The Delaware Department of Education's Charter School Accountability Committee today recommended the revocation of Reach Academy for Girls' charter at the end of this academic year because of serious financial and governance concerns related to the 10-month-old Claymont school.
"While the committee respects the experience, leadership and passion the new board brings to Reach, the financial problems and curriculum questions that remain are significant," said Deputy Secretary of Education Dan Cruce, who chairs the accountability committee. "As a steward of public dollars and trust, the state cannot in good faith continue its relationship with Reach."
Reach, which opened in August 2010, was put on formal review at the Nov. 18, 2010 State Board of Education meeting. Earlier in the fall, state officials conducting periodic reviews of the school's finances saw red flags.
The purpose of the formal review process is to see if a school is violating the terms of its charter. It is an investigative tool to see if remedial measures are needed.
Formal review can be prompted by internal concerns, such as questions about finances, or external, such as tips or complaints from the public. In the case of Reach, state charter office officials raised concerns about school finances in the fall because of under-projected enrollment. They also questioned significant turnover in leadership. Members of the public also contacted the state with concerns.
Before recommending formal review, charter office staff typically will meet informally with school leadership to present issues and give the school a chance to respond. The State Board of Education must vote to put a school on formal review, typically based on a recommendation from the Secretary of Education, as was the case with Reach.
The Charter School Accountability Committee review process for Reach began on Dec. 7, 2010.
Once a school is placed on formal review, the Charter School Accountability Committee convenes. It has 90 days to complete the process. The committee, formed by the Secretary of Education, includes voting members who are Delaware Department of Education staff and a community member as well as ex-officio members, such as a representative from the Delaware Charter School Network.
In the case of Reach, this process took more than 90 days because the state granted the Reach board's request to place a temporary hold on the process while its board members explored turning over governance to another group. When that did not go through, the state returned to the process.
The following is a synopsis of the formal review process, which was followed with Reach:
The first step is an initial meeting between the school and committee, when the school leadership is interviewed. The second step is a preliminary meeting of the committee to review the 14 criteria that are terms of a school's charter with the state. The initial and preliminary meetings on Reach both occurred on December 7, 2010.
A report then is issued by the committee, and the school has 15 calendar days to respond. The Reach report, dated February 25, 2011, is available online here.
Reach's new board, which took over last month after the resignation of the previous board, submitted its response on May 26.
At a final meeting, which occurred today, a vote on the criteria and a recommendation for next steps is taken. The recommendation could range from revocation to probationary conditions to removing from formal review.
The committee voted 4-0 with one abstention today to recommend revocation of the charter. Among the concerns cited were lack of leadership experienced in school finances and turnarounds, missing contracts and curriculum outlines as well as budgets that lacked detail or appropriations for needed items such as instructional materials and professional development. The committee noted improvement in human resources practices.
"This was a difficult decision. The families and staff members who have worked hard to help this school survive a difficult year deserve praise. I know today's recommendation is a disappointment to them, as it is to the girls who have come to love their school," Cruce said.
The next step in the process is a public hearing, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, July 11 in the Cabinet Room of the Townsend Building, 401 Federal St. in Dover.
Taking into account the committee's recommendation and comments from the public hearing, Former Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery then will make a recommendation to the State Board of Education for a vote at its July 21 meeting.
Should Former Secretary Lowery and the State Board follow the committee's recommendation to revoke the charter, other placements will be available for the students currently enrolled to attend Reach next year. The children may return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns, or, with the approval of their home district and the new school, enroll in another charter school.
REACH ACADEMY FOR GIRLS FORMAL REVIEW TIMELINE
Place on formal review: Nov. 18, 2010
Initial and preliminary meetings: Dec. 7, 2010
Preliminary report: Feb. 25, 2011
Temporary halt to process approved by state to allow school to explore new governance: Feb. 25, 2011
State decision to return to process: April 18, 2011
School response: May 26, 2011
Final meeting: June 7, 2011
Public hearing: July 11, 2011
State Board of Education decision: July 21, 2011
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, Delaware 19901
Phone: (302) 735-4035
Fax: (302) 739-4654
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