At Hope Charter School in West Oak Lane, the uncertain first days of the final year

Nearly an hour before the first bell on Wednesday, uniformed students were already strolling down East Haines Street towards Hope Charter School’s front doors.

Some had started classes at the West Oak Lane-based high school the day before, while others were making their first appearance of the new academic year.

Michelle Johnson eyed Hope’s gray building from the passenger seat of her grandfather’s parked sedan.

The sophomore is starting her first year at the independent, public school.

“Everybody is looking at me like I’m crazy, but I’m really excited [to go back to school],” said Johnson, who attended a much larger and, in her estimation, inferior Thomas Edison High School in West Philadelphia last year.

It will also be her last year there.

Hope will close in June after 11 years of operation.

Charter not renewed

Citing administrative and academic concerns, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission reportedly notified Hope officials in mid-April that the school’s operating charter may not renewed. Two other schools, Truebright Science Academy and Arise Academy, were similarly notified.

The School District of Philadelphia’s charter-school office had reportedly made the recommendation.

In mid-June, co-founder and CEO Richard Chapman told NewsWorks that the school was in the process of submitting a “transformational plan” aimed at keeping the school open.

“If the plan is accepted by the district, then it would have the effect of renewing our charter for another five years,” said Chapman, noting that it would be “very disappointing” if Hope’s run came to a close.

In late June, though, Hope’s board president reportedly told the SRC during a special session that the school agreed to close at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.

Staying mum

Repeated interview requests left with Chapman following that decision were not granted.

On Wednesday, Principal Osbourne Wright declined to allow a NewsWorks reporter to enter the building; this, because Chapman was apparently telling him via mobile phone in the parking lot that Hope’s Board of Trustees had not yet approved the request to do so.

As of Wednesday, School District officials had not provided details about its recommendation to close Hope and its future.

Moving forward despite it all

For seniors Sakiyyah Smith and Kibriyaa Cunningham, though, graduation is all that matters now.

Smith, who started at Hope as a freshman, said she is ready to move on to the next phase of her education, but added that she enjoyed her time.

“Hope is small, so we’re all like a big family in here,” said Smith, who plans on studying forensic science in college.

Cunningham came to Hope as a sophomore. She had attended Sayre High School in West Philadelphia before becoming fed up with the lack of one-on-one attention.

Cunningham said it’s unfortunate that Hope is closing.

“For some people this is their last chance to even go to school,” she said.

Clock is ticking

While not specifically focused on at-risk students, Hope does welcome and work with that population.

It also offers three different academic tracks depending on whether a student is interested in college, trade school or entering the job market after graduation.

Johnson will be among the majority of the school’s student body who will have to search for a new school for next year, a fact she didn’t learn until Tuesday.

“I just came here and I already like it,” said Johnson. “If I leave here, I don’t know where I’ll go.”

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