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Critical report raises chances charter school will close

Buffalo's Stepping Stone Academy Charter School failed Tuesday to convince a state monitoring agency that its license should be renewed. That increased the already strong likelihood Stepping Stone will become the first local charter school to close because of poor academic performance.

In a final, 69-page report, the State University of New York's Charter School Institute said recent improvements in test scores, classroom discipline and administration are not extensive enough to warrant extending Stepping Stone's initial five-year charter beyond the end of this school year.

That recommendation now will go to the full SUNY board and its Charter Schools Committee, said James D. Merriman, executive director of the Charter Schools Institute.

SUNY, which is expected to make a final decision March 13, never has overruled a recommendation from the Charter Schools Institute, its monitoring agency.

A draft report from the institute last month recommended closing Stepping Stone at the end of the current school year, prompting extensive efforts by school officials and supporters to persuade the state to change its mind.

Administrators, board members, teachers, parents and pupils argued at an emotional public forum that Stepping Stone had overcome serious problems and was on the road to success. The school prepared a 283-page report supporting that argument.

Stepping Stone is at 909 E. Ferry St. and enrolls 600 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"The school that's currently here is not the same school that's described in the [state] report," Stepping Stone Principal William Boatwright said Tuesday. "We know we are far from perfect, and we've acknowledged that all along. All we ask for is to be given additional time."

The state's final report acknowledged improvement but said it was not strong or convincing enough to warrant a license renewal.

Fourth-grade test scores, for example, improved but are still "far below" comparable schools and Stepping Stone's performance goals, the report said.

In contrast, the Charter School Institute recommended two- or five-year license renewals for five other charter schools -- four in New York City and one in Troy.


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