School closure

Memphis charter school closes after one year because of issues with nonprofit status, enrollment

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

An elementary school near Raleigh operating under a Shelby County charter organization is closing after only one year.

Legacy Leadership Academy leaders decided to close after they were told by Shelby County Schools that it wasn’t in compliance with state law, district officials announced during a board meeting on Tuesday.

Specifically, the charter organization Legacy Leadership had lost its nonprofit status. Under state law, a charter operator has to be a nonprofit. The district would have recommended closure for the school in July had it not decided to close on its own, said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for the district.

Tamika Richmond, founder and executive director, said enrollment was the main reason she opted to close the school. Legacy’s enrollment hovered around 40 students, but the school needed twice that many to be financially viable.

“We made the very difficult decision because we were not able to forecast a sustainable future,” Richmond said. “For the future of our children and staff, we believe this decision will allow them to seek out other high quality options.”

Richmond said the nonprofit issues stemmed from not keeping up with tax forms. She said Lecagy gained its nonprofit status in 2015, but didn’t open its charter school until two years later.

“We needed to submit …forms showing that we didn’t have any employees and were not bringing in income,” Richmond told Chalkbeat. “Those forms were not submitted in a timely manner.”

She later clarified that Legacy had regained its nonprofit status, though that didn’t change the school closure decision.

“Once notified, we completed the necessary income documents,” Richmond said. “This process allows the Academy’s tax exempt status to be retroactively updated and become current. This misstep was an oversight on our part because we had not been advised in the early stages of creating the charter that we must file this form prior to becoming operational.”

Richmond said she has called her former students and worked with parents to find a nearby traditional or charter school.

This is the third charter school under oversight of the Memphis district to close this year. The other two were led by a Memphis-based charter network run by former mayor and Memphis City Schools superintendent Willie Herenton. Shelby County Schools now oversees 48 charter schools.

Legacy’s former school space, located at 3333 North Old Brownsville Road, will be filled by Gateway University High School next year.

“We’re excited to see another charter school have a second opportunity to benefit from our space,” Richmond said.

word choice

A quietly edited report and dueling blog posts reveal a divide over the ‘portfolio model’

Diane Ravitch speaks at California State University Northridge. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

A report on school choice released last month offered this in a list of strategies for improving schools: “creating a portfolio approach that treats all types of schools equally.”

Today, that reference is gone from the report — a small edit that reveals notable disagreements among prominent names in education who often agree.

The report was issued by the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank started by Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential Stanford professor. Then came a critique from Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education, a pro-public education group that opposes charter schools. And then came the edits to the original report, first noted by Burris and Ravitch.

At the center of the disagreement is the report’s use of the word “portfolio.” The portfolio model is a strategy offering parents the choice of different school types (typically including charter schools) and having a central body holding all schools accountable for results and manages certain functions like enrollment. And the Learning Policy Institute praises Denver, a district that has adopted it.

Denver’s collaboration agreement with its charter schools “drives equitable funding and access for all schools, and strives to replicate the most effective schools of all kinds,” the report says. The report also recommends putting the “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures,” and notes that most school choice in the U.S. involves options within traditional districts.

Ravitch and Burris pushed back on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. “School governance directly affects the rights and well-being of students,” they wrote, pointing to instances where charter schools have pushed out students with disabilities or shut down abruptly.

That criticism seems to have gotten through. Since the debate began, the Learning Policy Institute has edited its report to remove the term “portfolio” and changed other language. One recommendation — “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures for adults” — became “focus on high-quality learning for children, not the preferences of adults.”

“The language change was made after some public feedback suggested that the use of the word ‘portfolio’ in the report was being misinterpreted,” Barbara McKenna, a spokesperson for the Learning Policy Institute, said in an email. “The report used the word ‘portfolio’ in one of the recommendations in the most straightforward sense of the term — an array of options.”

The report does not indicate that it has been updated since it was published late last month. McKenna said that’s because the revisions weren’t substantial.

Meanwhile, Darling-Hammond and co-authors have responded, and Ravitch and Burris offered an additional rejoinder.

Darling-Hammond said in an interview that she neither rejects nor wholly subscribes to the portfolio model. “Unplanned, uncoordinated, unmanaged choice has a lot of challenges and problems,” she said.

This debate comes as a new group, known as the City Fund, has raised at least $200 million in order to spread the portfolio model to dozens of U.S. cities. Whether the approach reliably improves academic outcomes remains up for debate.

public comment

What to expect from six hours of charter school hearings Wednesday night

PHOTO: Chicago Tribune

The public can weigh in on three new charters, 11 renewals and one potential revocation on Wednesday night during a marathon session of hearings at Chicago Public Schools headquarters on 42 W. Madison Street.

One school, the Near West Side campus of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men High School, could lose its charter and be forced to close. Parents and families will have a chance to weigh in during a public comment section.

Urban Prep operates three campuses in Bronzeville, Englewood, and University Village. Only the latter, which reported 176 students this fall, is on the list to potentially shutter.

The first hearing, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., will be about new charters with proposals to open in the fall of 2019:

  • Intrinsic Charter School for a traditional citywide high school;
  • Project Simeon 2000 for a school that would serve at-risk students in middle grades in Englewood, where the district is planning a new $85 million high school to open in 2022;
  • Chicago Education Partnership to open a traditional K-8 school in Austin.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the district will hear public comment on renewal applications from 11 private operators as well as the proposal to revoke Urban Prep’s University Village campus. The charter and contracts under consideration for renewal are:

  • Noble Network of Charter Schools (whose founder Michael Milkie just resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with alumni)
  • Namaste Charter School
  • Kwame Nkrumah Academy Charter School
  • Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago Charter School (Chicago Lawn Charter School)
  • Great Lakes Academy Charter School
  • Foundations College Preparatory Charter School
  • Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) Charter School
  • Hope Institute Learning Academy
  • Excel Academy of Southshore
  • Excel Academy Southwest
  • Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts)

Those interested in submitting comment may register in person before the meetings, send a fax to 773-553-1559, or email iandipublichearings@cps.edu.