Could tougher charter school scrutiny leave at-risk student behind?

Edge High School senior dropped out of school at 15, but returned 3 years later.

Could tougher charter school scrutiny leave at-risk student behind?

CREATED Feb 7, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Arizona’s charter schools are now facing tougher scrutiny, but one Tucson school is worried that at-risk students might get left behind. Edge School was one of 27 charter schools put on a probation list for not meeting graduation and standardized testing requirements. But administrators argue their students need more time.

19-year-old Samantha McAnally is a senior at Edge High School. She makes A's and B's in many of her classes and plans to graduate this year, but she wasn't always a stellar student.

Samantha told KGUN9 that she “dropped out of school at 15.”

Samantha said she had bounced around a handful of traditional and charter schools -- making poor choices that affected her grades. Frustrated -- she left school and went to work. “So after about two or three years, I said no I can’t do this. I don’t want to work here until I’m 40. I gotta get something going.”

Principal Rob Pecharich said, “she came back (to school) because her education was important to her.” He said Samantha is typical of a student who attends Edge High School. Most students dropped out or were at risk of doing so  and many came in way below grade level.  “So in essence, we take can take a high school age student and help remediate their skills. It's not uncommon for students to enroll with us doing math at a third grade level and reading at a 5th grade level.”

So for most students, the chances of wearing a cap and gown in four years are slim. “So our challenge is our grad rates are never going to be stellar. It's not an excuse, but we are taking in older students, typically taking in older students, typically juniors, seniors, sometimes fifth year seniors, who are two full years deficient in credit and stand very little chance of graduating on time,” said Pechrich.

Now under tougher scrutiny by the state, Edge administrators had to present a performance management plan to the board after one of its campuses did not meet state mandates. “Every year we have to go and explain why we didn't have an 80 percent grad rate. We have to explain why our students struggle to pass the AIMS math test,” said Pecharich.

Pecharich said although school records show student performance improves each year, he hopes the state's new direction to hold charter schools more accountable doesn't leave the at-risk population behind. “I think we what we hope for is that we never forget the impetus for the charter school movement in Arizona and that it is about school choice. And from that I hope there is a conversation that there is a place for all schools.”