2019 renewals: New York charter school authorizers

Renewal decision trends from January through June 2019 from all New York State charter school authorizers are shown below.  Like in previous years, the capacity of a school to recruit and retain special populations (ELL, SwD and ED) and perform above accountability expectations are the two most important factors.

2019 New York State Renewal Decisions
Authorizer Total Number of Renewal Recommendations Total Short Term Total Long Term
NYCDOE 26** 13 13**
NYSED 24 15 9
SUNY 14 0 14
Total 64 28 36
**Includes one school renewed upon condition of restructuring board and leadership team.

In our analysis of renewal recommendations and conversations with schools and authorizers, demonstrating capacity continues to be a factor in renewal term length. The “gold standard” for a five-year renewal term are those charter schools that demonstrate consistent academic results, meet enrollment and retention targets, and stay financially healthy over time. Schools that do this show their capacity for continued success in a five-year term.

Below are some tips to consider when reviewing your school’s capacity in three key areas: academic growth, governance, and financial reserves.

Capacity to continue academic growth

Schools with slow growth in overall proficiency will need to show capacity for future growth and demonstrate a sense of urgency for academic improvement.

💡Consider adding coaches or data specialists to increase the teacher-to-coach ratio and the rate of observation, feedback, and follow up.

💡Examine support for teachers, both monetary (longevity bonuses, continuing education), and professional (leadership pipeline, well-developed and supportive coaching system).

💡Consider revising your evaluation tools to align with the school’s goals and job descriptions. Some boards also adopt a coaching model for the school leader, with a structure for goal setting and mid-year check-ins.

Capacity to effectively govern

At a minimum, boards must meet monthly and reach quorum. Boards with real capacity for long-term success continue to refine their practices, ensure that members are informed and engaged, and make thoughtful, mission-aligned long-term plans front and center.

💡Examine your videoconference practices. Are they compliant with the open meetings law?

💡Ensure that new and diverse voices are represented on your board, and that an effective system exists for rolling trustee recruitment.

💡Consider holding an annual retreat to deepen board knowledge of important topics such as what questions to ask of an academic leader, or the difference between management and governance.

Capacity to invest

Schools with adequate funds aligned to real improvement plans demonstrate the capacity to deliver on future promises.

💡Worry less about the actual amount you have in unrestricted reserves. Focus on sharing exactly where those funds will be directed with your authorizer.

Case Study: One School’s Responsive Strategic Plan

Case Study: “Improvement is Well Within Our Reach”

The School: A 9-12 high school in New York

Performance: Impressive graduation rates, mediocre college readiness

Background: This charter high school received a three-year term after applying for renewal for the first time in summer 2013.  This was primarily due to limited, and mediocre, academic data. With another renewal due in summer 2016, winter 2014 was an ideal time for the board and leadership to map out the next three years.  The stakeholders knew that a positive graduation rate trend between 2014 and 2016 would be the key factor in earning a five year renewal. The board set out to strengthen its academic oversight through better use of data, as well as increase financial reserves. 

Vision: All stakeholders were committed to the goal of receiving a full-term recommendation after the school’s next renewal application.

Challenge: More than 75% of incoming students historically entered the high school two to three years behind grade level in math and ELA.  Most grade 9-10 teachers had to provide remediation and teach grade-level material simultaneously. It was an inefficient approach. The greatest challenge was getting these same remediated students to become “college ready” in four years.

Objectives: Increase the graduation rate by 10 points over the three-year term until it met the accountability measure of 75%. Lower/stabilize enrollment to 340-360 to keep class sizes small. Add $600,000 to reserves over three years.

Timeline: The school would have the three school years from 2013-14 through 2015-16 to make a compelling case for a full term.

The Plan: The leadership and board met within a month of the short-term recommendation to make a strategic plan. Driven by the ticking clock until their next renewal, the board chose strategies that could be accomplished in the short term. They focused on immediate changes to scheduling and staffing. Difficult decisions needed to be made.  Cutting some popular electives made room for 80 extra minutes of daily math and ELA, allowing for a separate ELA and math skills class, in addition to the existing math and ELA blocks. The business office was charged with a full review of all internal systems and outside contracts to seek efficiencies and savings. The board worked with a consultant to reassess the questions they asked at each board meeting, which resulted in a high-quality dashboard tool.

Metrics: The quantitative metrics included: graduation rate, enrollment, and cumulative reserves. The board’s updated dashboard design would therefore always request updates on these numbers and projections, among other pertinent questions.

Results: With the school’s board and leadership committed to a focused strategy for three years, the clarity of each board meeting significantly improved compared to the first term.  The school met its enrollment, graduation rate and financial reserves objectives by the second year of the three year period. They went into their next renewal with momentum, confidence and the financial reserves to be a clear candidate for a full term, which their authorizer recommended.