Thursday, March 30, 2017

Paulo Freire Charter School Closed By State, Even Though "Our Students Are Outperforming Their Peers"

Earlier this month the New Jersey Department of Education announced the closing of three charter schools in Newark: Newark Prep, Merit Prep, and Paulo Freire Charter School. The reason given was "poor performance." The closings were announced a day after the deadline for for Newark's universal enrollment system.
In response, leaders of Paulo Freire sent a letter this week to parents. Below is the complete letter.

March 24, 2017

Dear Paulo Freire Parents and Guardians:

In the interest of transparency, and to uphold the core values that we share as a thriving educational community, we wanted to communicate to each of you directly as school leaders. The last few weeks have been tough on all of us, as we attempt to understand the state’s decision to close the Paulo Freire Charter School.

In all fairness to our students, families, and staff, it was important that we conduct a thorough investigation and fully reflect on this situation.  After careful review by the Board of Trustees, administration, and our outside counsel, we firmly believe that the decision by the state to close our school was based on an arbitrary and biased assessment done by the Office of Charter Schools.  To be clear, we have come to believe that the Commissioner's decision to close our school was based on misrepresented and inaccurate information.

Specifically, the report which served as a basis for the Commissioner decision, violated state probationary site visit protocols, and the report was substantially anecdotal with very little quantitative data supporting the claims that were made.  For example, we noticed that statements such as,  “Some interviewed students reported that academic expectations vary greatly across classrooms,” were made with no reference to percentages, number of persons/incidents, or documentation that supports such a claim.
In addition, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) stated that our school was being closed due to underperformance. However, this statement is false and serves no purpose other than to disrupt and publically hurt the hard work of our parents, students, and staff. For example, the State has claimed that our school had 18 students who did not graduate on time, but this statement is misleading and inaccurate. The state also used this data to adjust our graduation rate; however, the adjusted graduation rate for our school is still higher than that of Newark’s comprehensive high schools. Moreover, our PSAT and SAT data is also higher than Newark’s comprehensive high schools, and other independent charter schools in the city. This data actually supports that our students are outperforming their peers.
Adjusted Graduation Rate
*Newark’s remaining independent charter high schools
District Name
Newark Public Schools (excluding magnets high schools)
Paulo Freire Charter School
People’s Prep Charter School*
Marion P. Thomas Charter High School*

Composite SAT Score
*Newark’s remaining independent charter high schools
District Name
Newark Public Schools (excluding magnets high schools)
Paulo Freire Charter School
People’s Prep Charter School*
Marion P. Thomas Charter High School*

PSAT/SAT Participation Rates
*Newark’s remaining independent charter high schools
District Name
SAT (12th Grade)
Newark Public Schools
(excluding magnets high schools)
Paulo Freire Charter School
People’s Prep Charter School*
Marion P. Thomas Charter High School*

    Class of 2016 College Acceptance Rates
Competitive/Highly Competitive
College Acceptance Rate*
4-Year College
Acceptance Rate
4-Year College Matriculation Rate
*Selectivity is based upon Barron's Ranking of Colleges/ Universities
$3.9 million in scholarships and grants

As a community of educators, parents, and staff, we should be very proud of the strides that we have made since the Paulo Freire Charter School opened its doors. Through all of our work, we have targeted the most at-risk students of our City, and provided them a specially designed environment of support and learning.  The results have been seen in our homes, neighborhoods, and in our classrooms.  Just last month, students who would have never dreamed of attending college, were stopping us in the halls celebrating their college acceptances and scholarship awards. Together, we have made a difference, and have made a lasting impact on our city. Nothing that state chooses to do, will ever take that away from us!

As we look to the end of the school year, these are the memories we choose to focus on, and we choose not to be defensive about judgments or a system made by people who have never walked in our halls.

While we firmly believe that we have been treated unjustly, unfortunately, there is very little we can realistically do to address this situation. The appeal process has not garnered positive results in the past, and the cost would simply bankrupt our school and cause us to sacrifice our academic program. Even if we were to win, which is very unlikely based on historic outcomes of other schools, it would leave us financially weakened moving forward. For this reason, while it breaks our heart, we have decided that the best course of action will be to invest our time in ensuring the best and most seamless transition for your children and our staff.

As you know, our purpose for founding the Paulo Freire Charter School was to provide a secondary college preparatory option for all students, especially those who did not test into the magnet high schools and who did not attend a K-12 charter. Based on our college acceptance/matriculation rates and our scholarship award totals, we know that we have proven that Demography is Not Destiny within the City of Newark. We also know that we have indeed accomplished our goal of providing a secondary college preparatory option for students, who may have otherwise not been afforded the opportunity. As a result, we are quite saddened by the Commissioner’s decision to close our school because this decision will once again leave our demographic of Newark’s students underserved.

But as we look to the future, we are united as a school and as a community. Each of us – parent, teacher, or student – have been change agents to fight against systems of oppression, bias, and inequity. These are the tenants that unite us and will continue to unite us all in the years to come.

Our founders were born and raised in our great city, and during these last few days, I have often thought of them and the children we serve as inspiration.  We are thankful for their commitment, and for your passion for our school – and we promise as we look to these final months we will not let you down.

Civically Yours,
 Shavon Chambers,  M.S.W. Ed.D.
Paulo Freire Charter School

Tauheedah F. Baker, M.Ed. MPA,
Executive Director/Chief School Administrator
Paulo Freire Charter School

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