Most of the coverage about the Department of Education’s role as a charter authorizer in recent weeks has focused on the management scandals at the Believe Network and the decision to close Peninsula Prep after three years of C’s (although interestingly enough, the role of for-profit charter manager Victory Schools has mostly been left out of the Peninsula Prep story, despite quotes from current Victory executive and past DOE Charter Office head Michael Duffy in the Times coverage of the school’s closing).
Equally important, however, was the DOE’s decision to grant a two-year renewal to the third school it had placed on the closure list this year — Opportunity Charter School, a charter founded to serve students with special education needs. The DOE’s threat to close Opportunity had inspired a passionate response from the school’s community, including powerful presentations of evidence from the district’s own progress reports showing its success in helping students with intense special education needs achieve academically and graduate from high school at rates well above other schools in the city.
The successful effort by the students, teachers, parents, and leadership of Opportunity in defending their school is even more impressive given that their building is currently shared with one of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies. In previous cases, this chain’s schools have seemingly been given an advantage by the DOE in competitions for district building space over both district schools and other charters, and Opportunity supporters had feared that their school’s presence on the DOE’s charter closure list would result in a similar outcome. The fact that it did not is testimony to the power of a united front in support of a school with a commitment to successfully serving the city’s neediest students — a united front which included the UFT and the local Community Education Council, but not the city’s Charter School Center, where Chancellor Walcott serves on the Board, or the state’s Charter School Association.
The fight isn’t over yet — Opportunity’s renewal was only for two years instead of the full five the school deserves, and the district still hasn’t figured out a way to give fair credit to schools such as Opportunity which successfully prepare and graduate students who choose to seek jobs after high school as well as those who enroll in higher education (despite an increased national focus on the importance of addressing these students’ unique needs. Nevertheless, the Opportunity community should be proud of its victory in standing up for their school in the face of New York City’s challenging education politics.