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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Amendment Request of Veritas Preparatory Charter School (Enrollment)

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:
February 16, 2018

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Pursuant to the Charter School Regulations, 603 CMR 1.10(1), the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) must approve certain changes in the material terms of a school's charter. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) has received requests from four existing schools to change their maximum enrollment, grades served, or chartered regions. I provided you with an overview of the four amendment requests Download Word Document in a memorandum dated September 15, 2017. Of the four requests, I recommend that the Board approve an amendment request from Veritas Preparatory Charter School (VPCS) to increase its enrollment by 108 seats. This memorandum details the request from the board of trustees of VPCS, a grade 5–8 school located in Springfield, and the basis for my recommendation.

The Department's assessment of VPCS's request is described below, in preparation for a discussion and vote at the Board's meeting on February 27. This memorandum addresses the school's request and plan for implementation, the Department's review, proven provider consideration, public comment, and my recommendation. Attached to this memorandum for your review are:

  • the original amendment request and additional materials subsequently submitted by the school, as applicable;
  • a summary of the school's credentials as a proven provider, including a summary of the school's academic performance, student demographics, attrition rates, and five-year financial summary; and
  • public comment.

Decisions Regarding Other Amendment Requests

Last month, I notified the Board that I was declining to recommend the request from Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. The school has requested a review of my decision by the Board, as provided in 603 CMR 1.10(8). This review has been tentatively scheduled for the Board's March 27 meeting.

I am also declining to recommend requests from two other charter schools, Holyoke Community Charter School and KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School. These schools proposed to change their maximum enrollment, grades served, or chartered regions. The Department will provide all schools not recommended for expansion with feedback regarding the areas of concern. I will discuss in greater detail the particular circumstances regarding the impact of the net school spending cap on the request of KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School in a separate informational memorandum.

Veritas Preparatory Charter School

Veritas Preparatory Charter School
Type of Charter
(Commonwealth or Horace Mann)
CommonwealthLocationSpringfield
Regional or
Non-Regional?
Non-RegionalDistricts in RegionN/A
Year Opened2012Year(s) Renewed2017
Maximum Enrollment324Current Enrollment3221
Grade span5–8Current Grade Span5–8
Students on Waitlists2022Current Age of School6 years
Mission Statement
Veritas Preparatory Charter School prepares students in grades 5–8 to compete, achieve, and succeed in high school, college, and beyond.

School's Request and Plan for Implementation

The board of trustees of VPCS requests approval of an amendment to increase its maximum enrollment by 108 students to reach a maximum enrollment of 432 students in grades 5–8. The school previously submitted an expansion request in 2016, prior to its successful renewal in 2017. The previous request, seeking to add an additional 540 seats and create two middle school campuses of 432 students each, was later withdrawn by the school after consultation with the Department. The current request from the board of trustees of VPCS seeks to increase enrollment of the current school only. The school's current facility in Springfield will accommodate the increased enrollment across its grade span.

Veritas Preparatory Charter School seeks to increase its maximum enrollment over a four-year period beginning this fall. The school's waitlist demonstrates demand at all grade levels that supports the proposed increase. The number of students reported on the school's waitlist was 273 in March 2016 and 364 in March 2017. VPCS currently admits new students in grade 5 and fills vacancies during the year through grade 7, which exceeds statutory requirements. Veritas Preparatory Charter School intends to continue filling vacancies in grades 5 through 7 with the goal of filling vacancies in grade 8 in the future.

Veritas Preparatory Charter School reports that approval of its request would support the school's efforts to meet the needs of all students and to improve student learning. In addition to hiring staff for four additional classrooms, the school plans to add a teacher for English as a second language, two instructional coaches, a student support teacher, a behavioral interventionist, an enrichment teacher, and a dean of student support.

Department Review

Section 1.10 of the Charter School Regulations contains several criteria to consider in determining whether to grant a school's request to amend its charter. The Department considers the following factors when reviewing amendment requests:

  • the charter school's compliance with applicable state, federal, and local law;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the faithfulness of the school to the terms of its charter, including the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan and has disseminated best practices;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the success of the school's academic program;
  • affirmative, credible evidence regarding the viability of the school as an organization;
  • the merits of the school's amendment request when judged against the criteria outlined in the Department's Charter Amendment and Notification Guidelines Download Word Document and the Charter School Performance Criteria Download PDF Document;
  • the eligibility of the board of trustees for proven provider status based upon the criteria described in 603 CMR 1.04(4);3 and
  • public comment received regarding the request.

Overall, VPCS's academic program is successful, the school is a viable organization, and the school is faithful to the terms of its charter.

  • During its first charter term, VPCS had insufficient student performance data to calculate an Accountability and Assistance Level in 2013, 2014, and 2015 due to its limited number of years of operation. Veritas Preparatory Charter School administered the PARCC test in 2015 and 2016 with a school percentile of 56 in 2016 and a cumulative Performance and Progress Index (PPI) of 63 in both the aggregate and the high needs subgroup.

  • Veritas Preparatory Charter School administered the next-generation MCAS assessment in 2017. The school met all of its participation rate targets for all students and subgroups who met the reporting threshold. Students at VPCS outperformed their peers at Springfield Public Schools (SPS) and at the state level.

