Education

Pitt County charter school in danger of being closed due to poor performance

A small Pitt County charter school dogged by declining attendance, academic failure and financial woes is in danger of being closed.

On Monday, the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) recommended that the State Board of Education (SBE) not renew the charter of Ignite Innovation Academy, which opened in 2016 targeting low-income minority students.

The SBE is expected to decide whether the school remains open early next year. Ignite is one of 18 schools with charters up for renewal. It’s the only one not recommended for renewal by state officials.

Board members cited three consecutive years in which Ignite received a state letter grade of “F” and three straight years of not meeting academic growth expectations as primary reasons for not recommending a three-year renewal for Ignite.

“I just don’t see that this school is going to make it,” said Steven Walker, vice chairman of the CSAB.

Walker noted that grade-level-proficiency among Ignite’s economically disadvantaged students trailed Pitt County’s economically disadvantaged students by 31 percentage points on 2018-2019 state exams.

Only 11.7 percent of Ignite’s economically disadvantaged students were grade-level proficient compared to 42.7 percent of the county’s economically disadvantaged students.

“I think it was a decent idea when we approved this application,” Walker said. “The execution hasn’t been great and that’s to put it nicely.”

A staff report shows that school’s enrollment dropped from a high of 251 students in 2018 to 171 this school year.

And the 2019 audited financial records showed three financial weakness, including a low unassigned fun balance of $6,323, liabilities exceeding current assets by $5,107 and expenditures exceeding revenue by $30,319.

Alex Quigley, chairman of the CSAB, said the trouble at Ignite is one reason why new schools are no longer given 10-year charters.

“It allows us to give the school an opportunity to do something innovative and if it doesn’t work, we can close it,” Quigley said.

Charter critics complain that the schools seldom outperform traditional public schools. They also contend charters siphon students and resources from traditional public schools, contribute to re-segregation and are not held accountable when they fail.

Walker pushed back against the argument that charters aren’t held accountable.

“This is ultimate accountability,” Walker said of not renewing a charter. “If you do not perform, you do not continue to [run] a school.”

Walker said charters operate with fewer regulations but are held to higher standards of accountability than traditional public schools.

Quigley said traditional public schools never have to go before the SBE to explain poor test scores and lobby to remain open.

“When there is real accountability and you might lose your schools, it’s quite motivating,” Quigley said, noting major turnarounds at several traditional public schools that had been tagged for the state’s Innovation School District created by state officials to help low-perforing schools improve student outcomes.

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