Charter with tie to UA to close

With prospect of 3rd 'D' rating, Wildcat School to shut doors
2013-02-08T00:00:00Z 2014-10-24T10:11:57Z Charter with tie to UA to closeJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A Tucson charter school hailed as a model for the future when it opened in 2006 because of its partnership with the University of Arizona will close its doors at the end of this school year.

The Wildcat Charter School, 42 E. Adams St., will shut down in May after receiving a D grade from the state Department of Education two years in a row, said Walter Doyle, president of the school's Governing Board.

The board voted on Jan. 18 to close the school, Doyle said.

Board members and school officials wanted to give parents enough time to research and find another school for their children, he said.

"We thought this was a humane and educationally justified way to do it instead of making a run for it," he said.

When it opened, it was lauded as the first charter school to have an affiliation with a state university. Its goal was to provide an academically rigorous math- and science-focused education for low-income students.

The UA provided undergraduate mentors to the school each semester as part of a service-learning class that counted for college credit.

The charter school also was allowed to use its relationship with the university in advertisements.

The school received a performing plus rating from the state Department of Education in 2010 under the Arizona Learns standards, but its ratings declined after the state switched to different evaluation standards.

Doyle, a professor at the UA's College of Education, did not connect the school's academic decline to the change in standards.

"We just know we weren't making the achievement test scores that we needed to make. I'm not sure I have an explanation for that," he said. "We just faced the reality that we needed to act in a way that was best for the families and students in our school."

If the school had received a D grade for a third year in a row, it could have had its charter revoked.

Three consecutive D's become an F in the state evaluation system. If a charter school receives an F, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools can either work with the school to help raise the grade or revoke its charter, said DeAnna Rowe, executive director of the state Board for Charter Schools.

Wildcat School officials decided to shut down rather than risk getting another D grade, Doyle said.

The K-8 school has about 216 students.

School officials are now working with families to help them find new schools, Doyle said.

For Ernette Leslie, this will be the second time in three years that she has had to find a new school for her daughter Colby, 10.

Leslie also has another daughter, Caley John, 7.

Colby was in second grade at Richey Elementary School before the Tucson Unified School District decided to close the school, said Leslie, who is a parent member of the Wildcat School's Governing Board.

She chose the Wildcat School because it offered a kindergarten-through-fifth grade option and the school supported the Native American community near Richey.

Leslie described her reaction to the closure as one of "disbelief."

"I think the closure of the Wildcat School is one of the most difficult decisions I had to be a part of, since the Wildcat has provided a good education and a familylike experience for me and my daughters," she said in an email. "I can't believe it's happening again."

Leslie, who is Navajo, pointed to the school's staff and its high percentage of Native American students as some of its positives.

She will keep an open mind when choosing the next school, but she would prefer to send her daughters to another charter school, she said.

Her younger daughter was diagnosed with autism, and that will complicate the family's next school choice, she said.

"The closure is going to have an impact on my kids' life. However, I believe that ... we can get through this again," she said.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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