Virtually ignoring the drama that has enveloped the leadership of Noble Charter Network, a group of parents and some students passionately urged the Chicago school district Wednesday night to renew the group’s charter for 10 years.
They were the only voices at a public hearing before independent hearing officer Margaret Fitzpatrick on applications from 11 charter operators that run dozens of schools. Charters are publicly funded schools but privately operated with leeway to not follow some state education laws.
“We appreciate and respect the care and concern that our child receives at Noble,” said David Turner, explaining his son’s interest in academics blossomed after starting at Noble Street College Prep as a freshman this year.
Tina Williams told about her son entering Noble’s Johnson College Prep as a shy ninth grader four years ago. Now he’s talkative and excited about the future, Williams said.
“He is talking about college,” she said. “This school has been nothing but supportive.
Of 16 Noble high schools in Chicago, 11 received the top 1-plus rating in the latest district rankings. Only two received a rating lower than 1.
The hearing came the day after Noble President Constance Jones confirmed in a statement to the network’s teachers that founder Michael Milkie was stepping down amid reports of “inappropriate behavior with alumni,” which included hand-holding and “an instance of slow-dancing.”
Despite the circumstances of Milkie’s departure, Turner and his wife, Jenny, told Chalkbeat they had not lost confidence in the Noble network.
“As parents this concerns us greatly, and we support the board and all of their efforts,” Turner said. “No network is perfect, but Noble offers a good quality education.”
Along with an outside law firm hired by the network’s board of directors, the Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General is investigating Milkie’s behavior.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of students, whether they are in a district-run school or a charter school, and the district will continue to collaborate to strengthen student safety and support,” the district said a statement. “The district is deeply concerned about these allegations and the OIG investigation will provide us with a clearer understanding of the allegations and actions that were taken to protect students.”
Milkie will retire at the end of the calendar year.
Noble network supporters, spoke mostly about how the school turned around their academics.
Alumna Diana Segovia said that she had little motivation to do well in high school during her first months at Noble’s Pritzker College Prep. But soon, extracurriculars like the debate team and strong relationships with teachers awakened her interest in education.
“Adapting to the school was very hard, but when I was ready to actually focus, my teachers were so excited,” she said.
Charter operators ask the district to renew their charter for any number of years, but the district usually gives renewals of two to seven years.
After district officials make their recommendation on renewing charters, the school board will vote on the applications Dec. 5.