WUOMFM

Sudden closure of Taylor International Academy sours some on charter schools

Jun 9, 2017

For most Michigan kids, the school year is over next week. 

But for the 300-some kids at Taylor International Academy in Southfield, it ended twelve days early, after the charter's management company suddenly pulled its staff, including the principal.

The school was going to be closed anyway - just not this soon

It was no secret that Taylor International Academy was struggling academically and financially.  The school is chartered by Central Michigan University, and its private management company, Renaissance School Services, had failed to improve its budget and low test scores. 

But no one expected the principal and other employees of Renaissance to just pick up and leave before school officially ended.  

Parents like Nicole Ellis are overwhelmed. Her son was going to attend eighth grade at the academy next year.

"So it put me in a situation where now I have to find him a new school for eighth grade, and I might possibly have to find him another school for high school," says Ellis with a sigh.

Parents struggle to assess the quality of the alternatives

Ellis came to an expo at the now-closed school on Thursday to find out what other options her son might have.

Buddy Moorehouse was there, too.  He's with the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents the state's charter schools.

He says all the students' tests were done, and grades submitted.

"Thankfully all the children had completed the number of hours that they needed to complete, so there was no danger of them not getting credit for the school year or anything like that," he says.

Brandy Walker, 5th grade language arts teacher, and Regina Nelson, 1st/2nd grade language arts teacher, FLICS, Detroit Public Schools
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Inside the expo, representatives from fifteen schools sat at booths, handing out pamphlets and answering questions from parents.

Regina Nelson teaches at Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies, or "FLICS" for short.  It's in the Detroit Public Schools district.

"We offer French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese, so by the time the kids are done with 8th grade they will be fluent in their language," Nelson says.

The school still struggles with reading literacy in the students' native tongue, however.  The school enlists volunteer readers to help get scores up.

Teachers left behind, too.

All of the teachers at Taylor International Academy are now unemployed.  The expo also had representatives from schools looking to hire.  

Second grade teacher Delon Wills came to see where she could get another job.

Former Taylor International Academy employees Renee Jenkins, Dean of Students, teachers Sarah Hesse, Meera Atallah, Brittney Urban, and Delon Wills and special education teacher Susan Watson.
Credit Tracy Samilton

"It's very unfortunate because I actually loved the school," says Wills.  "I've been here two years, I had an intention of coming back, we had a great school community, and now we're just trying to find something similar -- but with the stability."

Wills says she and her colleagues are not sure they can find that stability at a charter school.

Some now look at charters differently

Parent Nicole Ellis has her doubts now too.

"The word charter just does not have a good ring with me," says Ellis, "because if they're able to just shut down like that without notice, that's a little bit unsettling."

The president of Renaissance Schools Services didn't return calls in time to comment for this story. 

Central Michigan University and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies lay the blame for the situation squarely at the management company's doorstep.

But Ellis thinks it goes back to when the state decided to allow charters in the first place.  

"If I had to place a blame, it would go back to whoever decided to create this (charter system)," says Ellis, "and not have as much accountability as maybe even Detroit Public Schools, because right now, they're looking pretty good to me."

Buddy Moorehouse of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies says he doesn't blame Ellis for her skepticism.  But he says this is an isolated incident and in no way represents how a charter school is supposed to operate.

And, to be sure, charters have no monopoly on failure and sudden closure.  

In July, 2013, two entire traditional public school districts shut down suddenly.  Both Inkster Public Schools and Buena Vista School District were dissolved.

That left those parents only a few weeks to find other districts where their kids could go in the fall.