NAACP, others not fans of Champaign charter-school proposal

NAACP, others not fans of Champaign charter-school proposal

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CHAMPAIGN — Concerns about draining the Champaign school district's resources have some community members skeptical about a proposed charter school aimed at improving academic progress in low-income and low-achieving students within the district.

Founding members of the proposed North Champaign Academy said they are concerned with data from the Illinois State Board of Education, which reported that 52 percent of black Unit 4 third-graders were performing below standards in the reading category in 2017. The charter school, they said, could help reduce that number within the district since it could specifically focus on the needs of low-income and low-achieving students.

But if the Unit 4 school board decides to approve the proposal, it would mean that the district would have to cover the cost of each student's attendance at that school — what's called a per capita tuition credit. And since the NCA's proposed focus is "at-risk" students, the organizers' application states that "NCA is seeking 125 percent of the PCTC for school operations."

So, if the school served 100 students, founders wrote in the proposed budget they submitted to the school board, it would mean an annual investment by the district of $1,484,725 — or $14,845 per student, per year.

Champaign County NAACP President Minnie Pearson reiterated the national organization's current stance on charter schools in an interview with The News-Gazette, saying a 2016 resolution of a moratorium on that model of school remains in effect.

"What I can say in my stance as a president of the NAACP is that I do not support charter schools at this time," said Pearson, a retired Unit 4 teacher. "The research shows they drain resources from the public schools. Many public schools continue to outperform charter schools."

According to the NAACP's national office, the moratorium would last until at least these four standards were met:

— "Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools."

— "Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system."

— "Charter schools cease expelling students that the public schools have a duty to educate."

— "Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest-performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet obvious."

'We're in a different era'

Nathaniel Banks, a member of North Champaign Academy's steering committee, said that while he respects the NAACP's position, it doesn't reflect the thought behind the local charter school.

"There's an old argument that charter schools are just private schools that allow white families to have their own educational experience without being around black children," Banks said. "We're in a different era right now. There are lots of alternatives for families in the Champaign-Urbana area: There are private schools, there are parochial schools, but low-income students have no alternatives."

Pearson said that while she is not against anyone starting the school, her position as NAACP president and former Unit 4 teacher cause her to strongly "endorse the public schools."

"In Champaign County, the public schools have better and more numerous resources for our children," she said. "They provide more arts and art education, sports and theater and more honor and AP classes relative to the private schools. All of the classes that the public schools offer, the charter could not offer that. They wouldn't have the resources."

Still, she said, the district has more work to do to try close achievement gaps between its students.

Patricia Avery, who preceded Pearson as head of the local NAACP chapter, said she, too, is concerned with academic achievement gaps within the district.

"I share in their concern in terms of where we are with our students," she said. "Where we are now, it's raising red flags for me."

'Parent university' plan

North Champaign Academy's founding members believe one reason their school would create greater student success is because it would foster intense parent involvement, something they said isn't always common within the district.

But similarly, Avery said she's part of an initiative to create an engaging program for parents within Unit 4 that will officially debut at three schools later this month.

"We're hoping to have a kickoff where I think parents are the key component," said Avery, executive director of the CU Area Project. "The critical component is family engagement. We're looking at what the parents and what the district wanted. At our kickoff, we're hoping to get more information on what barriers they see and what services they would want to see."

The program would be a sort of "parent university," aimed at assisting moms and dads and figuring out what resources they would like to see or need from the district. Avery added that it would be a way to foster more student engagement, by making parents more familiar with the district and offering workshops for them.

Perhaps a district-wide offering in the future, Avery said the project, nearly two years in the making, will start at Garden Hills, Stratton and Booker T. Washington elementary schools.

"We want to start small," she said. "It will be open to the (whole) district at some point, but we have to manage it from the beginning, so we're going to target those schools first. I think it will be a major step forward for the district."

Regardless of method, however, Avery emphasized that something must be done to help all African-American students reach their academic potential within the district.

"We've got to be willing to think outside and inside the box about what we can do to make sure we're not failing our kids," she said. "Its our responsibility to educate our kids. Education of our students should never be a compromise."

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Local Yocal wrote on March 08, 2018 at 7:03 am
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In light of the academic performance of African American students, something must be done, and it's worth a try to experiment with a Charter School. The biggest hurdle is hiring staff and creating lesson plans by August. 

rsp wrote on March 08, 2018 at 12:03 pm

I don't think that's the biggest problem. When they suggest having it at the church and half the members are suing the pastor for fraud it's a problem. The bank is threatening foreclosure, that's a problem. The other location they gave? Can't find it. Not sure it exists. There are so many problems I don't think they can be solved by a year from August. Many of these kids have been exposed to trauma but there's no mention of it in their proposal. Just things like 15 minute math classes, same for English. More time is spent on recreation and socialization.

It would make much more sense to work on the things in the schools to help all of the kids. Work with all of the parents to help all of the kids.

mrobin665 wrote on March 08, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Thinking inside and outside the box.  I think the school of choice was outside the box.  And the statistics back that this thinking has undoubtedly failed.  Inside the box, which was stated, was family involvement.  So creating a charter school will magically make the parents want to be more involved?  I don't understand this logic.

One of the key ingredients of a solid school district is parent involvement.  It assists teachers with their jobs and allows the teachers to do their jobs.  If the teachers cannot educate and are spending most of their time just managing the classroom for behavioral issues, it doesn't give them much time to do what they are supposed to do, TEACH. Teachers are working extremely hard, and it is time that parents/guardians/families step up and be part of their child's education.  It isn't just a Unit 4 problem, it is a state and nationwide problem.  The school district is used as a childcare provider, and it isn't any more a primary place of learning.  


Objective Reporter wrote on March 08, 2018 at 1:03 pm

I agree with almost everything you say except that schools of choice "has undoubtedly failed".  The purpose of schools of choice (among other things, like putting gifted programs at certain schools) was to to eliminate the racially identifiable traits of neighborhood schools.  In other words, the goal was to get more white kids in schools on the north end and more black kids in schools on the south end.  That has happened.

Khristine wrote on March 08, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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American children have been educated for 200 years in public schools. If the schools are failing to properly educate their students, it is the responsibility of the School Board to find a way to fix it. Throwing tax payer money into a charter school instead of properly funding and adapting public school curricula is not the answer. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.