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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools - Surrender of Charter of Spirit of Knowledge Charter School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
November 8, 2013

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On October 29, 2013, the board of trustees of Spirit of Knowledge Charter School (SOKCS) voted to surrender its charter, effective October 31, 2013. If the school had not surrendered its charter, I would now be recommending revocation. I recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) vote to accept the surrender of the public school charter granted to SOKCS in lieu of revocation.

Last month, the Board received and discussed an updated report on SOKCS's probation and related conditions. My memorandum from last month, which outlined the school's progress toward meeting the nine conditions imposed in connection with placing the school on probation, is attached as a reference. At that time I signaled a deep concern about the school's viability and noted its potential insolvency. This memorandum provides a history of SOKCS, summarizes findings from past site visits, and provides an update on the school's closure.

Mission Statement

"The Spirit of Knowledge Charter School's 7th through 12th grade Worcester students will create value in their lives and the lives of others through high-standards academic learning, especially in math, science and technology, gaining admission to college, and developing a positive character."

Type of CharterCommonwealthLocationWorcester
Regional/Non-RegionalNon-RegionalDistricts in RegionNA
Year Opened201010/29/13 Enrollment155
Maximum Enrollment275Students on Waitlistunknown
Chartered Grade Span 7-12Current Grade Span7-12

School History

In February 2010, the Board granted a charter to SOKCS to serve 275 students in grades 7-12. The school opened in September 2010. The school struggled early in its charter term. Based upon site visit reports conducted in years two and three and other data analysis, the Department noted the concerns that follow.

  • The school failed to adhere to its school's mission, vision, and educational program as articulated in the charter application.
  • The school lacked of academic resources, such as books and other materials, and clarity about how to implement the school's educational program.
  • The school demonstrated poor academic results: MCAS scores improved slightly in 2012 but then showed a decline in all three areas in 2013. Particularly concerning are the low math and science results, given that the school was chartered as a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school.
  • The board of trustees provided minimal oversight of the school's academic program, fiscal processes, and facility.
  • Membership on the school's board of trustees declined from 16 founding members to 3 members during the 2012-13 school year. In October 2013, five additional members joined the board.
  • The school experienced a high turnover of individuals serving as executive director. The school's founding executive director resigned at the end of the school's first year, two individuals served and then resigned during the school's second year, and the present executive director was hired in July 2012.
  • The board of trustees never formally evaluated any of the individuals employed as executive director in the school's first three years of operation. The board of trustees initiated a review process of the current executive director in the summer of 2013.
  • Actual student enrollment has been lower than expected enrollment for each year of the school's operation. Additionally, attrition rates at the school have been high: approximately 31 percent in 2011 and 29 percent in 2012.
  • The school recorded a deficit in fiscal year 2012 and did not prepare an FY13 budget by the deadline. The financial audits for FY11 and FY12 noted significant deficiencies. Due to a lack of funds, the school ceased instruction on October 29 and closed its doors effective October 31, 2013.

In May 2013, the Board placed SOKCS on probation in order to allow for an implementation of a remedial plan. In my memo recommending probation I stated that based on the success, or lack thereof, of SOKCS in meeting the conditions imposed in connection with its probation and in alleviating the cause of its probation, I would recommend further action as appropriate. In September 2013, significant under enrollment, looming insolvency, and a decline in academic results amplified my concerns about the school's viability and provided evidence that the school had not addressed the root causes of its probation.

Enrollment data and financial insolvency

In March 2013, SOKCS reported 214 students as pre-enrolled for grades 7-12. Actual enrollment on the first day of school was 170 students. By the end of October, enrollment declined to 155 students.

The budget for FY14 included in the school's annual report was based upon an enrollment of 185 students. In September, at the Department's request, the school provided updated cash flow projections that included a number of assumptions: a continued line of credit, student enrollment of 158, a reduction in rent, and reductions in salaries. As of late October, none of the assumptions has held true. The board of trustees of SOKCS voted on October 29 to close the school because it could not meet all of its financial obligations.

SOKCS and the Department have been working closely with Worcester Public Schools to enable students to transition to new schools. This is a difficult time for students and families. Worcester Public Schools has been extremely helpful in this transition and welcoming to students and families. We will continue to work with Worcester Public Schools and SOKCS to ensure that students transition to other schools and to ensure an orderly closure of business for SOKCS.

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If you have any questions regarding these matters or require additional information, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner (781-338-6500); or me.

Attachments:

 
Motion
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
October 17, 2013 Memorandum: Update Regarding Spirit of Knowledge Charter School (Probation)


Last Updated: November 14, 2013
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