School's out, and over 

“They were second from the bottom in terms of academic performance,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi. “If I had a student there, I would be thrilled to have my child out of that school. This should not be a surprise to them. There were several parents who expressed concern.”

Located at 537 N.E. 24th, the school officially closes June 30.

According to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, students will have to attend their neighborhood schools unless the agency has designated that facility in question to be a “priority school,” meaning it’s in the bottom 5 percent in terms of academic performance. At that point, parents will have the option of placing their child in any other district school. Parents also can request an emergency transfer before the school term begins.

Three elementary schools in the area — Martin Luther King, Edwards and F.D. Moon — were placed on the priority school list last year. State officials won’t know until the fall if they will remain on the list.

Parents at the May 28 school board meeting said they don’t want to send their children to the low-performing traditional public schools.

“It’s unfair to send our kids back to a school that’s not any better,” said Martinique Brown, mother of two daughters at Marcus Garvey. “I went to those schools, and I don’t like them.”

Last year’s school report cards showed Marcus Garvey with an overall grade of D, but traditional public schools in the same area didn’t fare any better.

Failing academics
Marcus Garvey’s problems are not new. In 2007, it was placed on probation after being tagged for the state’s School Improvement List two consecutive years.

A strong advocate of charter schools, Barresi said the problems at Marcus Garvey are isolated and don’t reflect on the ability of other Oklahoma charter schools to be successful.

But at Marcus Garvey, academic performance has been a longstanding concern over its 10 years in existence. None of its seventh-grade students in 2012 scored satisfactory on the state-mandated math test, and only 13 percent of seventh-graders hit the satisfactory mark on the reading exam. On most state tests last year, Marcus Garvey’s third- through eighth-grade students scored below district averages.
In addition, the school fared poorly when compared to two other similar OKC charter schools, Stanley Hupfeld Academy at Western Village and the Knowledge Is Power Program Academy. Students at those schools scored substantially higher than Marcus Garvey did in math and reading for the last four years.

The school’s academic issues were magnified two weeks ago when the state Education Department notified Marcus Garvey that the school would be placed on C3 status, designating it as needing intervention from state officials.

“The state Department of Education was supportive of us taking this action,” said Karl Springer, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools. “No other charter school has been listed in the C3 category. It took everyone working in perfect harmony for that charter school not to be successful.”

Financial mismanagement
Poor academic performance was only one problem. Topping the list of issues was an allegation that school leaders misappropriated Child Nutrition Services money owed to OKCPS.

The district funded the federally mandated Child Nutrition program at Marcus Garvey, but federal reimbursement money was sent to the school beginning in 2011, when it received designation as a Local Education Agency. Marcus Garvey administrators, however, spent the federal dollars elsewhere and failed to repay OKCPS. On June 30, 2012, district officials realized the charter school owed more than $92,000.

Auditors also discovered last year that Marcus Garvey leadership was not using standard school accounting procedures for purchase orders, invoices and encumbrances.

“It would be one thing if it was a new school, but 10 years is plenty of time to learn how to do business as a school,” Springer said. “It was clearly demonstrated that the school has no understanding of how much money it has.”

Kwame Mumina, an attorney representing the charter school, tried to sway school board members with an emotional appeal. In a board meeting filled with supportive Marcus Garvey parents, Mumina urged board members to examine the school’s entirety and not focus on test scores.

“The numbers and percentages are not valid predictors of a student’s success. That’s not all you have to look at,” he said.

Mumina pointed out that student attendance jumped from 95 to 98 percent in the last six years and the dropout and truancy rates have been reduced to zero.

“Testing removes variables that we think are important,” he said. “The recommendation to close flies in the face of what this school is about. The majority of students are not performing unsatisfactory enough to close the school.”

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