Friday, February 19, 2016

Guest Post from Red Bank Charter School Principal Meridith Pennotti

When Red Bank Charter School opened its doors in 1997, it was a result of parents and community stakeholders coming together to meet the demand for higher-quality school options than what was available in the public district schools at the time. Since then, Red Bank Charter School has operated with fidelity to the New Jersey Charter School Act of 1995, which requires the school to provide access to an alternative program for the diverse population of every school-age child of Red Bank. The diverse student body and strong school culture provide an optimal environment for learning and social development. Red Bank Charter school outperforms 73% of all (traditional and charter) elementary schools in the state of New Jersey and has been classified as a Tier 1 school by the NJ Department of Education (DOE).

Ranked 7th among N.J. charter schools and in the top 25% of Monmouth County public schools, Red Bank Charter School has the potential to offer tremendous opportunity to Red Bank’s children. In order to serve more students, Red Bank Charter School submitted an amendment request to the DOE to educate an additional 200 children in Red Bank with the implementation of a weighted lottery that preferences economically disadvantaged students in order to more-closely represent the Red Bank demographics. We are committed to our community, and every child within it. It is the right of every child to have access to a high-quality education and there is sound evidence to support expansion of our Tier 1, tuition-free, public school. Red Bank Charter School has demonstrated academic achievement and success, it proposes a weighted lottery, parents have a right to choose, facility availability, and financial resources are all factors that support Red Bank Charter School’s expansion.

While Red Bank Charter School is one of the highest-performing charter schools in the state, we are also one of the smallest. Our size hampers our ability to effect change for Red Bank’s children. Our most recent PARCC data illustrates that Red Bank Charter School students outperformed Borough students in 10 out the 12 PARCC assessments taken in grades 3-8 in 2015 (5 out of 6 in ELA; 5 out of 6 in Math). In Grades 4-7, Red Bank Charter School students more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the Math assessment as compared to Red Bank Borough and the 49% of Red Bank Charter School students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded expectations on the ELA assessment. In the first year of PARCC, Red Bank Charter School scored within one point of the statewide average in both ELA and Math and on the previous NJ ASK exams, Red Bank Charter School students not only outperformed district peers, but also outperformed their peers statewide closing the achievement gap.

Our desire is not to compare students in one school versus another—although the DOE requires charter schools to outperform district schools in order to remain open and continue educating students—a standard to which no public school is held accountable. Our goal is to ensure that every Red Bank child is provided the academic environment and opportunity to succeed. It is the reason Red Bank Charter School was established in 1997 and why we seek expansion now. The student population of the district has grown and our enrollment is limited to 200 students. Expansion not only serves the children of Red Bank, it also provides needed reprieve to the Red Bank Borough School District which is overcrowded.

Education should not be left to chance, parents must be free to exercise choice, and educational funding belongs to the student, not the school. Yet, each year Red Bank Charter School is filled to capacity at 200 students with a robust waiting list. The current 200-student cap effectively removes choice from parents and limits the academic impact Red Bank Charter School can have for students in the community. For this reason, we have requested a weighted lottery in our charter amendment. This will allow us to more closely represent the demographics of Red Bank and its resident population and provide economically disadvantaged students with increased opportunity to attend Red Bank Charter School. As educational innovators, it is incumbent upon us to be responsive to parents and children who want to exercise their right to school choice.

New Jersey’s charter schools must finance their facilities out of the monies they receive from their general funding, whereas school districts are provided facilities. This small but important distinction means that the Red Bank Charter School must identify, acquire and pay for any facility it plans to use. Charter schools cannot build new facilities or have a referendum as the district can, which is why the district’s gymnasium is one of the state’s largest and Red Bank Charter School students do not have gymnasium access. We must find and finance all of our land and buildings.

Last year, we secured lease space at 135 Monmouth Street for a STEM lab and additional classrooms. Although facilities often present enormous hurdles for many charter schools, Red Bank Charter School is prepared to accommodate a growing population with ample instructional space and sufficient parking. This building will also be able to provide a gymnasium for the students.

Red Bank Charter School’s success is evident in its ability to educate students, meet the standards set forth in the Charter School Performance Framework (a state accountability measure), and demonstrate academic, operational, and fiscal excellence. As a result of this success, we have been encouraged and implored to expand to better serve more of Red Bank’s children, and heed the Department of Education’s recommendation to expand for every child in Red Bank.

The money must follow the student to whichever public school they elect to attend. For students attending Red Bank Charter School, the monies paid by Red Bank Borough to the charter have decreased $128,959 over the past 6 years (source: Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2015) and the Charter School saves residents an additional $480,176 that would need to be recouped in the form of a tax levy if the Charter School did not exist (sources: Red Bank Borough Public Schools user-friendly budgets 2007-2015 and Red Bank Charter School State Aid Summaries, 2007-2016).

When facility, tax, and budget issues are stripped away, we must fight for the education of every child. The evidence is clear that Red Bank Charter School is prepared and eager to offer alternative public school opportunity to more children in Red Bank. The time for expansion is now. Our goal is to make that option available to more children in Red Bank. Our focus is on children and we believe every child can learn, every child must care about themselves and others, and every child must be engaged in their community.

Meredith Pennotti, Principal
Red Bank Charter School


RB public parent said...

