Struggling schools face accountability
By Lisa Kaiser Feb. 23, 2016
Two of the City of Milwaukee’s 10 charter schools will relinquish their contracts at the end of the academic year, and two additional struggling schools have faced enhanced scrutiny, signs that the city is making its charter schools more accountable after years of taking a hands-off approach to the schools it charters.
In January, leaders of the North Point Lighthouse Charter School—a member of the national Lighthouse Academies network getting financial help from the Andre Agassi-led, for-profit Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—voted to relinquish its charter with the city and close its doors at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
The city’s Charter School Review Committee, comprised of appointees, placed North Point Lighthouse Charter School, 4200 W. Douglas Ave., on probation in October 2015. According to its Jan. 15 letter to the committee, the school’s board anticipated that the city committee would terminate its five-year contract so it decided to announce its closure in January. The early heads up allows students to participate in public and voucher school enrollment fairs in January and February.
Although the school had hired a new principal last fall and said it was focusing on improving student achievement, among the problems cited in Board Chair Adam Peck’s letter are declining enrollment, staffing turnover during probation and below-target daily attendance.
According to the city’s school score cards, North Point Lighthouse Charter School received 46.8% or F in the 2012-2013 academic year, 58.1% or F in 2013-2014 and 63.6% or D in 2014-2015.
Finances were problematic as well.
“The school’s financial position in is jeopardy due to lease agreements that require the dedication of financial resources that ideally are needed to hire and retain highly effective urban educators,” Peck’s letter states.
North Point Lighthouse launched with great fanfare in 2012, when retired tennis pro Agassi visited the city to promote his new school. The Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—a partnership between Agassi Ventures and Canyon Capital Realty Advisors—buys and develops properties, which it leases to charter school operators. The school operators can buy the school after they reach full occupancy. In 2013, Agassi returned to open Rocketship Southside Community Prep on the South Side, which also utilized the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund to open its doors.
Also struggling academically and relinquishing its city charter is King’s Academy on North 60th Street, which will “return to our roots and once again become a private school,” Board Chair John W. McVicker Sr. wrote to city leaders in a July 2015.
By “private school,” McVicker means returning to the school’s roots as a publicly funded, church-based voucher school. The school was chartered by the city in 2010, but it had been a religious voucher school affiliated with Christ the King Baptist Church for the previous 11 years.
“We believe that we can better serve our students by making sure they are immersed in a school that stresses the power of Jesus Christ in their lives with a Christ-centered curriculum,” McVicker’s letter reads:
King’s Academy received D+ grades for each academic year since 2012-2013, scoring either 68.8% or 67% on the city’s report cards.
Two Schools Face Scrutiny
Two additional schools have faced pressure from accountability measures as well.
Milwaukee Math and Science Academy had been placed on probation in January 2015. In October 2015, the Charter School Review Committee asked for a mid-year review by Feb. 5. The school wanted its probation lifted. But accountability advocates Women Committed to an Informed Community and Schools and Communities United argued that it’s too soon to make a decision on the school’s status, since the test scores for 2015-2016 haven’t been completed yet.
The city’s score card gave Milwaukee Math and Science Academy 64.4% or D in the 2012-2013 academic year, 66.4% or D in 2013-2014, and 72.6% or C- in 2014-2015. The standard for probation is 70%.
The Charter School Review Committee voted to lift the school’s probationary status.
Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, run by former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent turned voucher advocate Howard Fuller, is also struggling. The school received 71.3% or C- in the 2012-2013 school year, 68.2% or D+ in 2013-2014, and 78.2% or C+ in 2014-2015.
The Charter School Review Committee voted to review the school annually and to extend its contract for an additional five years.
All of the committee’s votes need to be approved by the Milwaukee Common Council.