New Charters: New Harvest Advised to Withdraw; Ivy Given Conditional OK

by Steve, November 3rd, 2007

Portland Public Schools staff weighed in on two new charter school applications yesterday, and have five pages of questions for the applicants.

The founders of New Harvest Charter School (NHCS), much discussed over at the Urban Mamas “Activistas” blog and on this blog, got a major wakeup call from the PPS staff who reviewed their application.The New Harvest application “does not yet demonstrate the capacity to successfully start and operate the proposed charter school,” wrote the reviewers in their recommendation that NHCS founders withdraw their application.

District reviewers evaluate each section of the charter school application: General Information; Mission Statement and Purposes; Educational Program; Support for Learning; Accountability; and Financial, Business and Organizational Plan. New Harvest failed to get staff recommendations for General Information; Educational Program; Accountability; and Financial, Business and Organizational Plan.

Under General Information, New Harvest was dinged for letters of recommendation dating back to 1994, not identifying their design team, failure to clearly outline a daily schedule for grades 3-7, poor accounting of annual instructional hours, and nebulous claims about providing “40-120 minutes per day of P.E.” without showing how this could work with their schedule. Reviewers were split on whether the applicants showed sufficient demand in St. Johns for this school. Survey data were inconsistent and not clearly presented.

Under the Educational Program section, NHCS stated expectations but did “not provide sufficient concrete strategies for achieving them.” The reviewers were generally frustrated by vagaries about how the applicants would handle ESL and TAG students, how foreign language instruction and arts would be integrated, and how state, local and national standards would be applied. Reviewers “again expressed concerns about the school calendar and daily schedule,” and wondered “how New Harvest will ensure students’ progress toward eventual diploma graduation.”

Under Support for Learning, NHCS organizers promised to seek staff who “demonstrate a commitment to healthy lifestyle choices and sharing greater health awareness” and who “[A]re willing to take courageous, creative action in helping students achieve academic, emotional, social and physical success.” Nice feel-good sentiment, but the reviewers note “The application does not name or describe the standards for those criteria.”

It goes on and on like this. I’m not even halfway through the application review at this point. Later, in the Financial, Business and Organizational Plan, reviewers note “Financial and management experience and expertise appear to be minimal throughout the organization.”

The reviewers seem to be saying, in other words, you can’t just say “We’re going to have a groovy school,” wave your hands in the air, and get your charter approved. Which is a Good Thing. And it is a lesson for people who see something glittering and assume it’s gold (like the parent who thought NHCS would have a 16-1 teaching ratio, and that’s all she needed to know).

Ruth Adkins, Trudy Sargent and Bobbie Regan, the school board members on the Charter Schools committee, were obviously less than impressed with this report, according to Wacky Mommy, who attended on behalf of families concerned about neighborhood schools.

Further adding to their chagrin was the fact that the NHCS organizers almost missed the meeting entirely (due to what the organizers described as “technical difficulties”), showing up with ten minutes remaining. Oblivious to the excoriation their application had already received, they handed out a thick “addendum”, a move met with a reminder that ther application was due in its entirety on July 16.

If they choose not to withdraw, the NHCS organizers will have to face a serious grilling at a November 13 public hearing. It seems highly unlikely they would succeed.

The other charter application reviewed yesterday was for the Ivy Charter School, a proposed Montessori school two blocks from the closed Meek Elementary, half a mile from Rigler and one and a half miles from Scott, existing PPS neighborhood elementary schools. Ivy got a conditional staff recommendation for approval, subject to satisfactory responses to two pages of questions.

Is Ivy an intended conversion of the Montessori of Alameda 21st Century School? That’s the biggest question. That would be illegal under state law. Ivy shares at least one board member with that school, located a block from the proposed Ivy site.

If the school board eventually approves Ivy, this will be yet another example of a private or charter school (or both) swooping in to fill the void left by closed neighborhood schools. This would be yet another step down the road to the privatization of our public schools.

Update: Don’t forget to read Wacky Mommy’s own account of the meeting at her blog.