Meredith Pennotti neglected to tell a few key pieces of the RBCS story.

The first is, as RBCS board of trustee vice president Roger Foss stated in a press conference last week, the RBCS was formed to “mitigate the effect of white flight.” Here is the full quote:

“Although the charter school is supposed to offer an alternative so that they will as they said in this decision… so as to mitigate the effect of white flight. Now how do you do that? You start a small public school which will offer an opportunity for those who otherwise would leave town or choose the parochial or other private school. It’s as simple as that. What else would you do? Offer an alternative.”

Thanks to the Red Bank Charter School, our lovely town is now home to the most segregated school district in the state of NJ. In a town where 21% of all Red Bank school-aged (preK -8) students are white, 52% of RBCS students are white and 10% of public school students are white. In a town where 70% of all school-aged students are Hispanic, 34% of the RBCS students are Hispanic and 82% of the public school students are Hispanic. In a town where 35% of all students are LEP, only 4% of RBCS students are LEP and 42% of Red Bank public students are LEP. In a town where 76% of all Red Bank students are economically disadvantaged, 40% of the RBCS students are and 88% of the public school students are. A three-year weighted lottery will do nothing to reverse that, and the RBCS’s weighted lottery proposal does nothing to address its lack of LEP students. Since 2010, at a time when the RBCS enrollment grew by 20 students, the percentage of LEP students has fallen from 11% (20 students) to 4% (7 students).

RB public parent said...

The financial numbers Ms Pennotti continues to put forth are completely misleading. She claims that the RBCS “saves residents” $480,176 “that would need to be recouped in a form of a tax levy if the charter school did not exist.” If the RBCS did not exist, Red Bank could eliminate her $140,000-a-year position, as well as all sorts of duplicative positions and services, including the RBCS business administrator, child study team, guidance counselor and special teachers. Now I learned math in public school, but that to me is a huge cost savings. It’s also hard to feel sorry for a charter school that has seen a decrease in $128,959 over six years when it’s sitting on a $525,000 surplus. And what about the Red Bank Public Schools, which educate a far higher percentage of English-language learners and economically disadvantaged students? They’ve lost $7 million in that same timeframe.

Not only is the RBCS made up of mostly white and wealthier students, it also receives per-pupil funding that is $1,700 HIGHER than its host district, which again is predominantly made up of poor and Hispanic students. This is all thanks to the state’s policy of gutting public school funding while holding charter schools harmless—all because they got lucky and hit the lottery I guess.

RB public parent said...

If the RBCS was formed as an alternative for white families, than I suppose it has succeeded by having a majority white school. But is it really providing a better education? I think not. By eighth grade, the vast majority of our public school students are overcoming the enormous challenges faced by poverty and learning English as a second language. In fact, what Ms Pennotti so conveniently left out is that by eighth grade, our public school students are beating the RBCS in the PARC. The average score of the 2014-2015 eighth grade public school class on the ELA portion was 751, for math, 727; Charter: 744 for ELA, 712 for math. More significantly, 11 percent of the public school students “exceeded expectations” on ELA and 20 percent met expectations on the math. At the charter school, no eighth grader “exceeded expectations” on the ELA. Not one even “met expectations” on the math. Not the best way to roll into high school. In addition, at the public schools, the 16 kids who took the Algebra I PARCC beat the state average by 54 points, all met expectations and one even exceeded expectations, which would be in the 99th percentile statewide. Not enough charter students took the test for the results to be posted.

So please, stop playing the victim. Stop spreading propaganda. And withdraw your expansion request. You’re not fighting for the education of “every child.” That’s what the Red Bank Public Schools do. They educate ALL children.

Red Bank resident said...

The movement which lead to the opening of the Red Bank Charter School started well before 1997 . For years, Red Bank was plaqued with a failing school system, which was status quo. "Great town but horrible school system." The flight was no other color than green. " As an alternative to "white flight" was no where in the thought process of the " stakeholders" that had the courage and will to fight for a better education for all Red Bank's children. Be a stakeholder. Do not just co exist. Challenge the Charter. The doors of the Charter School opened because of a challenge and that same challenge can effectively close its doors.

Nancy Pechinski said...

I did not chose to send my children to the RBCS in 1997 to avoid white flight. I sent my kids because the school system was not listening to me. I bet Dr. Nogueira would be disappointed with that statement. The Red Bank Borough schools have since achieved parent trust and have blossomed into a good school in spite of less funding and having to share monies per student. What I don't think people are realizing that regardless whether the borough school has the full capacity of 1400 students to educate or 1000 the facilities still needs to keep the lights on, maintenance and supplies. I am also disheartened by the statement that says that the borough school is overcrowded, has anyone toured the Charter lately. It has been overcrowded since the second expansion taking away from the smaller community style learning. I also feel offended by the weighted lottery. Why should I have to disclose what our income is for the lottery? That to me is a form of discrimination, a public school does not ask what our income is to see whether or not I should have a better chance at the lottery then my neighbor who happens to make more money. Let's be realistic here, it's a lottery, it does not guarantee any child entrance and by doing so it is not really out there to make sure all of the students of Red Bank receive an equal education. It's not going to be white flight that will kill Red Bank but the fight for our kids to have an equal education within the same town.