York City district prepares to take about 500 Thackston students a year early

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

A deal allowing Helen Thackston Charter School to stay open through the end of the 2018-19 school year fell apart this week, with the York City School District ordering the school to shut its doors for good in a little more than four months.

That means the district will have to accommodate about 500 new students next fall — a year earlier than administrators expected.

Preparations already are underway, according to district officials.

“The cabinet and the district are in the process of planning for an influx of students in the fall from Thackston,” district spokeswoman Kate Harmon said in a statement. “There is a plan in place, and it does (involve) additional staffing needs to accommodate those new students.”

While some parents may elect to enroll their children in other schools, such as the York Academy Regional Charter School or the York County School of Technology, it's likely many Thackston students — most of whom live within the York City School District — will return to their home district.

In this file photo, York City School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Holmes gives an update on his district during a press conference regarding the Campaign for Fair Education Funding at the School District for the City of York Administrative Building in York City, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

New students won't hinder progress: York City school board President Margie Orr said she has received assurances from Superintendent Eric Holmes and William Penn Senior High School Principal Brandon Carter that the district will be ready for the new students.

“They will not be a hindrance,” Orr said, citing efforts that include the hiring of three new social workers in December as well as the continued involvement of Communities in Schools, which works with students and families to prevent school dropouts and encourage further education.

More:Communities in Schools aids recovery

More:Communities in Schools founder Bill Milliken promotes civic engagement in schools

“They will be very well taken care of,” Orr added.

In 2017, the York City School Board voted to reopen the Edgar Fahs Smith School building on Texas Avenue to create a STEAM Academy for grades 3-8, the first school of its kind in the county.

York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes, left, introduces teachers before a tour of Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The school will be open for classes starting Monday, Aug. 21, for students in grades 3-8 for the new school year. Bill Kalina photo

The course is similar to what happened in 2014, when Hannah Penn Middle School was reopened as a K-8 school fresh off of the closure of New Hope Academy Charter School.

Neither Holmes nor Carter could be reached for comment.

Impact on recovery: Although Thackston's fiscal management has been under the microscope, the York City School District was in similarly dangerous territory when it was placed in moderate financial recovery status by the state Department of Education in 2012.

That recovery mandates improvement in several areas, including a better alignment of the school’s federal and state funding with recruiting talent, reinforcing rigor in the classroom, as well as an audit of the district’s technology initiatives, according to York City School District Recovery Officer Carol Saylor.

More:State report card: York City schools improving, most other districts see drop

Mass Insight Education, the firm selected to track the district’s progress, will conduct its second check-up with the district March 3-6 and provide a report of its findings  in late March or early April, she said.

As for how hundreds of additional students might affect the district’s recovery plan, Saylor said there will be no impact so long as the proper additional new hires are made to meet student needs and keep class sizes at current or lower levels.

Closure: Saylor said the administrative meeting on a smooth transition for Thackston students will occur Tuesday, Feb. 20 — deadline day for Thackston to respond to a letter sent by York City School District officials.

On Monday, Feb. 12, Holmes announced the district found that Thackston failed to comply with its obligation under a dissolution agreement reached Oct. 19 to “complete and approve ... each of the independent financial audits” for the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 schools years.

More:Thackston audits: 'Unable to produce adequate records'

Each audit included a disclaimer that cited Thackston “was unable to produce adequate records” to verify crucial financial information such as its account balances and expenditures.

The city school district sent a letter to the charter school, asking Thackston officials to admit noncompliance and begin the dissolution process and close its doors by June 30.

If it does not, Holmes said the district will file a lawsuit asking a judge to order the school to close by June 30.

More:City district orders Thackston to surrender charter, close in June

So far, it is unclear how Thackston will respond, as Consulting CEO Carlos Lopez declined to comment under advisement from the charter school board.

Thackston solicitor Brian Leinhauser has not returned multiple calls seeking comment.