Kestrel Heights praised for turnaround effort, but didn’t get the 10-year charter renewal it sought

An attorney for Kestrel Heights Charter School expressed disappointment Thursday after the school was granted a 5-year charter renewal by the State Board of Education (SBE).

Kestrel Heights had sought a 10-year renewal, but the SBE denied that request because the school was not in compliance with state law when it began the renewal process two years ago.

The non-compliance issue stemmed from 2017 when the school was forced to close its high school after Kestrel officials self-reported that some students received diplomas they hadn’t earned

“We’re disappointed in the decision, but we understand the board was trying to follow what they believe to be the appropriate rubric, although we have some concerns about that,” said Stephon Bowens, the school’s attorney.

Here is what state law says about 10-year charter renewals:

The State Board of Education shall renew a charter upon the request of the chartering entity for subsequent periods of 10 years, unless one of the following applies:

The charter school has not provided financially sound audits for the immediately preceding three years.

The charter school’s student academic outcomes for the immediately preceding three years have not been comparable to the academic outcomes of the local school administrative unit in which the charter is located.

The charter school is not, at the time of the request for renewal of the charter, substantially in compliance with state law, federal law, the school’s own bylaws or the provisions set forth in its charter granted by the State Board of Education.

The Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) had recommended a 10-year charter renewal for Kestrel Heights.

But Amy White, chairwoman of the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, said the SBE is bound by state law in granting renewals.

“This committee is charged to be responsive to [state] statutes first, then to policy,” White said. “We must be mindful of procedure, process and most importantly precedent.”

Since its diploma troubles in 2017, Kestrel Heights, now a K-8 school, has won praise for bouncing back from its diploma troubles to outperform the local school district.

“We absolutely applaud the difficult and hard work that Kestrel Height has put into bringing the school back into compliance,” White said. “We celebrate with them, we’re excited about the journey they’re on.”

The board approved 17 other charter school renewals during its monthly meeting Thursday.

It denied a renewal to Ignite Innovation Academy in Greenville, which opened in 2016. The school was an “F” school three years under the state’s school performance grading system and failed to meet growth.

Ignite also suffered enrollment loses and received financial management warnings.

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