Charter school facing closure

Facing impending closure at the end of the school year, a charter school in the south Bronx hopes it can win its final appeal next week and stay afloat.

Heketi Community Charter School, located at 403 Concord Avenue in Mott Haven, is a dual language kindergarten through five school chartered by SUNY Charter Schools Institute. In December SUNY officials notified principal David Rosas they would be shuttering Heketi.

The school opened in 2012 and has been embraced by the community, Rosas said. SUNY officials evaluated the school in 2017 and gave it a partial renewal for three years, not the typical five.

“It came as a surprise,” Rosas said to the Bronx Times. “Here we are making this growth and putting changes in place based on the recommendations that they made.”

The state agency was worried about poor test scores, however even after improving the numbers in 2019 and outperforming the public schools in School District 7 last year, it still was not good enough for SUNY. English test scores increased from 21 to 38 percent and math 26 to 47 percent.

In November 2019, SUNY representatives observed several classrooms and spoke with some teachers. The SUNY observers did not like what they found the principal said: they took issue with poor classroom behavior and disapproved of the students using English and Spanish in class, instead of focusing on one language.

Over the most recent three-year term, the Institute visited the school six times, observed 77 lessons, conducted more than 30 interviews with board members, school leaders, teachers, and parents, and reviewed more than a hundred documents. At each step of the way we provided Heketi with feedback on what they needed to improve to earn a renewal recommendation. Beyond Heketi’s failure to meet its Accountability Plan goals, our report details the school’s weak instructional program, its struggles to effectively serve both English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and the school’s issues with enrollments, retention, and chronic absenteeism.

Specifically, the reps did not like when a teacher asked questions in Spanish that were answered in English.

“They continued with this narrative that the dual language program is not strong,” he said.

The classrooms may sometimes appear out of control, but in actuality they are just letting them take a break, he explained.

“Our mission here is not to produce robots,” Rosas remarked. “It is very hard to have visitors who don’t work in school say what it should look like.”

On Monday, December 16, Rosas was notified the school would be closing. He told the teachers immediately and sent a letter to the parents on Wednesday, January 8.

A day later, moms, dads and kids arrived at school crying and asked why it was happening.

“It was a grieving process and still is,” he said. “I myself had a little bit of an emotional moment. We all thought we were going to get a five year renewal.”

On Tuesday, January 28, the school appealled its imminent closure with SUNY and in February they learned it was denied. Their last and final appeal is Tuesday, March 10 in Manhattan. Many parents are concerned and will be joining Rosas next week at the hearing.

Parent Teacher Association president Dolores Hook and Stephanie Caban have sons in the second grade and are both devastated about the news. Hook said the teachers know the kids by name and called Heketi Community Charter School a special place.
“I’m very upset about this happening,” Hook said.

Caban, whose son Tyler started at the school in October, was despondent when he heard about the closure.

“I went straight to the principal and said what can we do to fight,” Caban said.

 

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