EDITORIAL: Charter school at risk

York Dispatch

Helen Thackston deserves a better legacy.

Thackston was a kindergarten teacher at the Crispus Attucks Community Center for 32 years, starting in the 1930s. She made sure the black children in York received an education in the days when York City students were separated by race.

Each weekday, black children would meet Thackston in Penn Park, line up in a double row and walk together to the center, then on Maple Street, for a day of learning. Sometimes they would be taunted by white children, and Thackston would tell them to not mind the taunts, that they were worthy of getting an education, just like the white children.

Board Member Juanita Kirkland speaks as the York City School District holds a special meeting regarding the future of Helen Thackston Charter School at the Administration Building in York City, Feb. 13, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Helen Thackston died in 1969, but her memory lives in our community and in the housing project and the charter school that bear her name.

That's why it's so sad that the school is not doing its job.

Helen Thackston Charter School opened in 2009 as a middle school and expanded into the high school grades in 2011. The charter was renewed in 2014 and is up for renewal again in 2018.

But that renewal is not a sure thing.

On Wednesday, the York City school board will vote on a resolution proposed by the district to give the charter school deadlines for giving the district items it needs to have to ensure that the charter school is educating its students and following the rules.

There's plenty of evidence that that's not happening.

York Academy PSSA scores rise, other charters fluctuate

The charter school ranked among the lowest in the county in the state School Performance Profile for 2015-16. On the 2016 PSSA exams, 22.1 percent of Thackston students ranked below basic in English language arts, and 73.1 percent scored below basic in math.

The school doesn't have the required 75 percent of its teachers certified. According to a report by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in 2015, the school's faculty had 63 percent to 71 percent certified teachers between 2010-11 and 2012-13, and it had 70 percent certified teachers in 2014-15.

The school is also falling down in its mission of providing homeland security programming for students, the specialty it settled on when it originally received the charter in 2009. Monday night, the school told the school board that it is focusing on providing partnerships with local employers in the service sectors such as law enforcement and emergency medical services, but the district found little evidence of that when visiting the school.

Helen Thackston school at risk of losing charter

And then there are the finances. Helen Thackston Charter School is a private business that was originally a nonprofit, but because it hasn't filed the correct forms since 2013, it lost its IRS 501(c)(3) designation in 2015. It hasn't had its required audits since 2012-13, which the school's lawyer on Monday blamed on the auditor general's report causing "chaos" that led to the school ending its contract with its management company, Edison.

The York City school board on Wednesday will vote on the resolution to help get Thackston back on track by giving the charter school deadlines for providing financial documents, providing homeland security programming required by the charter and improving students' test scores.

That's the right move. The charter is failing its students, its shareholders and its namesake by operating in its current state. It deserves a chance to fix itself, but it also must be held accountable.

Children only get one chance at an education. Helen Thackston knew that — and made sure her community made that a priority.

Her namesake school should do no less.