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Parents, students react to Urban Choice Charter School's closing announcement

Andrew Hyman
Updated: February 14, 2020 11:07 PM
Created: February 14, 2020 10:45 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Students and staff at a soon-to-be shut down Rochester charter school are now focusing on the next steps.

On Thursday, it was announced the Urban Choice Charter School was set to close at the end of the current school year after the New York State Department of Education informed the school its charter would not be renewed.

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The news came as a total shock to parent Felicia Dees, and her son, Tyquan, a seventh-grader at the school.

"He was so heartbroken, he just started crying and he says, mom what are we going to do now, where am I going to go now," she said.

Dees was one of 400 families to receive the notice on Thursday, several parents and students met the school for a formal meeting with school leaders.

"It was heartbreaking," Nelson Blish, the school chair said.

The decision means that those students and about 70 faculty members will have to go somewhere else. Ultimately, Blish said the state’s request not to renew came down to academics.

Charter schools are reviewed with 10 distinct benchmarks, ranging from student performance to legal compliance. 

The most recent state data showed the school had either met or exceeded several of those benchmarks, including student performance, though enrollment was the only “approaches.”

But, there were some issues, namely with test scores, as the same state data, the school's ELA and Math proficiency was above the Rochester School District but still trailed far behind the state's average in both categories.

"We did not, I shouldn't say we did not do well, we were not graded well," Blish said.

In a statement, a PR rep for the school added:

“There isn’t just one reason test scores can be low. There are multiple factors to consider and test scores are only one part of the entire academic experience. Factors such as, what’s going on outside of school, whether or not the student is confident in his or her test taking abilities, how much sleep a student had the night before, among other factors, can influence how well they perform on a test.”

The report also noted a high turnover of staff, and a lower enrollment of English language learners, and students with disabilities. 

News10NBC reached out to the department for comment but did not hear back.

But, Dees says, the environment was perfect for her so, she says Tyquan had moved around several charter schools before settling at UCCS last semester, though she could not speak for other students. 

While the lower scores did concern her, Dees feels school leaders deserve a chance to stay open and turn things around.

“It's just like a home away from home, like, a home away from home," she said.

The school’s future is still pending a vote from the state’s regents in April, but Blish says, it's almost certain the close will be approved. In the meantime, he says the school is helping its students finish this school year on a strong academic note.

"Our priority right now is ensuring high-quality education for the students for the next four or five months,” Blish said.

Blish did not mention what is being done for faculty & staff.

The application deadline to apply for another charter school in the area is April 1.

Click here for the GoodSchoolsRoc application portal.


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