Charter school changes

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University officials say the institution is already working on issues with some of its charter schools following a Monday announcement by the state superintendent of schools it was one of 11 chartering agencies on notice of possible suspension.

“We’re well down that road,” said Derek Hall, assistant vice president for identity, branding and marketing at NMU. “We’ve already worked on all the issues that we know about. If there are some issue we don’t know about, we’ll jump on them.

“The current standards, as we know them, we’re helping our schools through that process.”

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan put the agencies on notice Monday, giving a deadline of Oct. 22 to fix their issues.

Flanagan plans to decide in November whether to suspend their chartering ability. Their current charters would remain open.

Seven of NMU’s 10 charter schools were part of Flanagan’s evaluation, including the three in the Upper Peninsula. Three recently chartered downstate schools have not been chartered by NMU long enough to have been counted.

Flanagan said the 11 authorizers, which account for 43 percent of the state’s public charter schools, are deficient in transparency, accountability and fiscal governance. Their schools as a whole rank in the bottom 10 percent academically.

Hall said lumping each of NMU’s charter schools, which typically operate in low-income areas with an at-risk student population, was not the best way to evaluate the charters. Rather, he said comparing them to other schools of similar size in similar areas was more appropriate.

“It is the mission of NMU to educate in areas of the state where traditional schools have failed and the need is the greatest,” Hall said. “NMU is working to have all academies meet or exceed traditional home district scores on MEAP but more importantly, is measuring annual student growth … to improve academic performance.”

Hall said the Michigan Department of Education sent a memo Aug. 12 titled “Charter School Accountability Series” with an invitation to participate in a series of discussions around authorizer accountability.

The first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23. Hall said NMU officials will attend.

Hall said the university was expecting to discuss problems with its charters during the series and was surprised when Flanagan released a statement on the issue Monday.

“We were aware of this meeting coming up in September,” Hall said. “I think there were some assumptions that those things might be discussed then.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.