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Bridgeport charter school told to be happy with a three year renewal

May 1, 2019

HARTFORD — Compared to other charter school renewals handed out recently by the state Board of Education, the three-year offer with conditions might have seemed a good deal.

Bruce Ravage, founder and director of Park City Prep Charter School in Bridgeport wanted something different.

“I am here today to make an alternate request,” Ravage said. “That you ... reserve the final decision on the length of renewal until such time as the 2019 SBAC results are released.”

Ravage said he expects results on the state standardized test to be good. He told the board it would present a complete picture of student performance at the middle school that has been open since 2006.

His request was not well received.

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell told Ravage that with the school’s five year renewal set to expire at the end of June 2019, his options were to accept the renewal or close his school.

“What you are asking for would result in the closure of your school,” Wentzell said.

The State’s Chief Turnaround Officer Desi Nesmith said Park City Prep was treated the same way as every other charter school that has sought renewal over the past three-plus years.

“This is not a restaurant,” Nesmith said. “We don’t give you a menu. You don’t get to pick and choose which data points and indicators to highlight and consider.”

isa Lamenzo, a bureau chief in the turnaround office said Ravage’s claims that student performance rises the longer the school has its 360 fifth through eighth graders is not accurate.

“As an educator for 13 years I would not be OK with 37 percent of students in eighth grade meeting the target (in language arts),” Lamenzo said. “As the mother of two boys that is not OK.”

And State Board of Education member Donald Harris told Ravage the three-year renewal was a gift. Giving his druthers, Harris said he would have given him two.

“I am looking at test scores, looking at suspension rates,’ Harris said. “This is a charter school. It is supposed to represent a better choice for children that regular system in Bridgeport and you are not achieving what they are achieving.

Located on State Street, Park City Prep gets almost all of its students from Bridgeport. Unlike many charter schools, it is independent and not affiliated with a chain or management firm.

It’s chronic absentee rate is below the state average. It’s suspension rate is coming down but at 11.2 percent is still above the state average, according to the renewal report.

While certain grades outperform the state on the Smarter Balanced test in the area of student growth, overall performance remains low in many areas.

The state wants a corrective action plan that addresses student achievement.

Ravage said the school has already taken serious actions in many areas cited by the state.

There is more teacher training and observations, a change in teaching staff, a new math curriculum, more emphasis on writing and more informational reading in the curriculum.

Besides banking on an improvement in 2019 state test scores, Ravage said state doesn’t look at science performance, which is a focus of the school. In sixth grade, he said Park City Prep science scores are better than other charter schools in the city and the school district.

“We know three years is not insignificant,” Ravage said. “We believe it only fair to include (2019) data.”

The board unanimously approved the three year approval and corrective action plan.

At the same meeting, the board gave a three year renewals with conditions to Elm City Montessori Charter School in New Haven and Achievement First Hartford Academy. Elm City has to work on student achievement. At Achievement First, 14.9 percent of staff do not hold appropriate credentials for their positions. Some 18 staff members remain out of compliance, according to the state report.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck