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Chicago tags two charter schools for possible closure, warns five others

As Chicago’s five-year moratorium on school closings ends this year, the school district has labeled two charter schools and one contract school as possible candidates for closure and has issued warnings to five others tagged as underperforming.

The announcement comes as part of data released Friday that rates schools across the Chicago district. Since 2013, the district has issued a “warning list” of charter schools whose performance rating is poor.

Overall, more charter schools received the top two ratings, with 41 schools — 40 percent of charters in the city — ranked in Level 1-plus or Level 1, compared with 33 last year. At the same time, nearly 1 in 5 charters earned one of two lowest rankings. That’s the same portion of district schools in the bottommost levels.

Chicago has five rankings for schools.

The schools facing possible closure for poor performance are Kwame Nkrumah Academy, a K-8 charter school in West Roseland; Plato Learning Academy, a contract school (run by the district but maintaining some autonomy) in the South Austin neighborhood; and Urban Prep West in University Village.

All three received warnings last year for previous years’ poor performance, and remain at the bottom of ratings.

“CPS is closely evaluating the performance record for each of the three schools that are eligible for closure and will make a recommendation in the coming weeks to the Board of Education regarding the future status of each school,” the district wrote in a press release announcing the data.

The district issued new warnings to five other charter schools based on low performance in 2017-18: Chicago Virtual Charter School, Chicago Collegiate, Acer’s Paz, Frazier Charter School and Montessori Englewood. If they are not able to improve their ratings, they risk being slated for closure next year.

Principal Charles M. Williams Jr., who heads Plato, challenged the district’s School Quality Rating Policy as a way of encompassing a school’s progress. “Two years ago we were in the 18th percentile for math; this past year we are at the 42nd percentile. We have made enormous gains,” he said. “Unfortunately, the metrics for the SQRP are very rigid.”

As for the risk of closure, Williams said he wasn’t worried at all. “We have excellent people doing excellent work, I know that we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

The district released data the same week that teachers at 19 charter schools in two networks announced they would take strike authorization votes.  

Several developments have heightened parents’ worries about potential school closings. Besides the moratorium ending, the district released a census showing low enrollment at a number of campuses, and new enrollment figures issued Friday show the student population continuing to shrink.