Camden charter placed on state probation

Persistently low test scores placed one of Camden’s six charter schools on the state’s new "priority list" of the lowest-performing schools last month, and a recent review of Freedom Academy Charter School just landed it on probation status.

The middle school, which opened in 2004, could have its charter revoked if it does not implement a remedial plan by mid-August and if its academic performance does not improve, according to a letter from the state sent to Freedom Academy officials last week.

This is the second time Freedom Academy Charter has been placed on state probation.

In October 2008, the school was put on probation because of operational issues. Though state Department of Education spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said she did not know specifics of Freedom’s probation then, she said "operational and compliance issues typically have to do with the actual running of the school. This could include issues like making sure the school food program is being run properly, making sure they are following rules and regulations on business and accounting practices, storing employee records properly, etcetera."

That probation was lifted in May 2011.

A new school evaluation system, averaging test scores for the last three full school years, showed that only 33.5 percent of Freedom students attained proficiency in language arts literacy and 28 percent in math. This landed Freedom on the list of the state’s worst performers. Of New Jersey’s 71 Priority Schools, 23 are in the Camden district, and Freedom is one of five charter schools in the state to land on the list.

In addition, the number of students meeting language arts proficiency at Freedom declined 13 percentage points between the 2008-09 and 2010-11 school years, while math proficiency declined 11 percentage points during that period, according to the letter from the state.

Freedom Charter’s interim administrator, Charles Turner, declined to comment and referred questions to charter board president Ed Hill, who could not be reached for comment.

Seven new Regional Achievement Centers, one of which will likely be housed in Camden, will work on improving the Priority Schools. The centers’ staff members, who are still being hired, are to start working with schools on turnaround efforts by September.

The probation notification points out that Freedom’s charter states: "Student achievement on tests and other objective measures will substantially outperform district averages." State chief performance officer Bari Anhalt Erlichson, who signed the letter, wrote that state officials had "concluded that the school is not currently preparing students in the manner described in its charter."

 

Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953, cvargas@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," on philly.com.