BH Charter School makes the grade

Benton Harbor Charter School Academy is off the state’s list of Priority Schools, according to a Friday press release from the Michigan Department of Education.

That’s after spending only 18 months on the list, which identifies the state’s poorest performing schools.

The public charter school in Benton Harbor is among 33 schools the state removed from the list due to improved academic achievement.

“Schools are identifying the needs of their teachers and students, developing strategies to address those needs, and showing progress,” state school Superintendent Brian Whiston stated in the press release. “The focus on improvement and plans being implemented through our Top 10 in 10 work are beginning to show positive results. They need more time to build from here.”

The school was placed on the list in September 2016. At the time, Principal Tim Harris said the school wouldn’t be on the Priority List for long.

In 2016, Harris said the school did well when he was in charge from 2005 through the spring of 2013. But, he said academic achievement dropped when he left Benton Harbor to run a school in Detroit for two years until he returned in the fall of 2015.

Choice Schools Associates in Grand Rapids manages the charter school.

MDE further announced that 24 schools in 21 new school districts are being required to enter into partnership agreements with the state to improve academic achievement. Of the 21 new school districts, 16 are public charter schools and five are traditional school districts.

No new local school districts were added.

There are 16 Partnership Districts in Michigan, including Benton Harbor Area Schools and Mildred C. Wells Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Benton Township. 

Three of the five schools in Benton Harbor Area Schools entered into Partnership Agreements with the state and local organizations in April 2017, with the other two schools being added in October 2017.

Mildred C. Wells was identified as needing to enter into a Partnership Agreement in October 2017, with the agreement signed on Feb. 5.

This is the first time schools have been identified for Partnership District discussions using the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act School Accountability system, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 28, 2017, according to the press release.

Under a Partnership Agreement, each local district remains in control of its schools with support from MDE and partners, Whiston stated. Each agreement includes 18- and 36-month accountability timelines when they will be evaluated on the progress toward their goals.

“This has been a remarkable experience with the current Partnership Districts and helping them start implementing their improvement strategies,” Whiston stated. “We look forward to working with the 21 new districts to help them build their Partnership Agreements.”

MDE will provide resources for the districts to use in identifying their needs and developing a plan to improve. These include: needs assessment tools, evidence-based practices, draft Partnership Agreement, lists of potential partners and contact information.

Once identified, the districts have 90 days to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the next level of accountability would be implemented.

Academic outcomes are a primary focus, and other “whole child” outcomes that can impede improved academics like health, nutrition, behavior, social/emotional problems also will be addressed.