By Kate Wells | Michigan Radio
Three Detroit charter schools are closing and two are merging this year, adding to the school turnover and churn families in that city are seeing.
One of the larger charters, Allen Academy, is being shut down because of poor academic performance.
“The test scores over the last several years, they’ve been outperformed by the resident district, Detroit Public Schools,” says Ron Rizzo, director of the Charter Schools Office at Ferris State University, which authorized Allen Academy.
“It’s not something that we take lightly … but we do have a duty to the taxpayers of the state of Michigan, and the students and families who attend there, to make sure they’re not just attending schools, but attending quality schools.
“So, we have contractual goals, and if they’re not met and they’re not met for a period of time, we have to take action. For the last several years, they’ve not met their contractual goals.”
Last school year, 20% of third graders at DPS were proficient on state tests in English Language Arts. At Allen Academy, just 7% of third graders were proficient on the same tests.
Meanwhile, the state charter school association is holding an “enrollment fair” Wednesday for the 900 or so families at Allen Academy who now have to find a new school.
Calls and emails to Allen Academy’s main office and school board leaders were not returned Tuesday.
Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse closes after 38 years
Carmen N’Namdi says she and her husband started their small school in Detroit in 1978, naming it after the daughter they lost: Nataki Talibah.
“And we were determined we were going to do something in memory of her. It was almost like: ‘Oh death, you’re not going to get the best of us. We’re going to come up with something and let her live.’ And that’s what we did. The school was really a vision that we had – it was how we wanted our own children to be educated, and all our children were educated here,” she says.
N’Namdi says they focused their school on “thinking globally” and creating a place where “the African American child could view themselves as the norm.”
The school was always small, she says, but in recent years enrollment declined to about 180 kids, as more and more charter schools opened up all around them.
“There was a charter school on every corner. I’m probably within walking distance of four schools I can walk to, where we were the only one. And if you don’t like what we said, then you go across the street. And then you if you don’t like what they said, then you go around the corner. It got to be a marketplace.”
With such a small enrollment, N’Namdi says the bond payments on their buildings became too much too afford.
A spokesperson for Central Michigan University, which authorizes the school, says re-authorization was not recommended for Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse this year, citing enrollment and financial issues as the driving factors.
Brad Wever is with CMU’s Center for Charter Schools. When asked if there were now so many charters in Detroit that they were cannibalizing each other’s enrollment, Wever says “there’s some of that happening.”
While CMU isn’t currently looking to open any new charters in Detroit, Wever says the “abundance of choice is not a bad thing.”
“Some schools want to be small, others want to be larger. With charters, that’s what you see: there’s that diversity of choice.”
Other charters closing and merging, with an enrollment fair this week
The state charter school association says one other Detroit charter school, Experiencia Preparatory Academy, is also closing this year.
“New Paradigm Glazer Academy appears to be merging with New Paradigm Loving Academy,” says Buddy Moorehouse, spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Public Academies.
Moorehouse says organizers have invited some 70 schools that met certain academic thresholds to attend Wednesday’s enrollment fair, which is geared towards students who attended Allen Academy.
By Tuesday afternoon, nearly all the schools that agreed to attend the fair were charters, although Moorehouse says that may change as more schools respond.
Here’s a list of schools that have already agreed to attend the Enrollment Fair at Allen Academy on Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.:
Early Career Academy
Cesar Chavez Elementary
Cesar Chavez Middle
Cesar Chavez High
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies
Detroit Merit Academy
Commonwealth Community Development Academy
Detroit Central High School
Michigan Technical Academy MS