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Keep Pinnacle open; Closing charter school will just consign its 560 students to city school system

If the question about Pinnacle Charter School turned only on the record of its management, the decision to close it would be clear. The Buffalo school has been run poorly and has only recently shown signs of improvement.

But the question of management isn't the only issue and, in fact, it is not even the most important issue. When the question is focused on what is best for the 560 children of Pinnacle, only one answer is possible: Renew the charter for one year. That should be the decision of the State Board of Regents, whose job must be to look at more than the numbers.

The school hadn't done well by its students through the end of the last school year -- sometimes scoring below district averages and sometimes above. Incredibly and indefensibly, the school didn't make serious moves to improve its performance until last August, even knowing its charter would be up for renewal this year.

But it did make those moves, hiring an experienced principal whose leadership, school officials say, has begun turning around the school. School leaders expect that test results -- which won't be available until this summer -- will document that improvement. But the Regents are voting today on whether to close the school or renew its charter. State education officials last week recommended closing Pinnacle. It would be the wrong decision.

The question for Regents has to be "What is best for the students?" The decision is being made after selections for charter schools next year have already been made around the district. Thus, if the Regents close Pinnacle, its students will be consigned to public schools that the Regents already know aren't doing the job. They will be no better off than if they were to remain in an unimproved Pinnacle.

But Pinnacle may be improving. It's late in the game, but with Principal Linda Marszalek at the helm and test results suggesting notable improvement, closing the school might actually hurt the prospects of students who stand to benefit from the efforts that are finally under way. It is instructive, about Pinnacle and the Buffalo School District, itself, that Pinnacle still has a waiting list and a family support group that wants to keep it open.

The Regents can either close the school or extend its charter for any length of time up to five years. It should grant a year's extension. If, after seeing test results this summer, the Regents remain unimpressed, they can announce plans to close Pinnacle after the 2012-13 school year.

That approach offers the best options to all concerned. It gives the school a chance to capitalize on the work it has done recently and, more importantly, protects the interests of students who are entitled to a good education. If the Regents later decide to close the school, it will allow for an orderly process that, among other things, gives parents time to plan what to do next.

With those options in play, there is no defensible reason for the Regents to close the school today. If they choose to keep it open, though, school officials and parents need to know that it may be nothing more than a stay of execution, depending on what test scores ultimately show. That should be a lesson for Pinnacle's leaders, should the school remain open, and even more critically, for the leaders of every other charter school in the region. If you need to improve, do it now.