by Christopher Paslay
Alternative schools like HOPE Charter should be expanded, not closed.
Attention parents, teachers, and students of the Philadelphia School District. Come next September, with the closing of HOPE Charter School, dozens of violent students with behavior problems may be coming to a school near you.
These students aren’t just violent and dangerous. They’re transient and unstable, and have a history of jumping around from high school-to-high school; they have lengthy suspension records; they have major attendance problems; and over three-quarters of them live with either one parent or no parent at all.
HOPE Charter School used to serve these high needs students, before the SRC swooped in and slotted HOPE for closure this June. According to a HOPE Charter School Executive Summary dated March 16, 2012:
For 10 years, HOPE Charter School has served Philadelphia’s most challenged teens and their families—providing a school model unique to the City, with an equal emphasis on academic re-engagement and social-emotional stabilization. Since implementing significant leadership changes in 2008, HOPE has become a supportive and effective “last resort” for many Philadelphia students.
Since HOPE is closing, this “last resort” may now take place in a school near you.
Here is the population of students HOPE Charter currently serves by the numbers:
- Over 1/3 of HOPE’s 250 plus students have IEPs, 3rd highest of all Philadelphia’s public or charter schools
- More than 2/3 of HOPE students transfer into the school from other high schools
- At least 50% of students were disciplined in previous schools for violent/dangerous behavior
- 57% of HOPE students were suspended 3 or more days prior to coming to HOPE
- Over 50% of students had major absence problems (20+ days/year) prior to attending HOPE
- Only 16% of HOPE students live in a two-parent home, 23% live with neither parent
And HOPE is now closing. This is something for parents to think about. Come September (because HOPE’s low PSSA scores prompted the SRC not to renew its charter), a dangerous, emotionally disturbed and/or adjudicated youth could be sitting in a desk right next to your son or daughter. Your child could be: 1—physically attacked; 2—influenced to skip school or engage in other self destructive behaviors; or 3—have his or her education robbed from them on a daily basis.
This is something for teachers to think about as well. This fall, because the SRC doesn’t see the value in alternative schools like HOPE Charter (and because they don’t understand that an alternative environment is the best placement for wayward children regardless of the outcome of math and reading scores), you could be: 1—forced to spend a disproportionate amount of your energy and classroom resources addressing new behavior problems; 2—have the integrity of your classroom environment totally compromised; or 3—have your morale completely destroyed.
Not that these kids don’t have the right to an education. HOPE’s student body is compromised of some of Philadelphia’s neediest students. According to Andrew D. Sparks, a member of the HOPE Charter School board of directors:
HOPE Charter School was founded by administrators from JJC Family Services, a nonprofit agency with the mission to provide family/foster placements, care, and support to severely neglected, abused, abandoned or seriously delinquent children. The founders started a charter school in 2002 after seeing the unmet needs of the children and adolescents that JJC was serving. The school’s mission was, and still is, to “meet the unique needs of students who are not currently succeeding in their conventional school, may not be attending school, or attending sporadically, and/or may be in danger of leaving school prior to their graduation.” The goal was to provide these students with a safe and caring environment and an array of emotional, academic, and social supports.
Not anymore. Because these troubled youth struggle on math and reading tests, the SRC just assumed that these kids would be better served in traditional schools around the city. This backward thinking, of course, is not only unfair to HOPE’s most troubled youth in need of specialized assistance, but to our regular population of students who will undoubtedly have their educations once again compromised at the hands of the wayward few.
The SRC and the District’s Charter School Office needs to reconsider closing HOPE Charter school. On the contrary, alternative schools like HOPE should be invested in and expanded, not shut down.