    • Veritas Preparatory Charter School's average scaled scores for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics were 499.9 and 501.2, respectively.
    • Veritas Preparatory Charter School's percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations for ELA and mathematics were 53.0 percent and 55.0 percent respectively.
    • Veritas Preparatory Charter School's transitional median student growth percentiles for ELA and mathematics were 72.5 and 73.5, respectively.
  • Similar performance trends in comparison to the statewide average and SPS were observed in 2017 for students identified as economically disadvantaged and for English learners taking the next-generation MCAS tests in ELA and mathematics. In 2017, the performance of students with disabilities exceeded that of SPS and was comparable to statewide averages. In addition, the transitional median student growth percentiles for students with disabilities exceeded both the statewide average and that of SPS. The school increased supports and the number of educators for students with disabilities.

  • Over the past five years, VPCS has enrolled more students identified as economically disadvantaged and students whose first language is not English than the school's comparison index.4 Aside from one year, VPCS has consistently enrolled more students with disabilities and English learners than the school's comparison index.

  • Veritas Preparatory Charter School has indicated that the school's approach to discipline has evolved from one of "no excuses" to one focused on restorative justice. Veritas Preparatory Charter School reported a decrease in discipline rates during the 2016-2017 school year, with the school's out-of-school suspension rate declining from 18.3 percent in 2015-2016 to 7.0 percent in 2016-2017, and the school's in-school suspension rate declining from 11.9 percent in 2015-2016 to 7.0 percent in 2016-2017. When compared to other middle schools in Springfield, VPCS has a lower out-of-school suspension rate.

  • Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, the Department identified VPCS for disparity in the use of suspensions for students with disabilities. Veritas Preparatory Charter School then participated in the Department's Rethinking Discipline Professional Learning Network and an initiative of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. The school indicates that it revised its behavioral management system during the 2016-2017 school year to implement strategies and supports that emphasize keeping students in the classroom and recognize positive behaviors. Veritas Preparatory Charter School also began implementing additional intervention strategies to address individual students' needs. The school employs two social workers to provide non-academic support and counseling to students. The school reported that, as of November 2017, the out-of-school suspension rates between students with disabilities and all students now differ by approximately 1 percent. The Department will continue to monitor the school's progress.

  • The attrition rate at VPCS increased to 23.4 percent between the 2015 - 2016 and 2016-2017 school years, compared to previous rates below 15 percent. The school identified attrition as an area for improvement. Based upon surveys of families, the school has identified a number of factors contributing to student attrition, including enrollment at schools that serve high school grades, relocation to another community, or transfer to SPS. Veritas Preparatory Charter School has decreased the attrition rate to 14.7 percent between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years, comparable to the comparison set of schools and to previous attrition rates at the school.

  • Veritas Preparatory Charter School operates in a financially sound manner. The school maintains sound and stable finances. As evidenced on the fiscal dashboard, Veritas Preparatory Charter School received unqualified audits for the last five years. Audit findings during the first two years of operation included inadequate internal controls and untimely MTRS submissions during the first year of operation; the school corrected these issues in subsequent fiscal years.

Proven Provider

The charter school statute requires that existing boards of trustees are "proven providers" when seeking an expansion in districts performing in the lowest ten percent statewide and in which the nine percent net school spending (NSS) cap has been exceeded or would be exceeded by the award of new seats. Proven provider status5 is required to award additional seats to VPCS. Springfield Public Schools performs in the lowest 10 percent of all school districts based on state assessment test scores in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. As a result, up to 18 percent of the district's NSS may be transferred to Commonwealth charter schools.6 In addition, the Department has also determined that Springfield has exceeded the 9 percent NSS cap with approximately 636 seats available under the 18 percent NSS cap, including a five percent buffer to protect against year-to-year variations.

After evaluating the performance of VPCS against the criteria for proven provider status, I identified the board of trustees of VPCS as a proven provider for the purposes of the current amendment request. Included in your materials are the relevant student achievement, financial data, and other indicators used to determine that the board of trustees of VPCS is eligible for proven provider status. Pursuant to 603 CMR 1.04(4)(b), evaluation of proven provider status must include student academic performance over a three-year period as measured by proficiency/achievement levels and growth measures for all students and for one or more targeted subgroups. The Department compares the school's student performance data to statewide averages and to relevant district averages for the grades served by the charter school. In addition to demonstrating successful academic student performance, the Department assesses the organizational and financial viability of VPCS and the school's performance on various indicators such as attrition, attendance, retention, and discipline rates.

Public Comment

At the time of the school's submission to the Department, VPCS also submitted copies of its request to Superintendent Daniel Warwick of Springfield Public Schools pursuant to 603 CMR 1.10(5). The Department subsequently solicited written comments from Superintendent Warwick during its review. Superintendent Warwick submitted written comment opposing the school's request. Comment is attached.

Recommendation

I have reviewed the school's request and it appears reasonable and consistent with the charter school statute and regulations. Overall, the submitted amendment request, the school's 2017 renewal, and the Department's accountability records indicate that VPCS has a successful academic program, is a viable organization, and has been faithful to the terms of its charter. I recommend that the Board approve the request. A motion for approval is attached for your consideration.


If you have any questions regarding these amendments or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

 

Attachments:

 
Correspondence from Veritas Preparatory Charter School, including the original amendment request and additional materials subsequently submitted by the school.

Download Excel Document
Veritas Preparatory Charter School's credentials as proven provider, including academic performance, student demographics, and attrition rates, and five-year financial summary.

 
Comment from Superintendent Daniel Warwick of Springfield Public Schools.

 
Motion for Board Action on Veritas Preparatory Charter School.

 

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Last Updated: February 21, 2018
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