A day after the state directed the closure of the Camden Community Charter School, relatives picking up children Thursday had not yet heard of the decision.
“I’m speechless,” said Mohamed Diaby, whose 8-year-old daughter, Fatou, attends the North Camden school, which Diaby described as new and secure. “What’s going to happen?”
Apart from a statement released by the school Thursday that it was considering its options, “including pursuing litigation,” answers were few.
The state Department of Education announced Wednesday that it had not renewed the school’s charter for academic reasons. The school's performance on the PARCC assessments — including low growth scores and share of students meeting grade-level expectations — “strongly suggests that the school is not offering its students a high-quality education,” acting Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington wrote in a letter to the president of the school’s board of trustees, Edmond George.
Harrington directed the school to close by June 30. The school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, enrolled 679 students in the 2015-16 school year.
George called the state’s decision “extremely disappointing and completely unwarranted” in a statement sent Thursday from a personal email account of Max Tribble. CSMI, the education management company that manages the Camden school, lists a senior vice president and chief communications officer by that name. The company also manages the Chester Community Charter School in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic City Community Charter School. Tribble did not respond to a subsequent phone message.
The company’s CEO is Vahan Gureghian, a Main Line lawyer and prolific political donor.
The Camden charter’s ribbon cutting in 2013 was attended by the city’s mayor, Dana L. Redd, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, who was a state representative at the time.
The school, which built a campus on Linden and Ninth Streets, promotes the availability of technology in its classrooms and in students' homes. An “Internet Essentials Program offered through Comcast and provided by the Gureghian Charitable Foundation … bridges the digital divide by allowing all families with a student at CCCS to have computers in their homes with free broadband access,” according to the school’s website.
During site visits by the Education Department, the school was not meeting standards it set for itself, according to Harrington’s letter.
While the charter renewal application described the school's mission as creating an educational environment “characterized by high expectations” for students, “there were few observed instances of high expectations in classrooms,” the letter said. Most instruction “was focused on the acquisition of factual knowledge rather than the application of knowledge” to investigate problems.
Observed classrooms were also characterized “by low levels of student engagement and disruptive behavior,” the letter said.
The statement from George says that “in its 3½ short years of educating Camden’s students, CCCS and its dedicated teachers have helped stabilize one of Camden’s most troubled neighborhoods. The CCCS team has provided a safe and enriching learning environment with a constantly improving education option for the children of Camden.”
Outside the school Thursday, Margarita Caraballo said her niece had received “good care” from her teachers. “She loves the teachers,” Caraballo said. “I hope they don’t close it.”
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.
In addition to Camden Community Charter, the state announced Wednesday the closure of three low-performing charter schools in Newark.
In 2014 the state ordered closed two other Camden charter schools, D.U.E. Season and City Invincible, due to poor test scores. In recent years, seven charter-hybrid “Renaissance” schools have opened in Camden, all operated by the nonprofit KIPP, Mastery and UnCommon organizations.
Enrollment in all Camden schools is open through the end of the month through the district’s website, camdenenrollment.org, as well as by phone or in person. The district is also hosting a citywide school fair on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.Staff writer Allison Steele contributed to this article.