that sending their children back to the schools where they were initially failing will only push them further behind. 

“Instead of closing the school down, can we come up with an alternate solution to give them the assistance that they need to reach the levels that you need to see,” said Kandrena Mack, a parent of a Reach student. “Don’t close it down, send them help.”

This is the second time in two years that Reach Academy has been on the brink of closure. Secretary Murphy ordered the school to close last year due to poor academic performance. School officials filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination and were able keep the school open. 

Gateway Gladiators in full force

Gateway Lab Charter School has mustered the support of hundreds including families, school officials, state legislators, local leaders and even Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn.

The school serves about 200 students, of which 58 percent are special education students.  The school opened its doors three years ago and is up for its first charter renewal.

It’s operationally and financially sound and supporters expressed shock that the school was not selected for renewal.

Catherine Dolan, head of the school says they’ve had recent DCAS scores analyzed by a statistician at the University of Delaware and saw 100 percent improvement in math and reading scores among the school’s third graders.

“If you send them back to where they failed, they will fail again,” she said. “We are succeeding at the Gateway Lab School.”  

Education Secretary Mark Murphy will announce his decision during the State Board of Education Meeting on Dec. 18. If he sides with the Charter School Accountability’s recommendation, the schools will close at the end of the academic year.

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