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State to close Oracle Charter School

Oracle Charter School, a high school in Buffalo with more than 300 kids, will close its doors at the end of the school year in June after the state denied renewal of its charter.

That tough decision came down Tuesday from the State University of New York, which authorizes charter schools and cited poor academic performance as the reason for ending Oracle’s 13-year run.

“I’m sorry,” Joseph Belluck, chair of the Charter Schools Committee, told Oracle leadership. “I want to thank you very much for your efforts.”

After receiving the news, Oracle leaders said they were “deeply disappointed” by the ruling, but reassured their students a smooth transition process to other schools.

They gave no indication they would challenge the decision in court, as other charters have done in recent years.

“We understand this news is difficult,” Jacqueline Hollins and Ramone Alexander, co-chairs for the board of trustees at Oracle, said in a prepared statement. “Our students and their families are our top priority and we will bring to bear all available resources to ensure their emotional well-being and academic success in the transition.”

Oracle opened in the fall of 2005 along Delaware Avenue's row of mansions and twice had its charter renewed, most recently in 2012.

But when the school submitted its application last year, the Charter Schools Institute – which evaluates and oversees charters authorized by SUNY – recommend denying renewal for Oracle because it had not been meeting its academic goals or mission as a college preparatory program.

Students at Oracle do not graduate from the program prepared for college and career, the institute said, and while its graduation rate is higher than the city school district's, the overall academic trend at Oracle is downward.

Oracle leaders appealed to SUNY in January, when they made a case for turning things around at Oracle. Bringing aboard a superintendent and hiring a new head of school by July were among the plans.

But it wasn’t enough to sway the committee on Tuesday.

“Not because I don’t have confidence in your intent,” SUNY Trustee Merryl Tisch told Oracle leaders, “but I know the challenges on the ground are so enormous.”

The committee, in fact, was split on what to do about Oracle, and denied the school’s charter by a slim 2 to 1 vote.

Trustee Edward Spiro was optimistic that changes outlined by the Oracle board would produce better results and suggested a three-year renewal for the school with annual monitoring.

However, Belluck, the committee chairman, considered the institute’s recommendation when casting his vote. The committee has ignored recommendations to deny renewal in the past, only to have those schools close a couple years later, he said.

The chairman did express concerns Tuesday about Oracle students finding a good home once the doors are closed in June.

But he also has raised concerns about renewing charters that are performing only marginally better than schools in the district.

“I wanted to say in the time I’ve been doing this, this is among the tougher decisions I’ve had to make,” Belluck said during Tuesday’s meeting in New York City, which was streamed via the Internet. “I’m particularly troubled by it because I do not believe there are good alternatives in Buffalo right now despite best intentions of the Buffalo Public Schools.”

Oracle has 35 teachers and instructional staff to educate 311 students in grades nine through 12. Most of the students are minorities and all of them are living below the poverty line, school leaders have said.

While seniors will graduate from Oracle as planned, the freshman, sophomores and juniors will be placed in a Buffalo Public School come September or be eligible to apply to a private school or another charter, Hollins and Alexander said.

“Oracle and the Buffalo Public Schools will host multiple information sessions for parents in the coming weeks, facilitate tours of Buffalo schools to aid selection, and work closely with each student and family throughout the transition process,” the two said in their statement.

There are currently 19 charter schools in the region, most of them in Buffalo.

In the past five years, the state refused to renew charters at both Pinnacle Charter School at 115 Ash St. and Community Charter School at 404 Edison Ave., sparking lengthy court battles before both lost and closed.

Citing poor performance, state recommends closing Oracle Charter School

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