Friday, June 22, 2012

If Regis Needs Students From 25 Districts To Open, Should It?

Remember back in February when Amir Khan was bragging at a Regis Academy Board of Trustees Meeting that he could take kids from Hoboken if he wanted to because the NJDOE had allowed him to expand his districts?  A couple weeks later the NJDOE told the Courier Post that Regis was NOT given permission to expand their districts.  For a minute there it looked like Regis would actually have to fill the majority of their seats with kids from the districts they were actually approved to serve.  Imagine that!

Fast forward to June and it's crunch time.  The NJDOE is doing their walk through of Regis' facility in the next couple of weeks, and all of the final paperwork is due to the NJDOE by June 30th.  Acting Commissioner Cerf will decide if Regis gets it's final charter on July 15th.

At a Board of Trustees meeting tonight Regis claimed to have 267 students enrolled, and this is also the number Khan cites in an article in today's South Jersey Sun.  On June 8th however Christian Barnes, Regis Lead Person/Principal/Founder, confirmed enrollment of just 187 students and provided a breakdown.  

Guess how many districts those students were being pulled from?  25.  That's right, 25.  And how many of those students are from the original four sending districts?  Only 78, or 42%.  Here's the breakdown.
This brings me back to the old adage trotted out over and over and over again by Carlos Perez of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association.  That parents will "vote with their feet."

 A charter school that fills up with students is one that was wanted by the community.

So if it takes 25 districts to fill a charter school, can we assume it wasn't wanted or needed?  Looks like the parents in Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Somerdale and Lawnside DID vote with their feet.  

But the NJDOE let Regis stuff the ballot box.  

Regis needed to fill 250 seats in grades K-4.  So just for fun, lets look at how many kids are in Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Somerdale and Lawnside schools in K-5, and see how many have chosen Regis Academy.

Less than 1% of the students in Cherry Hill and Voorhees have chosen Regis, and only 4% in Somerdale.  But the numbers for Lawnside are alarming.  29 students may seem insignificant, but that's 21% of Lawnside's students in Grades K-5.

This brings up a very troublesome issue.  The NJDOE is supposed to consider the segregative effect a charter will have on a district before they grant a final charter.  Lawnside's student population is predominantly African-American.  In the 2010/2011 school year the district had 283 students in total, and 94% were African-American.  The town of Lawnside claims to be "the first independent self-governing African-American community north of the Mason-Dixon line."  

Why would the NJDOE allow Regis to take over 10% of the total population of this historic district?  

I noted back in February that Regis did not fill out the demographic information on the enrollment data submitted to the NJDOE.  I have since received enrollment data via OPRA on 11 other pending charters, and EVERY SINGLE ONE includes the required demographic information.  Only Regis failed to submit this information.


There certainly seems to be reason to be concerned that Regis is enrolling primarily African-American students.  Are they trying to hide this by not submitting the demographic information?

These are issues the NJDOE should carefully consider before granting Regis their final charter.  Regis needs to produce the demographic information on the students they have enrolled.  If they are indeed pulling primarily African-American students out of the traditional public schools, the segregative effect this will have on the sending districts must be explored.

The NJDOE also needs to carefully consider the potentially disastrous effect Regis may have on the Lawnside school district.

These are just two of the many, many issues I hope to highlight between now and July 15th when Acting Commissioner Cerf makes his decision on Regis.

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