News: Quick Takes

Durham charter school will close May 16 in solidarity with public schools

A charter school in Durham plans to close in support of teachers in traditional public schools.

Central Park Charter School for Children plans to join the growing number of schools closing for the March for Students and Rally for Respect next week.

Thousands of teachers are expected to attend the N.C. Association of Educators’-sponsored event to advocate for higher pay, more school resources, and safer schools.

Among the schools systems choosing to make May 16 an optional work day include: Asheboro, Pitt County, Johnston County, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, Kannapolis, Lexington, New Hanover, and 11 other counties. With too few substitute teachers to cover the absences, school districts decided it best to close the schools.

While more than 35 percent of the student population will be off May 16, most students enrolled in charter schools will attend classes. Central Park Charter School for Children, along with the Durham Association of Educators, announced May 9 the K-8 charter school will close in solidarity with public school educators.

“We intend to actively fight against resegregation of schools by race and class in North Carolina,” Central Park middle school teacher Morgan Carney said in a news release. “We stand against privatization, vouchers, and for-profit charter schools, believing passionately that we must serve in collaboration and partnership alongside our communities’ public schools.”

In 2013, Central Park, which describes itself as progressive, tried to increase the socio-economic diversity of its students. The charter school employed a weighted lottery model to give students of low-income families a greater chance of getting into the school.

Taylor Schmidt, a Central Park middle school teacher, said charters need to also stand up for traditional public schools.

“We have to make a signal of solidarity with public schools in North Carolina, and we need to put some of our skin in the game,” Schmidt said. “We want to signal our solidarity with public schools with the understanding that they are drastically underfunded and that’s unsustainable. This is for our children.”

Families still can access day camp and subsidized food services from Central Park, but classes won’t be held. Before May 16, Central Park will work to prepare students for end-of-course and end-of-year exams.

“I truly do believe that charter schools and public schools are on the same page in their desire to make sure all students in North Carolina receive a world-class education … ,” Schmidt said.

Central Park, the release says, objects to the rapid and unregulated expansion of charter schools. In 2011, the General Assembly removed the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said it’s now harder to get and keep a charter.

“Soon after lawmakers removed the 100-school cap on charters, they worked with state education officials to create a rigorous application and review process and strengthen school monitoring and accountability,” Stoops said.

While teachers continue to push for higher pay and more school resources, Stoops said teacher compensation has increased significantly over the past four years.

“School crime and teacher survey data suggest that working conditions have improved. And teacher attrition is relatively low,” Stoops said.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said they are committed to passing a fifth consecutive teacher pay raise.

“The real crisis is the stagnation in student performance,” Stoops said. “Parents should be the ones organizing demonstrations at the state capital, demanding that their tax dollars be used in a more productive way.”