Camden charter school says it has mayor’s support, will ‘aggressively fight’ closure

The Camden Community Charter School has been directed to close by June 30. The school is telling parents it plans to "aggressively fight" the state's action.

The Camden charter school directed to close by June 30 is telling parents it intends to “aggressively fight” the state’s decision.

Camden Community Charter School also says it is supported by the city’s mayor, Dana L. Redd, according to a copy of a letter students at the North Camden school were given Friday.

“I am proud to let you know that we have received the full support of Mayor Dana Redd and other education leaders in the community who know what an important role our school is playing in the education of your sons and daughters,” the president of the school’s board of trustees, Edmond George, said in the letter, addressed to parents.

“Mayor Redd and others who have visited the school have witnessed firsthand the impact that CCCS is having, the education it is providing, and the opportunities it is helping its students realize,” George said.

A spokesman for Redd asked for a copy of the letter and then did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

The state Department of Education announced Wednesday that it had not renewed the school’s charter for academic reasons, citing inadequate growth scores on the PARCC assessment and the share of students meeting grade-level expectations. The school, which has kindergarten through eighth grade, enrolled 679 students in the 2015-16 school year.

During site visits by the department, “many observed classrooms were characterized by low levels of student engagement and disruptive behavior,” acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington said in a letter to George.

George, in the letter to parents, said the state’s decision had “no basis in the renewal standards set forth under New Jersey’s Charter School Law.” The school is “pursuing various paths to remedy, including litigation,” he said.

Schools whose charters are not renewed can appeal the decision to Superior Court, which can make the final determination. Schools also can request that a court grant a stay of the decision while the case is pending.

Camden Community Charter, which opened in 2013, is managed by CSMI. The company also manages Chester Community Charter School in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City Community Charter School.

The company’s CEO is Vahan Gureghian, a Main Line lawyer and prolific political donor. He was a top local donor to the super PAC supporting Gov. Christie’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, and has given more than $15,000 to the campaign committee of U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a South Jersey Democrat, among a multitude of federal and state donations. Norcross and Redd attended the school’s ribbon-cutting in 2013.

In addition to not renewing Camden Community Charter, the Department of Education also said this week that it was closing three low-performing charter schools in Newark.

Parents of students at Camden Community Charter interviewed this week were startled and upset to learn of the state’s decision. But charter school advocates say the Christie administration’s willingness to close schools demonstrates the state is enforcing high standards.

“This is an opportunity for high-performing schools within the city to serve those students,” said Amanda Vega-Malinowski, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.

Staff writer Allison Steele contributed to this article.