Think of New Hope as a car.

Sure, some parts might be in need of repair. But who would scrap the whole vehicle because of a few broken pieces?

That's how New Hope Academy Charter School junior Victoritchy Hector said he's hoping a panel of judges will evaluate a decision left in their hands.

"It doesn't mean just dispatch the whole entire system," Hector, 16, said.

Hector was one of about 100 New Hope supporters — mostly students in matching Save My Life T-shirts — who packed a courtroom Monday in Harrisburg.

They were there to witness oral arguments in a case about the fate of their school, ordered by a state appeals board to close at the end of this academic year. That board backed the 2012 decision of the York City School District to deny New Hope's application for a charter renewal.

New Hope Academy Charter School freshmen Zamya Gallon and Leah Hutchinson chant from their bus before leaving the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Monday.
New Hope Academy Charter School freshmen Zamya Gallon and Leah Hutchinson chant from their bus before leaving the Pennsylvania Judicial Center Monday. (Bill Kalina)

New Hope has asked the Commonwealth Court to keep the school open.

Arguments: Attorneys for both sides presented abbreviated versions of their arguments Monday. There is no deadline for a decision, but one attorney for New Hope said he expects the court will rule "quickly."

At times, it seemed the state's charter-school law itself was on trial.

"This act is a — and I've said this many times — is a poorly written act," President Judge Dan Pellegrini said. "We do the best we can with it."

The attorneys and judges spent much of the hearing debating whether state law requires charter schools to meet certain performance standards — or face the consequence of being shut down.

"What should be the standard to remove a charter school?" Pellegrini asked.

Muddying the waters are the various metrics education officials use to measure student performance. Standardized tests, for example, amount to a "snapshot," said Bob O'Donnell, an attorney for New Hope.

"What it does not measure is the improvement of those children," he said.

Allison Petersen, the attorney for the school district, said the court should defer to the state's charter school appeals board — the agency "charged with filling those gaps" in the charter-school law, she said.

Opinions: Though the hearing was brief, the three judges did expose some of their opinions about the case.

For example, Judge P. Kevin Brobson questioned why ethics allegations against school founder Isiah Anderson should be grounds for non-renewal of New Hope's charter.

"We don't dissolve municipalities when a borough manager fails to file" a financial statement, Brobson said.

Judge Bernard L. McGinley, however, said he was interested in the financial relationship between the school and Anderson, who owns New Hope's management company and several other companies that contract with the school.

"In the insurance industry, it would have been called a pass-through," McGinley said.

As he took the risks in founding the school, Anderson should be allowed to reap the "rewards," O'Donnell said.

Brobson said he believes the real issue is academic performance. Everything else is "kitchen-sink piling-on," he said.

Students: Hector said he was feeling hopeful after the hearing. He'd like to graduate from New Hope next year.

Shauntia Epps is one of about 70 New Hope seniors who will graduate this year, according to school officials.

After graduation, Epps said, she plans on attending college to study criminal justice. Some day, she'd like to be an FBI agent.

New Hope is like a second home, Epps, 17, said.

"There's a lot more to it than just what we're doing wrong," she said.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.