Last month, Perspectives Charter School celebrated the grand opening of its new $7 million building, and declared it was ready to launch more schools.
“We feel a social responsibility to open more schools,” declared co-founder Diana Shulla-Cose, who is setting her sights on creating eight more Perspectives-style charters over the next five years.
But low funding from CPS may put a brake on their ambitions. Under Renaissance 2010, the School Board is promising charter and contract operators that they will have a shot at space in CPS facilities. But some charter operators say the rent and operations fees the board plans to charge are cost-prohibitive. Others say building multiple quality staffs and school cultures is not simple.
Perspectives is one of only 15 Chicago charter holders that, by law, may create multiple campuses. Last year, the state Legislature placed a moratorium on multiple campuses, decreeing that any charter launched after April 2003 could not run more than one campus. (Since then, another five have opened.)
So far, only two of the original 15 charter holders have more than one campus, but more are now considering the idea.
One of the hardest tasks charters face nationally and in Chicago is finding and financing facilities. “We would do a charter [proposal] right now if we had a site,” says Michael Milkie, principal of Noble Street Charter High School, who has declared he would like to see as many as 15 new Noble-style schools around the city.
Milkie says replication is possible because the system is finding space for proposed new schools before giving them a green light. And Noble Street Charter has already benefited from the facilities and operational expertise of its partner, the Northwestern Settlement House. If Noble Street chooses to replicate, the existing board would oversee the new schools too, he says.
Milkie asserts that Noble Street is up to another challenge: finding sufficient talent to run a group of schools. “We’d have to have someone like me at every building, [and] a mini-superintendent” to oversee the network, he says. “Finding those people is hard, but it can be done.”
The Chicago Charter School Foundation already operates seven sites across the city. Though they plan to continue opening new campuses and have received Gates Foundation money to develop new high school curricula in up to four schools, replication is on hold. “We could not find an adequate facility in the city we could afford,” says Executive Director Elizabeth Delaney-Purvis. “Unlike other schools in the city, we were not given one. We just can’t find a site for a 500-kid high school.”
“The key to successful charter schools is integrating commitment to the students, passion for education and innovation. These are hard elements to just duplicate,” warns Margaret Small, co-director of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School. “You need communities of adults who share the same purpose,” as well as “dynamic leadership.”
Betty Shabazz International Charter in Greater Grand Crossing also is “very, very interested” in replication, says Principal Elaine Mosley. “The climate is right for expansion.” However, she cautions that successful expansion depends on resources and, in Shabazz’s case, on developing culturally sensitive curricula. (Shabazz features an Afrocentric curriculum.)
Mosley says Shabazz would adapt its curriculum to reflect the experience and culture of the students and the surrounding neighborhood.
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