York City school board approves 5-year renewal for Thackston Charter

Erin James
The York Dispatch

(Editor's note: This story was originally published Feb. 14, 2014.)

York City School District officials approved an agreement Wednesday that gives Helen Thackston Charter School at least five more years to operate.

With no discussion or fanfare, the district's school board voted to renew the school's charter. Helen Thackston, which opened in 2009, serves grades 5-11 and will add 12th grade in September.

The board's vote might come as a surprise to some, given the district's financial recovery plan, the success of which depends on the return of significant numbers of charter-school students. After all, the district is in the midst of a legal battle with New Hope Academy Charter School, which will close after this school year unless a court intervenes.

"I think they recognized we're doing a good job," Leonard Hart, Helen Thackston's principal, said after the vote. "They want to see the same thing we want to see."

That thing is student achievement fueled by quality education, regardless of which school a student attends, Hart said.

Helen Thackston's school performance profile a new state measurement that assigns scores on a scale of 0 to 100 gave Helen Thackston a score of 57.5.

The state considers a score of 70 or higher satisfactory. The scores were released in October.

Helen Thackston's score was higher than those of all district schools except Davis K-8, which scored 61.2. By comparison, the district's William Penn Senior High School scored 42.7.

New Hope scored 44.6.

District and Helen Thackston officials said they've been meeting for months to negotiate the terms of a new charter.

One significant aspect of the agreement holds Helen Thackston to the same achievement standards and long-term goals the district has set for itself, Hart said.

For example, the charter school has agreed to aim for an improvement of 4 percent each year on the number of students scoring advanced or proficient on math and reading standardized tests.

However, district officials were receptive to Helen Thackston's position that test scores are not the only way to evaluate whether students are learning, said Daniel Fennick, Helen Thackston's attorney.

"We agree the numbers are important, but it's not the only thing," Fennick said. "They respected that. It was very positive the whole time."

Helen Thackston officials have also agreed to help the district repay a $5 million "financial recovery transition" loan, which the district is repaying at a rate of about $500,000 per year. The charter school's annual contribution would depend on its enrollment numbers, according to the agreement.

The agreement also sets a maximum amount Helen Thackston would be expected to pay $25,000 for the 2014-15 school year, increasing to as much as $65,000 for 2018-19.

In exchange, the district has agreed to extend professional-development opportunities to Helen Thackston staff members.

Superintendent Eric Holmes said he recommended approval of the charter renewal to the school board.

"You have to have a compelling reason to deny a charter," Holmes said.

Two board members Glenn Medice and Diane Glover-Brown voted no.