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State Board of Education hears update on Great Oaks Charter

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s Department of Education’s Charter School Office hopes to give Great Oaks Charter School more time to meet conditions set during last year’s formal review for low enrollment and other challenges.

At the start of the current school year, Great Oaks’s enrollment stood at 217 students — far below the 325-students specified in the school’s charter agreement.

After a formal review, Delaware’s Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Great Oaks be allowed to continue operating, with 22 conditions intended to remedy some of the school’s challenges. They included Great Oaks securing an enrollment of 200 for upcoming school year, and have 90 percent of that — 180 students — by April 1.

The Charter Office says Great Oaks fell short of April’s goal, reaching only 80 percent of the goal, but recommended giving the school more time – a strategy backed by Education Secretary Mark Holodick, who said that the possibility of closing a school and forcing students to find alternatives is emotionally challenging.

“I’m just being as transparent as I can be – I worry about that school and the students enrolled there," he said. "Where they might end up or not end up. I really worry about them not ending up in a school.”

The most vocal skeptic on the subject is Board of Education member Dr. Audrey Noble, who suggested giving Great Oaks an extension to meet conditions only delays the inevitable.

“I feel like we can’t just keep kicking the can down the road," she said. "If we’re going to make a hard decision, we have to make a hard decision at a time when it has the least negative impact on kids. I don’t think that’s in September.”

The Charter School Office notes that even if the school closes at the end of the year, students will have missed Delaware’s school choice window, creating disruption for Great Oaks families.

But the Office also reported some progress at Great Oaks — namely a decreasing number of students taking classes virtually.

The school now waits for a final decision from the Charter School Accountability Committee on its fate.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.