Oracle school risks closure as SUNY denies charter renewal

Jan 9, 2018

Oracle Charter High School on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo is at risk of closing. WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley has learned SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute (CSI) has recommended non-renewal, a denial of renewal for the school's charter for the next five years.

Non-Renewal Recommendation

A 56-page SUNY report denies renewal for failure of student learning and achievement, and student retention and graduation rates. SUNY told WBFO the school has “not met accountability requirements”.

Outside Oracle Charter School, Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

WBFO News met with school leaders and board members Monday who revealed the denial. School leaders said there were several benchmarks they failed to reach including academic.

"Graduation rates, Regents exam scores, and so we didn't reach all those benchmarks and, as a result, CSI has submitted a recommendation of non-renewal,” stated Oracle board co-chair Jacqueline Hollins.

The SUNY report stated Oracle has failed to demonstrate the school is meeting its mission.

“Again, we have not met our benchmarks. We take responsibility for that, so the Charter Schools Committee they would have the flexibly to look beyond our absolute measures,” Hollins explained.

Appeal process

Oracle parents and the school community were informed Tuesday morning of the non-renewal recommendation.

Board member Pastor George Nicholas said they will remain transparent as the school prepares to appeal this decision.

“We respect them, and so we are not going to withhold information from them and tell them the truth,” Nicholas said. “But coupled with that truth, we’re going to tell them how we are going to fight with every breath of our bodies and with the skill sets that we have, we’re going to mobilize them with the best of our abilities to make sure this school stays opened, because this community needs  this school to stay opened.”

The SUNY committee will allow the school to appear on January 25 to offer an appeal.

In past SUNY performance review reports from 2015-2016, it indicated the school “failed to meet accountability plan goals” in English language arts, math and graduation.

Oracle leaders also tell WBFO they’ve already submitted what they call “40 factual corrections” to SUNY’s non-renewal recommendation.

Oracle currently serves 311 students – a majority are African-American.  Oracle leaders tell WBFO they are vowing to fight to keep the school open.

“We have a population of students that are 100 percent eligible for a free and reduced lunch. 90 percent of our students are African-American, and a number of our students have experienced trauma, so in terms of fixing or correcting, we’re going to continue to do what has already been put into place, in terms of systems, improving our academic progress, supporting our teachers,” remarked board co-chair, Dr. Ramone Alexander. 

New leadership established

The board has made major school leadership changes, recently hiring a new head of schools and assistant head of schools. But they’ve had little time to make needed changes that were not part of past five-year reviews by SUNY CSI. 

“We have taken some very aggressive steps to provide the right leadership – to build the right team,” Nicholas stated.

Janet Barnes was hired as the new head of school, and joined in May of 2017. She came out of retirement as a former Buffalo Public Schools educator.

Barnes described the “small window” she has been given to make needed improvements. The renewal application was submitted in August.

“I knew there could have been some things that could have gone better in the school,” Barnes remarked. “Just to have that small window of time to make those changes were quite lofty challenges…but as we all know, change takes time, when you have new teachers and new students. And that’s what we are asking for – time to make those changes.”

Dr. Benjamin Willis arrived just two months ago, hired to serve as assistant head of schools. He was formerly with Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo.

“Oracle does an excellent job of supporting students. A lot of our students suffer trauma, have suffered trauma – but this is home for 311 students and closing the school – the alternative for our students is another traumatic event in their lives that we would – hopefully CSI, hopefully SUNY – would see we are working diligently to make sure that they don’t have to experience that traumatic event,” Willis declared.

Oracle Charter School, Buffalo, NY.
Credit Photo from Oracle Charter website

Changes at Oracle

“Systems that have been put into place. Let’s just start with student discipline and what their expectations are and things of that nature, that was changes and that has been fulfilled to the positive. Expectation as far as grading and what we expect them to do as far as grades and homework and getting their grades up – those systems have been put in place,” Barnes explained.

School History

Oracle first opened its doors in September of 2005 with 180 students in 7th through 9th grade. Oracle was granted a short-term renewal by SUNY Trustees at the end of the first charter term in 2009, ending its 7th and 8th grade programs.

In 2012, Oracle received a charter renewal for a full five-years – its third renewal.               

Oracle tells WBFO after appearing at the January 25th appeal, they expect a final decision to be issued in February.

Approved renewal at another school

Meanwhile, SUNY’s CSI has renewed the charter application for the King Center Charter School in Buffalo. The proposed resolution submitted by King Charter has received a five-year, full-term charter renewal. King Charter is located on Genesee Street inside the King Urban Life Center. SUNY CSI noted it renewed the school’s charter because it will “meet or exceed the enrollment and retention targets of students with disabilities, English language learners”.

You may recall the COMMUNITY Charter School of Buffalo lost its court battle to stay opened and closed at the end of its school year in June of 2014. The school’s renewal was denied due to a drop in academic performance and poor test scores.