A year after being put on formal review by the state, Great Oaks Charter School has made strides in student achievement as it seeks to keep its doors open.
In seven months of turnaround efforts, the Wilmington charter has:
- 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%
The state placed the charter on formal review last fall after it submitted an enrollment of 236 students for 2022-2023 school year, 37% below its authorized enrollment of 325 students.
Student enrollment affects how much funding a school receives from the state.
According to Laretha Odumosu, executive director of Great Oaks, the school is still working on three of the state’s conditions and has made good progress with them.
Two of the three relate to the authorized enrollment of 200, which the school is about 50 students short of.
The third unmet condition pertains to testing participation rates, which requires 95% participation for all mandated state tests.
All were supposed to be met by Sept. 30.
Great Oaks is one of six charter schools up for routine renewal this year, and Odumosu said she assumes the list of conditions will be part of that process.
The school’s first public hearing for renewal is Nov, 6 and can be watched here.
School leaders last year said one of the reasons the enrollment was lower than expected was because recruiting efforts were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Great Oaks, which is located in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington, serves a student body that’s 97.24% minority students.
The state announced in December 2022 that it would allow the school to continue operating with 22 conditions.
Some of those conditions were:
- Setting an authorized enrollment of 200 students, rather than 325, for the 2023-2024 school year.
- Submitting a revised budget for the school year that aligned with its enrollment of 236 students.
- Meeting 90% of its authorized enrollment by April 1, 2023. That is 180 students.
- Submiting a plan to build cash reserves back up and meet the state’s financial framework performance metrics.
- Creating a detailed plan for the six teachers that were currently not licensed and certified for the area that they’re teaching.
- Creating evaluations for administrators and teachers.
Angela Perry, Great Oaks’ board president, said the key to turning the school around is frequent deeply personal interaction with students.
Having a low teacher to student ratio helps with this, she said.
The charter, which has 140 students, has a staff to student ratio of 10 to one.
“The biggest thing is following up with the students and reaching out to them, since these are the subgroups of students who get lost in the shuffle of larger institutions,” said Odumosu.
She said if a student repeatedly does not show up to school, many larger institutions will call maybe three or four times a year to check in.
“Great Oaks is calling those three or four times within the course of two weeks,” she said. “We’re constantly following up. We’re issuing home visits. It’s recognizing that a student has not come to school in the past two weeks and we need to find out what’s going on.”
Odumosu said she was recently on a phone call with school principal Tamara Price who was talking to a student who she hadn’t seen for three days.
“She knew that the student was in her late-term pregnancy and it turns out that the student is in the hospital,” Odumosu said. “Normally three days out at your average high school would not trigger a phone call, but since Miss Price knew that that student wasn’t around and she knew that that she was expecting, Miss Price called the student.”
From her hospital bed, the student was able to give Price updates on her condition.
“So it’s that personal touch that makes a difference,” Odumosu said.
Both she and Perry pointed out that the student body of Great Oaks has unique needs that most schools in Delaware don’t address or serve.
Great Oaks’ student body:
- 56% of student population is made up of black and brown boys
- 36% of students receive special education services
- 15% of Great Oaks students have been previously incarcerated
- 10% of students are current/expecting parents or have experienced late term pregnancy loss
- 5% of students are in foster care and/or homeless
The State Board of Education will make final decisions on the six charters, including Great Oaks, in its December meeting.
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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