Lincoln submits charter renewal application, wants to add middle school grades

Ten thick binders — consolidated from the 11 sent to York City School District on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 — represent Lincoln Charter School's 4,276-page renewal application. If granted, the renewal would add another five years to the charter's operations, and expand grades to include middle school.

Lincoln Charter School is asking the York City School District to renew its charter for another five years and allow it to add middle school grades.

The school submitted a 4,276-page renewal document, which filled 11 binders, to the district Oct. 31. The administration plans to review the document over 45 to 75 days before making a recommendation to the board during a public hearing, according to a district statement.

York City Superintendent Andrea Berry said she was not at liberty to speak more about the renewal. Multiple attempts to reach district board members were not returned before deadline.

“I cannot comment on that right now,” said member Tanoue Sweeney, the only member to be reached by phone.

If granted, this would be the fourth renewal for Lincoln, which first applied to be a charter 20 years ago. The school has an enrollment of 675 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and is looking to add grades sixth through eighth.

Lincoln Charter School Principal Dr. Leonard Hart poses for a group photo during Donuts for Dads at Lincoln Charter School in York City, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Lincoln's board on Thursday, Nov. 7, approved a lease of 23,114 square feet of space within a property at 459 W. King St., which it plans to use for community outreach programs regardless of whether  the expansion is granted.

Leonard Hart — the school's principal and CEO — has said middle school years are a critical time for young people, and the academic, behavioral and social supports the school offers can help protect students from falling into the cycle of violence in the city.

Hart said Lincoln stands out in a number of ways, including being deeply rooted in technology, longer school days and school years, more overlap with the community and a "culture of family."

And the charter is a popular option for students in York County, with more than 150 on its waiting list as of early September, Hart has said.

Several parents spoke in favor of the school at Thursday's meeting.

"Every day someone makes our children a priority," said Amanda Lu, a parent from Manchester Township. "This school sets the bar."

But York City School District has not always been in favor of renewing or adding to its charters in the past.

It denied Lincoln’s renewal in 2004 before the state's Charter School Appeal Board overturned that decision, and it denied a middle school expansion in 2008 over concerns of the school meeting state requirements for space and curriculum.

The expansion was eventually granted in the form of Helen Thackston Charter School — Lincoln's sister school — in 2009. York City also denied a high school expansion to Thackston before eventually approving it a year later.

More:York City board approves Thackston Charter Middle School

Thackston closed in 2018 after a legal battle over overdue audits. Lincoln had a similar problem that year, but the district was willing to work with Lincoln after Hart said those issues arose under its former administration and management company.

More:Thackston Charter will not appeal, board votes to dissolve at end of June

More:York City to give Lincoln Charter second chance on untimely audits

Lincoln Charter School principal Leonard Hart high-fives a student during the Community Kickball game at the school Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The contest was part of a week-long series of fundraisers to benefit the American Cancer Society. All players--parents, teachers, emergency responders and students--paid a $5 fee to play in the game which pitted the adults against the school's fifth graders. Bill Kalina photo

Lincoln’s potential renewal also comes at a time when attention is focused on charter schools over high costs to school districts, sub-par graduation rates and academic performance, and talk of charter reform among lawmakers.

Compared with York City, Lincoln’s scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, for example, are better — but not by a wide margin.

Lincoln's combined percentage of proficient- and advanced-scoring students is 14.2% in math for the 2018-19 school year, compared with York City’s 10.2%, and 26.8% in English compared with York City’s 23.5%, according to districtwide data provided by the state.

More:Pa. cyber charter bill aims to partner with, not compete with districts

More:Charter reform proposal must tackle cost inequity, local school officials say

"We're not the same program we were five years ago," Hart said. "Is there room for improvement? Yes."

At Lincoln’s last renewal in 2015, officials agreed to meet certain standards by 2020, including improvement of its PSSA reading (now English) score by 22% and math by 16%.

Hart said it's standard to have goals for each renewal, and in the past York City has used them more to see if the school was following a trend of growth.

Lincoln also agreed to other standards, including an annual audit of its building security, developing an English-as-a-second-language instruction policy and changing some budgeting practices — all of which Hart said the school has now done.

York City administration announced last year that the district would need to recoup at least 75 students to restore its fund balance on a per-student basis. Part of that involves ensuring students come to the district instead of charters.

More:York City district aims to recover 75 students with 'aggressive outreach' campaign

But Hart is optimistic for the charter renewal, citing the large number of partnerships between the charter and the district for years.

"We have a great relationship with the city of York," he said. "I foresee that continuing."