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Community Charter School to stay open

Community Charter School has been given a year’s reprieve.

Back in April, the Board of Regents refused to renew the charter of the East Side school, which serves about 300 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The state cited several years of poor and declining test scores in refusing to renew the school’s charter.

School leaders subsequently sued the state Education Department and Board of Regents to keep the state from shutting the school down after the end of this school year.

This week State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek granted the charter school a preliminary injunction that will allow it to keep going through the 2013-14 school year.

“The court determines that plaintiffs have established that they will suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted,” Michalek said.

He also said the state was wrong to exercise “unfettered discretion” in its decision to close the school without regard to the impact the decision would have on the students, who missed cut-off dates for all other area charter school admissions.

He also said Community Charter School “was not given a real opportunity” to present its case to the state before the decision to close the school was made.

In refusing to renew the school’s charter, the Regents cited the school’s “dramatically declining student performance,” poor and declining English and math proficiency scores, low student engagement, lack of data-driven instruction, charter noncompliance and leadership turmoil.

“In short, Community’s performance on ELA and mathematics assessments over the most recent charter term can be described as declining from year to year, being among the lowest in the state and in the City of Buffalo,” stated a report by the state Education Department Charter School Office.

A state audit also raised questions regarding a conflict of interest between a former board president, Kevin Helfer, and a business partner whose company was hired to do major construction work at the school.

Community Charter School President Daniel Ricigliano said school leaders pointed to numerous examples of how the school has worked hard to improve its performance this year, including the establishment of a school turnaround plan last year, the hiring of a new principal, instructional coaches and consultants, and a revamping and expansion of the charter school board.

Ricigliano said Thursday he was “delighted” by the judge’s ruling.

“We’ve implemented a turnaround plan all year,” he said. “What this gives us is a second year to effect improvement.”

It will take several years for the plan to have its full impact, but Ricigliano said he’s hopeful that school leaders will see real progress over the coming year.

“That’s another year working with the kids, providing them a safe environment, helping them develop, addressing social and emotional needs,” he said. “We’re very confident we can turn things around.”