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The City on a Hill Charter School network is about to undergo yet another round of changes. On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously voted to place the organization's charter on probation. The board also approved a request to consolidate the charters of the City on a Hill Circuit Street and Dudley Square locations.
The charter consolidation essentially shrinks the charter school network, which currently operates three schools, to become just one high school located at the organization's Circuit Street location in Roxbury. The move follows CoaH's announcement in November that they would surrender the charter for its New Bedford school, closing that campus at the end of this school year.
According to a memo from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the move towards placing the remaining charter on probation is the result of several factors. State education commissioner Jeff Riley cited a high rate of attrition, high rates of chronic absenteeism, a dramatic reduction in four year graduation rates and financial concerns due to the drop in attendance, among other things.
"It is clear to me that the expansion of the CoaH network over the past five years has not produced the kinds of results envisioned by the 'proven provider' initiative in the charter school statute," said Riley in a memo posted before the meeting. A proven provider designation essentially means the organization has proven a track record of student achievement and measurements of success over at least a three year period for one cohort of students.
CoaH officials who attended the meeting said the recommendations were disappointing, but not surprising.
"We believe that probation is an appropriate finding," said Dr. Cara Stillings-Candal, the chair of City on a Hill's Board of Trustees during the meeting's public comment period. "There’s a great sense of shame attached to the fact that we haven’t served students better."
In the memo, Riley saidhe recommended to approve the charter with probation because CoaH leadership has taken some steps recently that indicate they could turn things around.
"The school has proposed major changes to address these deficiencies, appointed a principal with a track record of academic success, and taken action this year in an effort to yield better results for students and families," Riley wrote.
Stillings-Candal was quick to remind board members that CoaH was one of the first charter public schools established in the commonwealth and prior to the organization's expansion in 2013, their performance and student outcomes were strong.
"I'm here to tell you today that we're incredibly recommitted to redesigning our school," she added. "This will not happen over night but we're committed to turnaround."
The probation comes with a set of eight conditions requiring major improvements in the school’s governance and academic performance like a requirement to submit governance board meeting agendas to state officials prior to meetings, the school must establish an escrow account to pay for potential closing and a requirement to provide weekly updates on student attendance and wait list numbers. The state is also requiring the school to demonstrate academic success by December 2022.
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