State board decides East St. Louis charter school should close

News-DemocratJanuary 23, 2014 

The Illinois State Board of Education decided Thursday not to recertify the charter for Tomorrow's Builders Charter School in East St. Louis.

State Board of Education Superintendent Christopher Koch recommended the state not renew the charter for the school. The state board voted on the charter during its regular meeting in Springfield Thursday morning.

Beth Sheppard, spokeswoman for East St. Louis School District 189, said, "The Illinois State Board of Education voted today to deny certification for Tomorrow's Builders Charter School. The school is allowed to continue operation through the remainder of the year."

Vickie Kimmel Forby, executive director of the charter school, said, "I am disappointed and I think this is terrible."

"The representation that there will be a place for our students either at the high school, the Juvenile Transition Center or SIU Charter School, make it clear that they do not understand the young people we serve. We will look seriously into the options we have and will continue to work to serve the young people we serve now," Forby said.

The Tomorrow's Builders Charter School, located at 1798 Summit Ave. in the old A.M. Jackson school building, has been in operation since 2002. It is a public charter school authorized by East St. Louis School District 189 and operated by Emerson Park Development Corp.

Kentaindra Griffin, a parent liaison at the charter school and mother of a current student, said state board's decision upset her.

"I am mad about that. I'm going to talk to school administrators to discuss what we can do to get the state to reconsider," she said.

Griffin's son, DaMarian Griffin, 17, has been a student for a year.

"Emerson Park Youth Build school is important to me as a parent of a student because of the small ratio of students to teachers (10-1), individual learning scale, job training and placement, student involvement, individual attention and one on one counseling," Griffin said.

Herkeisha Lester, a current student, praised the school's effort to help young people in the East St. Louis area.

"It has been a very good learning experience," she said. "I have been there for four years. This is my last year. I won't be able to graduate. This touched me because I know this is my last chance."

"It's a school of opportunity. If it is shut down, it will take a lot from people in our community. I think more young people will head back to the street, to continue doing things they shouldn't be doing like selling drugs. That's why crime rates are so high. They keep taking from us, not giving us anything. If they take the charter school, they will be failing a lot of children. A lot of them won't be able to graduate from East Side. East Side kicked us out. That's why we are where we are," Lester said.

"This school is like a second home," said Lester, who wants to get a high school diploma so will be able to provide for her 1-year-old daughter. "We can come there for safety. We get love. We know we are cared about. We find our peace of mind."

District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said, "The Tomorrow's Builders students are our students, and we are committed to offering high quality educational placements to each of them." Culver told the state board that he will hold individual meetings with the students from the charter school and their parents "to review and discuss educational placement options."

Koch penned a letter dated Dec. 17, in which he outlined a number of reasons for his recommendation, including:

* The administration's failure to provide evidence that the terms of the charter, as proposed, are economically sound.

* Failure to articulate a sound education plan to drive successful student outcomes.

* Failure to comply with teacher qualification requirements applicable to all charter schools.

* Failure to maintain accurate records of student enrollment and attendance.

* Failure to comply with federal and state laws and regulations applicable to students with disabilities.

* Repeated violations of the conditions, standards and procedures set forth in the charter agreement and accountability plan.

In a previous interview, Forby said the allegations put forth as reasons to not renew the charter "are unequivocally false." She said the school has passed repeated financial audits, and the school's curriculum, which was submitted to the state and approved, is "almost identical" to a similar charter school elsewhere in the state.

The school operates on a budget of about $800,000 a year with funding that comes from the Illinois State Board of Education and District 189. This past quarter there were 108 students enrolled.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

For more on this developing story, return later today to bnd.com.

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