Atlanta’s Tech High is closing. The charter school enrolled 200 students in grades 9 though 12, according to the state DOE
One persistent problem with charter high schools nationwide is that teens want a larger social pool and wider opportunities than many start-up charters can provide.
And the students want the fun stuff, the Friday night football games, the dances, the homecoming parades. It is tough to offer the social and extracurricular extras in schools with 50 kids or fewer per grade level.
Tech High could not draw enough students, partly because of its forsaken location on Memorial Drive. (A father recently told me that he took his child to visit the school, but turned around in the parking lot after seeing the run-down facility)
Probably more disconcerting to many Atlanta parents, Tech High’s math and science scores were not dazzling. On the 2011 state End-of-Course Test, 69 percent of Tech High students failed Math I and Math II, 40 percent failed biology and 58 percent failed economics.
According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 13 students from Tech High took a total of 15 Advanced Placement exams in 2011. Of those 15 AP tests, only one test earned a score of 3 or higher, the threshold for college credit — an AP success rate of 6.7 percent.
Compare Tech High to Atlanta’s 1,500-student Grady High School, which had much lower failure rates on the EOCT in math and science. At Grady, the rate of success of AP tests — tests with scores of 3 or higher — was 65 percent.
Having visited Tech High three times, including an evening award program for the 50 seniors, I can vouch that the school had an incredibly dedicated staff and a lot of enthusiasm. Apparently, that was not enough.
Here is the official release:
Atlanta’s Tech High, the successful 8-year-old math-, science- and technology-oriented charter high school in the Atlanta Public Schools system, is being forced to close its doors amid an unanticipated revenue cut of 16 percent, school Board Chair Kent Antley announced today.
“It is with great sadness and disappointment that the Governing Board has informed families of the unforeseen challenges this promising school has endured over the past 30 days,” Antley said.
“Our talented, dedicated faculty and staff and our parents and students, who have demonstrated unwavering commitment to academic success, now face an obstacle that is impossible to overcome.”
Tech High School opened its doors in 2004 in a renovated section of the SciTrek Science Museum on Piedmont Road next to the Atlanta Civic Center. There were high expectations for the school, which boasted a who’s who of supporters including the downtown business community, the high tech community, civic leaders and unanimous support from the Atlanta school board
“Like the vast majority of charter schools, Tech High has had to operate on a very tight budget,” Antley said. “Our school was especially sensitive to setting an example in demonstrating high accountability and transparency in our spending.”
The Governing Board had delayed implementing next year’s teacher contracts until it received funding projections from APS. But during the summer break the school was notified, after those contracts had been signed, that a combination of factors would reduce funding another $360,000.
“The state’s average funding per student is over $11,000,” Antley noted. “This school, which has overcome so much, simply cannot operate on revenues of $7,411 per student – and that does not include our capital costs. This is a tragic, saddening last financial blow from which we cannot recover.”
One reason for the massive funding cut is APS’ decision to allocate unfunded pension liabilities to charter schools. Tech High, along with several other charters, disagree with the legality of the APS decision. Other charters plan to wage a legal challenge but, “Unfortunately, our families and teachers can’t put their lives on hold to wait for the legal system to resolve this issue.”
The school was forced to move from the SciTrek facility after only one year when SciTrek closed its doors and the City of Atlanta would not continue the lease. The school is currently housed in a building built in 1922, which means ongoing and major maintenance expenses. That, along with the revenue cut, threatened to force a midyear closure and enormous disruption to many already at-risk students. “At all times, our faculty and staff’s greatest concern and commitment are for the best interests of our students.”
“We are enormously proud of the many accomplishments of Tech High and the numerous students we have helped over eight years,” Antley said. “It has been direct reflection of the dedication of our great teachers and leadership. We are heartbroken that we will not be able to continue to be a positive contributor to Atlanta Public Schools.”
Tech High had just announced a strategic partnership with the Technical College System of Georgia and Georgia Tech Research Institute focused on becoming a state and national model for teaching math, science and technology at the high school level. This partnership was going to combine a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum and problem-based learning with college and career pathway course offerings through Georgia’s technical college system.
Dr. Barbara Christmas, an experienced and respected educator, was Tech High’s first CEO. As with all charter schools, Tech High accepted all students. “We consistently had about one-third of our incoming ninth-grade students reading at the 4th or 5th grade level,” said Christmas. “Their math skills were similar.”
Both the percentage of minorities and low-income students at Tech High have been higher than the average for Atlanta Public Schools. Despite these challenges, Tech High showed an amazing ability to graduate a high percentage of their students. “What I’m most proud of is that not only did we graduate over 90% of our students, but nearly all of them went on to enroll in higher education or the military,” said Christmas
• Four Graduating Classes, averaging a 93 percent graduation rate among seniors
• 78 percent of the graduating class of 2011 were accepted to a two- or four-year college
• Over $1.8 million in scholarships offered to the 2011 graduating class of 40 students
• Some colleges Tech High alums attend: Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse, Spelman, Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Brandeis University, College of Wooster, North Carolina A&T, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia State University, and Tuskegee University
• Some Scholarships earned by Tech High Alums: Gates Millennium Scholarship, Posse Scholarship, HOPE Scholarship and Legacy Scholarship
• Tech High has achieved AYP five out of six years the school has been measured
• 2011 Academic Gold Award for Greatest Gains from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog