State education chief seeks Dorchester charter school’s closure
The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will consider a recommendation Tuesday morning to close a Dorchester charter school, a rare move prompted by years of lackluster academic achievement.
Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said he is making the recommendation "with considerable regret" nearly two years after the board placed Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter School on probation for poor state standardized test scores and inadequate financial oversight, according to a memorandum Chester wrote to the board, dated Dec. 9.
"I expect the school to be delivering a robust program of study," Chester wrote. "Unfortunately, this is far from the case."
Dorchester Collegiate, which serves about 200 students in grades 4-8, is the lowest performing of the 25 charter schools in Boston. On this past spring's MCAS tests, 47 percent of students scored advanced or proficient in English; 36 percent scored in those two categories in math; and just 7 percent did so in science.
"A majority of the school's students have not scored in either the proficient or advanced categories in any subject tested by MCAS at any point during the school's charter," Chester wrote.
Yet this year's scores were high enough to pull Dorchester Collegiate out of the bottom 20 percent of schools statewide, an accomplishment that many schools would celebrate. Being in the bottom 20 percent can lead to state-mandated interventions and receivership.
The school also resolved financial issues after an audit two years ago found the school lacked proper controls to reconcile finances.
In a statement Monday, the school expressed surprise and disappointment over the recommendation and vowed to fight to keep the school open. A contingent of school personnel and parents plans to present its case to the board Tuesday.
"We recognize we have important areas to continue to improve upon and are relentlessly focused on improvement in order to provide the best possible education for our students," the statement said.
The school pointed out that it has "a unique mission to provide a holistic education for students with a wide range of academic, behavioral and social-emotional needs." More than 45 percent of students require therapeutic counseling, many three or more times a week. A quarter of the students have disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, and a quarter speak limited English.
If the board approves the recommendation, the school would close in June 2016, seven years after opening. The board is expected to discuss the recommendation Tuesday and vote on it next month.
Since charter schools began operating in Massachusetts two decades ago, 12 charter schools have closed for performance-related reasons.
The fate of Dorchester Collegiate contrasts sharply with that of another charter school, Global Learning Charter Public School in New Bedford, which was placed on probation two years ago for low academic achievement. Chester will recommend to the board Tuesday to remove the school from probation, satisfied with rising test scores.
Under the recommendation, the state will continue to closely monitor the school's academic progress.