2012-01-13 / Top Stories

DOE To Close Peninsula Preparatory Academy

The city’s Department of Education has decided not to renew the charter for the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, one of the two charter schools in Rockaway, meaning that the school will end its eight-year-run when this school year ends in June.

“At the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, we are not going to renew their charter based on the standards [that it failed to meet], and they will close at the end of the 2011-2012 school year,” DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas told The Wave. “They have failed to meet five of the nine student performance goals they have laid out in their charter, and this year they received their fourth consecutive C on their progress report. Beyond this, their board and staff leadership has failed to gather performance data effectively and use it to build a strong school culture, and have not demonstrated to us that they are capable of providing the oversight needed to run a high quality school.”

According to the DOE’s Charter School Renewal Report, only 46.2 percent of PPA students were proficient in the English Language Arts test, in contrast with 54.7 percent in the rest of District 27.

In addition, the report says, “PPA has failed to demonstrate its ability to establish a system to gather assessment and evaluation data and to use that date to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning outcomes.”

In November, when the DOE first announced that it was looking closely at two Rockaway schools, PS 215 in Wavecrest and the PPA, local attorney Betty Leon, who is the chairman of PPA’s Board of Directors, told The Wave that the entire process is “unfair.”

“This is very frustrating,” she said. “They come to the school and look at classrooms without knowing anything about what should be going on in those classrooms.”

Leon says that her school, for example, has the best Parent Teacher Organization attendance of any school in the city, about 50 percent.

The stereotypes about charter schools, she adds, are not true when it comes to PPA.

“We have ten percent special education students, about the same as the public schools,” she said. “We don’t cherry pick students nor do we expel students that present a special problem. We work through the problems faced by at-risk students.”

And, she does not think that earning C’s on a school report card indicates a problem that requires closing the school.

Opened in 2004, Peninsula Preparatory Charter School was founded by State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who served as a board member until 2006. Another Queens politician, Representative Gregory Meeks, was also a member of the elementary school’s board.

Despite its political connections, and the fact that tens of thousands of public dollars were pumped into the building, Peninsula Prep struggled from the outset. Originally located in a Far Rockaway middle school, it moved into a complex of trailers near a large real estate development owned by one of Mr. Smith’s campaign donors, leaving its students without a gym or playground. For the last three years, it has received C’s on its progress reports from the city.

Ericka Wala, Peninsula’s principal since July of 2009, said the school had been improving, albeit slowly.

“I was hoping we would be given an opportunity to continue the movement that I believe is in a positive direction, and unfortunately the decision was otherwise,” she said.

Wala said she would encourage her younger students to attend Challenge Preparatory Charter School, the peninsula’s other charter school, which opened in 2010 and currently has grades K-2.

Peninsula’s third and fourth graders will have to find seats in other Far Rockaway schools. “Other schools are having the same struggles as us,” Wala said. “We outperformed nine of the ten schools our students are zoned for.”

On Tuesday night, Wala told the local community board, “We believe the decision is unjust. We have actualized some student achievement even though our schoolisaCandwehavemaintaineda positive trajectory. Our scholars will be forced to go to schools that have D or F ratings. Closing schools is not the answer. Find out why a school is struggling and provide them the proper support. It’s very disheartening that all the efforts of the students and teachers has been eradicated and erased. It’s nonsensical to send kids to worse schools. Explain the logic of that to me and I will support it, but until then I cannot.”

James Merriman, CEO if the New York Charter School Center, a group that provides support services for the city’s charters, agreed with the DOE’s decision to close PPA.

“The school was certainly not a horrific failure,” he said. “But it did not meet the high bar set for charter schools.”

Senator Smith criticized the decision to close PPA.

“While it is an extreme loss for the entire community on the peninsula, no one will suffer more than the students,” he said.

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