Board of Directors Letter to Chicago Board of Education

Board of Directors Letter to Chicago Board of Education
Posted on 11/16/2015
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Board of Directors, Amandla Charter School

6800 South Stewart Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60621

November 16, 2015

Chicago Board of Education

1 North Dearborn Street, Suite 950

Chicago, Illinois 60602

Re: Amandla Charter School

Dear Board of Education Member:

The Amandla Charter School Board of Directors respectfully requests that each member of the CPS Board of Education thoughtfully evaluate the recommendation to close Amandla Charter School. Upon careful consideration of the facts, we are confident you will find significant and overwhelming evidence that:

  1. Amandla has met the minimum academic requirements of its Charter as stated in its CPS-approved remediation plan for SY 2015;

  2. The Englewood community prizes Amandla for its ability to place equal emphasis on both inclusion and quality, thus meeting a pressing need that is left unaddressed by the other school choice options in the neighborhood; and

  3. Amandla’s aggressive and ongoing commitment to implementing its remediation plan has placed the school back on-track to “consistently outperform comparison schools,” the characterization we earned from the CPS Office of Innovation and Incubation in 2013.

The next two pages present a straightforward set of facts about Amandla. If you find that these facts substantiate our claim that Amandla has met the requirements of its charter, offers unique and important value to its community, and is on-track for excellence, then we ask only that you provide Amandla the opportunity to be judged thoughtfully and carefully via the CPS Board of Education’s full charter renewal evaluation process.  Amandla is already scheduled for such a review next year, in SY 2017, but would welcome the strict scrutiny of a full renewal review at any time deemed appropriate by the CPS Board of Education.

We invite you to review these facts and to decide for yourself what action is appropriate:

Claim 1. Amandla has met the minimum academic requirements of its Charter as stated in its CPS-approved remediation plan for SY 2015.  

Fact:  As part of Amandla’s SY 2015 remediation process, the CPS Chief of Innovation and Incubation sent the Amandla Charter School Board of Directors a formal description of the one and only requirement for avoiding closure: "To be removed from the Academic Warning List and exit the Revocation Process, your school must not receive a Level 3 designation as measured on the SQRP based on SY2014-2015 data, as evaluated in SY2015-2016." This exact language was also included on the official Remediation Plan Template CPS required Amandla to use to submit its SY 2015 Remediation Plan.  

Fact:  Under current CPS policy, schools earning 2.0 to 2.9 SQRP points are granted a Level 2 ranking. As a result of successfully implementing its Remediation Plan, Amandla earned 2.7 SQRP points in SY 2015 and was awarded a Level 2 ranking thereby fulfilling the sole requirement for safe harbor described in Amandla’s Charter Agreement and Remediation Plan.

Claim 2.  The Englewood community prizes Amandla for its ability to place equal emphasis on both inclusion and quality, thus meeting a pressing need that is left unaddressed by the other school choice options in the neighborhood.

Fact: Amandla offers inclusion and quality for students who require special services.

  • 23% of Amandla students receive special education services vs. 13% across all Chicago charter schools vs. 14% in CPS as a whole
  • 4.8% of Amandla students have low-incidence disabilities requiring extensive support
  • vs. 1.8% across all Chicago charter schools vs. 3.4% in CPS as a whole
  • 26% of Amandla students are homeless vs. 5% in CPS as a whole
  • There is no statistically significant difference between the performance of Amandla’s special education and non-special education students on key academic metrics including:
  • Middle school: NWEA Percent of Students Meeting or Exceeding National Average Growth Norms (57.5% for sp. ed. vs. 56.6% for Amandla overall)
  • High School: Freshman on Track (88% for sp. ed. vs. 80% for Amandla overall)

Fact: Amanda uses restorative justice to safely keep challenging students in class and in school.

    • Amandla expelled zero high school students in SY 2015 and SY 2016; other Chicago charter schools are known to expel up to 5% of their student body each year  
    • Amandla’s student mobility rate is 24% vs. 72% mobility at Robeson, the nearest district-run neighborhood high school
    • 91% of Amandla’s students report feeling safe at school

Fact: Based on CPS’s SQRP rankings for SY 2015, Amandla offers equal or higher quality than most of the comparable schools within a 2-mile radius of our location.

  • High school: When compared to the ten other non-selective schools (both charter and district-run) within a 2-mile radius of our location:
    • Amandla ties for 3rd of 11 on overall SQRP points scored
    • Amandla’s SQRP score is higher than both of the nearest district-run high schools, Robeson and TEAM Englewood
  • Middle school: When compared to the six other schools offering grade 5-8 programs (both charter and district-run) within a two-mile radius of our location, Amandla’s ranking is:
    • 2nd of 7 on NWEA National School Attainment Percentile - Reading
    • 2nd of 7 on NWEA National School Growth Percentile - Reading
    • 3rd of 7 on NWEA Percent of Students Meeting or Exceeding National Average Growth Norms

Fact: The Englewood community strongly supports Amandla’s vision of inclusion and quality, and our parent/student/community petition to keep Amandla open has gathered 550 signatures in only four days.

Claim 3.  Amandla’s aggressive and ongoing commitment to implementing its remediation plan has placed the school back on-track to “consistently outperform comparison schools.”

Fact:  Amandla delivered five years of uninterrupted academic excellence from its founding in SY 2009 through SY 2013.  

    • On February 27, 2013, the CPS Office of Innovation and Incubation wrote the following in Amandla's Charter School Renewal Recommendation Briefing Report:
      • “Amandla has consistently outperformed comparison schools”
      • “The school did not receive a renewal site visit because its Performance Rating over the last two School Years didn’t warrant one"
    • In August 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recognized Amandla as one of the top six Chicago high schools based on student growth [Exhibit E].

Fact:  The Amandla Board of Directors is not satisfied with a Level 2 ranking; the students and families of Amandla deserve better.  

  • Amandla set aggressive goals for itself in an effort to reach Level 2+ in SY 2015. Although actual performance at Level 2 was just 0.3 SQRP points short of our goal of Level 2+, our results represented significant year-over-year improvement on key measures of academic performance [Exhibit F].  
  • In June, 2015, the Amandla Board of Directors appointed Jennifer Kirmes as CEO and revised its strategic action plan for returning to top tier status.
  • Amandla’s aggressive and ongoing commitment to implementing its remediation plan has resulted in changes throughout the school to student facing programs including academics and social-emotional support, to teacher facing programs including instructional support and accountability, and to management facing systems including CEO evaluation and academic oversight.

Fact:  The most recent performance trends indicate Amandla is on track to achieve a Level 2+ SQRP ranking in the current school year, SY 2016. Our target for SY 2017 is Level 1.

On the strength of these facts, it would be a disservice to Amandla’s students, families, and the Englewood community to close Amandla Charter School without performing the careful, in-depth analysis of a full charter renewal evaluation.   

We request that you meet with Amandla’s CEO to review performance and the aforementioned facts before the vote scheduled for Wednesday, November 18. Please call Jennifer Kirmes at 773-535-7150 or 781-249-2449 at your earliest convenience. We thank you in advance for your attention to this crucially important matter.

Very truly yours,


Amandla Charter School Board of Directors

Dan Palchak
Adam Tarnoff
Kathryn O'Connell
Mary Bryant
Mark Palchak
Tanya Burnell
Sean Stalling