Since 2006, Newark’s University Heights Charter School (UHCS) has served the community with support from Bethany Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest and oldest Black churches. Yet on June 1, the families of nearly 700 students learned that their school, a pre-K-8 public charter, was unexpectedly closing. According to TapInto Newark, “this unjustifiably late notification by [Gov. Phil Murphy’s] Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan has left families in the lurch and [they] are frantically scrambling to find an alternative school for their children for the summer and fall. UCHS was set to deliver a robust summer enrichment program starting on July 6. Due to this closure decision, parents are left to fend for themselves with very little time. The lack of care, compassion, and planning for such a high-stakes decision that impacts so many low-income families is unconscionable.”
In response, on June 12th students held a peaceful protest in support of their school and against the decision to close it.
From the New Jersey Public Charter School Association:
Public charter schools are the most accountable public schools in New Jersey and must meet rigorous academic and financial benchmarks in order to operate in New Jersey and we support this high level of accountability. However, the Murphy Administration’s decision-making on public charter schools has both hurt and disrespected Black and Latino parents in Newark and throughout New Jersey. Four months ago, the Acting Commissioner of Education denied modest expansion requests of some of the highest performing charter schools not only in New Jersey but in the country. If those seats were granted, and this closure decision announced earlier, these families could have enrolled in high performing public charter schools in Newark for next school year. Instead, this last-minute closure will create chaos for UCHS families as they scramble to find a school for next year.
The charter community stands ready to work with the affected families to try to find placements in charter schools for these students. We implore the Murphy Administration to work with the charter sector in Newark – some of the best charter schools ever created – to serve more students so that Newark parents can exercise their right for self-determination for their children.
Tapinto notes that Murphy’s Acting Commissioner and her DOE only considered test scores from 2018-2019, which don’t reflect improvements in UCHS student outcomes. Also, an “unannounced visit by a DOE evaluator…resulted in a positive verbal feedback at the conclusion of the visit” but the written report from the evaluator was never shared with administrators of UHCS. This sequence of events is identical to the faux “evaluation” process for Trenton’s Achievers Early College Prep Charter School, which ended in a surprising and data-free last-minute denial of an long-planned expansion and, like UHCS, leaves parents without an acceptable school slot for their children. In the Trenton case, the school’s chief administrator told NJ Ed Report than an evaluator in the DOE’s Charter School Office quit because “he felt he couldn’t ethically participate in the DOE’s current charter review process and that the denial was “definitely political,” the antithesis of what’s best for children and families.