Great Oaks Charter School has been given one last chance by a state agency focused on ensuring the accountability of Delaware’s charter schools.
The Wilmington charter, which serves a student body that’s 97.24% minority students, received a promising decision in Tuesday’s Charter School Accountability Committee final renewal meeting.
The committee voted to recommend the renewal of Great Oaks – with 16 conditions – to Education Secretary Mark Holodick, who will likely follow that recommendation.
Great Oaks is one of six charter schools in Delaware up for renewal this year, with Holodick announcing the state’s decisions at the State Board of Education’s December meeting.
State law requires charters to apply for renewal every five years, with applications that contain basic information about the school like leadership personnel, contacts, enrollment, district of residence, mission statements and more.
Applications also include more complex details like trends in enrollment, academic performance, graduation rates and proficiency rates.
Great Oaks serves a unique student body, with 36% of students receiving special education services, 15% of students have previously been incarcerated, 10% of students are current/expecting parents or have experienced late term pregnancy loss and 5% of students are in foster care and/or homeless.
“I want to recognize that this group…stood up for a group of children that for years and decades had nobody that stood up for them,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “When we talk about charter schools being put together for the underserved, that’s what you’re doing.”
In many cases they have been left on their own, Massett said, have fallen through the cracks, and have been neglected.
Massett said Great Oaks, which has just 148 students, might be smaller in size, but is ginormous in impact.
The charter was placed on formal review by the state last school year due to low enrollment numbers, having 37% fewer students than its authorized enrollment.
Back in October, 2022 Great Oaks parents, students and teachers laughed, cried and pleaded with Department of Education representatives for the survival of their school.
Months later, in December 2022, their wishes were met, as the State Board of Education voted to allow the charter to continue operation as long as it met 22 conditions.
The conditions were focused on increasing enrollment numbers, certifying teachers, building financial stability and cash reserves, evaluations for faculty and more.
Great Oaks met most of those conditions, but there were a few not met, specifically with enrollment numbers.
Rather than meeting the condition of 200 students for the current 2023-2024 school year, Great Oaks has just 145.
However, school leadership has touted impressive improvements in other areas, such as:
- Reduced the number of suspensions by 20%.
- Increased school testing participation rates increased by 21%.
- Increased Math Smarter Balanced Assessment scores by 6%.
- Made sure 100% of administrators are certified and have prior leadership experience.
- Reduced chronic absenteeism – defined as missing 10% or more of school days throughout the school year – by 31% (72% to 41%), the lowest it’s been in four years.
- Increased new high school student applications by 100%.
- Increased new applications overall by 52%.
“This would really be the department’s really strong effort to support a last chance for the school to kind of right some of the things that continue to remain a concern,” said Kim Klein, chair of the Charter School Accountability Committee.
School leaders said in the meeting that there’s a couple teachers still going through the certification process but will soon be taking their Praxis exam, which if passed, would give them full certification.
They also asked how strict the committee would be if the school doesn’t fully meet all of the 16 new conditions laid out Tuesday.
For example, one condition is that the school maintains an enrollment of 119 students, which represents 80% of their new authorized enrollment of 148 students.
An admin from Great Oaks asked if they were one student shy, would the school be shut down.
“I don’t want to sit here today as we’re considering renewal and conditions, and already start talking about not needing the conditions,” Klein said. “The department’s expectation is that the school meets these conditions. It was our expectation last year through formal review, and we missed that mark by a couple of conditions, but we’re sitting here today and these are the expectations of this body for the school to me by this time next year.”
Other than the enrollment conditions, others include biweekly meetings with school administrators and the Department of Education, submitting financial reports with cash balance information, submitting anticipated summer payroll projections – updated monthly – to reflect staffing changes, creating a plan for ongoing support of the on site leadership team and emergency succession protocols for unexpected vacancies, detail policies regarding multi-tiered systems of support and more.
It’s clear the focus is on enrollment, finances, staffing and certification.
Great Oaks has a proficiency rate of 19.23% in English language arts compared to the state average of 40.76%. The charter’s math proficiency is not made available by the Department of Education’s State Report Card.
There are a handful of both district schools and charter schools that have worse proficiency rates.
Immediate efforts to reach Laretha Odumosu, executive director of Great Oaks, for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Great Oaks will officially learn their fate for next school year at the State Board of Education’s Dec. 14 meeting starting at 5 p.m., which can be watched here.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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