Disappointing Decision Regarding High-Achieving Cape Cod Charter School

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In 2004 the Barnstable County Horace Mann Charter School was founded to “Engage, educate, and challenge a diverse K-3 population to achieve the highest level of academic excellence.” The school has its own nine-member board of trustees, principal, and staff that under the Horace Mann format are given greater control over budgetary and teaching decisions than their counterparts in traditional public schools. The school stayed true to its commitment to diversity as English is the second language of 41 percent of the students, and it is the only elementary school in the district that accepts students from all of the town’s seven villages.

Furthermore, a majority of the students are from low income households with at least 50 percent of the students being on the free or reduced-price lunch program. Despite the odds, the school’s third-graders were the top performers in the district on the 2017-2018 Next-Generation MCAS math testing and came in only two percentage points behind the district’s highest-scoring third-graders at West Villages Elementary School in English Language Arts. These results are staggering not only because 56 percent of the students are classified as “high needs,” but also based on the fact that the town of Barnstable ranked 13th out of the fifteen Cape Cod towns in education spending per public school student in 2016.

*Harwich’s data is taken from 2015 as the 2016 data is unavailable due to the regionalization of the town’s schools

Despite these impressive statistics, at the end of the 2017-2018 school year the Barnstable School Committee made the unexpected decision not to renew the Barnstable Community Horace Mann Charter School by a 4-1 vote. While the K-3 school had some of the top standardized test scores despite having some of the lowest income students, the committee made the decision based on a matter of “governance,” as the school will now be governed by the school committee instead of the principal and staff.

Those affiliated with the school are especially frustrated with the committee’s decision as it was reported that only one school committee member had ever attended a board meeting and none of the members had been to the school. In fact, Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown did not visit the school until the school committee voted not to renew the charter. Prior to the vote, staff and administration at Horace Mann said many parents would pull their kids from the school and send them to other schools in the district if the charter was not renewed.

The decision not to renew the charter was especially surprising not only because of Horace Mann’s exceptional performance results, but also because of the results of the other two charter schools on Cape Cod.

The Cape Cod Lighthouse School, a school located in Harwich that offers grades 6-8, has experienced great performance results. The school scored well above the Massachusetts average in both English Language Arts and Mathematics on the 2017 Next Generation MCAS. Furthermore, the Sturgis Charter Public School, the only charter high school on Cape Cod, ranked first in Composite Performance Index ( a number from 1-100 that represents the extent to which students have attained or are progressing toward proficiency in a given subject) for English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science when compared with all other Cape Cod public high schools.

The decision regarding Horace Mann has been justified by the fact that Horace Mann charter schools are treated differently than the independent Commonwealth Charter Schools such as Sturgis and Lighthouse. While the Horace Mann Charter Schools are part of the local school district and their board of trustees is subordinate to the local school committee, the independent Commonwealth Charter Schools are publicly funded but run as separate school districts.

It was confirmed that the Horace Mann Charter School will run through the next school year, however the decision not to renew the charter is disappointing considering the school’s performance results and commitment to “high needs” families. The committee’s decision shocked and disappointed many in the community including the Barnstable Teachers Association who were in favor of renewing the school’s charter.

Harris Foulkes is a Pioneer Transparency Intern and is a rising freshman at Amherst College where he plans to study economics.