Will Rhode Island’s first charter school also be the first to shut down?

Jun 20, 2012

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is calling for the closure of the Academy for Career Exploration (ACE), formerly known as Textron/Chamber of Commerce Providence Public Charter School, citing poor academic results and leadership failures.

According to a recommendation from Gist’s office, the school has not performed well enough to merit the renewal of its five-year charter. ACE had no students scoring proficient or better on the most recent state test of mathematics. The review also cites a systematic failure to provide support for students who struggle with math, poor administrative and board oversight and an incomplete curriculum.

ACE serves 225 high school students and is part of the Providence Public School District, which means teachers at the school are union members. The academic program includes a focus on job skills, requiring community service for 9th and 10th graders and partnering with local businesses to provide internships and afterschool jobs for 11th and 12th graders.

While the school has struggled consistently to raise student achievement in Math, 80 percent of its students were proficient in reading last year, one of the highest rates of any urban public high school in Rhode Island. Head of School Larry DeSalvatore said in written a statement that he is disappointed by the recommendation.

“We have a strategic plan in place that has resulted in consistently high reading and writing scores,” DeSalvatore said. “While our math program has yet to show the same success, we are confident that this same plan will bring improvement and achievement for our students.”

The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools said it also supports ACE.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Gist gave a lukewarm review to another charter school, the New England Laborer’s Construction and Career Academy in Cranston, citing similar academic and leadership problems. However, in that case the recommendation called for a three-year renewal of the school’s charter to give school leaders a chance to improve their program.

Asked why the two schools received different recommendations, a spokesperson from the commissioner’s office said only that the review of the Cranston school began prior to current regulations, which raise the bar for charter school renewals. Gist declined to comment directly about ACE until after the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education discusses the recommendation Thursday.

If ACE’s charter is not renewed, it would become the first public charter school to shut down in Rhode Island for any reason, academic or otherwise, but this is not the first time that Gist has moved to close a charter school.

Early in her tenure as Rhode Island Education Commissioner, Gist recommended non-renewal for the Highlander Charter School, also located in Providence. Parents and other community members were outraged and launched a public campaign to save the school, arguing that it was a haven for students who did not succeed elsewhere and accusing the Department of Education of massaging the numbers to make the school’s performance look worse than it was.

After a flood of emotional public testimony, Highlander received a three-year provisional renewal. In the most recent round of state testing, the school had 70 percent of middle school students proficient or better in reading and 56 percent proficient or better in math, a higher rate than any of Providence’s district middle schools but slightly lower than one other charter school located in the city.