Reach Academy for Girls will close and that is sad.
Reach is the only all-girl charter school in the state. Delaware families, reflecting a growing trend to select alternatives to traditional public schools and single-sex schools, 1 decided all-girl Reach Academy was best for their daughters.
Concerns surfaced soon after Reach opened in 2010, which brought it under review by the Department of Education. Ultimately the founder resigned and new leadership was put in place. The school was released from probation a few months ago and now, following the recommendation of the Charter School Accountability Committee, state education officials with authority from the legislature chose not to renew the school’s charter.
Secretary Murphy said, “We see positive and honorable intentions and a school that looked to serve students from challenging backgrounds, but after four years, we have not seen an ability to meet these students’ needs.” 2
The Reach situation shows the unhealthy tension growing between parents and communities and the public education system. DOE made a defensible decision based on their evaluation of test results and their opinion of leadership’s ability to lead a turnaround.
Would the local community and families make the decision to close? Would the state ever consider closing a public school which performed as poorly as the state is saying Reach Academy is?
When given the choice low income and minority families determine the best education fit based by evaluating a variety of factors not just test scores.
In applying for a new school, many families take into account such factors as the distance from home and work, where siblings are enrolled, the availability of after-school care and campus safety, in addition to academic ratings. 3
A significant number of parents, particularly from Wilmington and New Castle, chose Reach Academy. The enrollment record is impressive growing to nearly five hundred pupils in four years; the daughters of low income and minority groups represent over 50% of enrollment.
Neighborhoods and communities want good, safe, high-performing schools. They understand healthy formative environments include teachers, parents, local business and government leaders, civic organizations, religious and other local groups. Early and aggressive transparency to surface issues and true engagement of these groups may have resulted in a different decision.
Using social media, parents of daughters enrolled in Reach are expressing their satisfaction and desire to keep the school open.
“I love how someone who has probably never been to the school to see how they do on a daily basis can say this. My daughter is graduating this year & has done great for the 3 yrs she was there. I am hoping for all the other girls the school gets another chance!”
“Whoever wrote this is just writing for a buck. My child has [done very well] due to Reach Academy for Girls. Has been there since kindergarten and now in third grade. You talk about reading, writing – those two skills are beyond…her spelling is, as well. I have one in public school now – they have failed him by a long shot. I choose Reach Academy over my neighborhood school that claims to be one of the best for educating children. Everybody deserves a second, third chance – even God gives us all that much. You’re [taking] the easy road, instead of giving the school the support it may need to reach your standards. We as parents should count – and I stand to keep Reach Academy for Girls open.”
“This piece just made me highly upset. I don’t want to respond just yet for it’ll just be out of anger.”
As awareness of Reach closing expands, the tension will grow between parents and state government. The residents of communities surrounding Reach made it their educational choice because they did not feel the public school system was the best educational opportunity for their children. Closing it will force many of these families back to the school systems they left.
Let’s be honest: There are a number of underperforming public schools in Delaware, and many that are not making progress.
Recently one religious leader observed, “The opposite of a problem will likely be a correct solution.” Perhaps a process that engages broad stakeholders to find the correct solution will be a great learning situation that will help raise up other underperforming schools.
Wilmington and New Castle County officials and families understand quality education influences most social and economic factors. They are concerned with quality of life and economic progress.
Delaware is near the bottom in economic development and near the top in crime. The headline of a News Journal article about crime captured the result, “Residents feel like prisoners in their own homes.”4
Good education influences performance in many socio-economic areas including pregnancy rates, crime rates, prison population, level of personal income, and economic growth. The mid-to-low performance of Delaware education is not an incentive for families to move to Delaware; in fact, New Castle County loses millions of dollars of personal income each year to neighboring states that have better school systems.
DOE raised a red flag by saying they will close Reach Academy for Girls, but have they have found a solution or created other problems?
Connecting with the current and emerging resources and strengths of the metropolitan area will help find the correct solution. No one system can satisfy the needs of diverse communities and unique requirements of individual families.
So rally the local resources to rally resources and lead a turnaround, and develop from this experience a transferrable process that can be used by other communities to reform their schools.
1 Most studies show single-sex schools have some positive effect on academic performance and aspiration. A recent study by Park, Berhman and Choi titled Causal Effects of Single-Sex Schools on College Entrance Exams and College Attendance: Random Assignment in Seoul High Schools published in 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania found “Attending all-boys schools or all-girls schools rather than attending coeducational schools is significantly associated with higher average scores.”
2 Matthew Albright, The News Journal, “The final bell tolls for Reach Academy”, November 14, 2013
3 Stephanie Banchero, Wall Street Journal, “Inside the Nation’s Biggest Experiment in School Choice,” November 2013
4 Andrew Staub and Adam Taylor, Sunday News Journal, “Legacy of Crime”, November 17, 2013