School administrators who have been working hard to secure permission to found four charter schools watched Thursday as their projects were rejected. A fifth school may soon join them.
Over the past few months, six prospective Hawaii public charter schools sought approval from state commissioners to move forward with their plans to develop alternative, publicly funded places of learning.
But the state’s eight-member Charter School Commission denied four of the applications on Thursday for reasons ranging from insufficient planning to failure to integrate Hawaii’s culture into the learning model. These schools would be brand-new and for now exist in concept only.
Representatives from some of the schools attended a packed meeting Thursday in the Hawaii Department of Education building in Honolulu, some of them in tears as they criticized the newly developed evaluation process and questioned its fairness.
The evaluations “convinced us we were incompetent, incapable, unskilled and totally naive,” said Sheila Buyukacar, who hoped to become a top administrator at IMAG Academy, a K-12 charter school in Waipahu that would have focused on community service. The school’s request was denied Thursday. “We even started to doubt ourselves,” she said.
She said the evaluation process was unfair.
A fifth applicant — the prospective North Shore Middle School — is also looking at a likely rejection, but commissioners on Thursday deferred their decision on it until a later date because of how popular the school’s concept is and how controversial rejecting it might be. (The commissioners were also running out of time because of a scheduling conflict for the board room and had to leave enough time to address other matters on the agenda.) The school, which would incorporate lots of technology and encourage students to learn through classroom projects, also applied unsuccessfully for a charter last year.
The commission’s decisions this year offer a window into the state’s changing charter school landscape as well as some evolving tensions in Hawaii’s growing alternative-learning community.
They also reflect the increasing rigor of the state’s charter-school vetting process — a transformation that officials say can be painful for visionaries but that is necessary to improve accountability and educational quality.
Photo Credit: PF Bentley for Civil Beat