St. Louis charter school Preclarus granted reprieve by UMSL to stay open | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis charter school Preclarus granted reprieve by UMSL to stay open

Mar 16, 2017

A small charter school in St. Louis’ Grand Center district will stay open next year after all.  

The University of Missouri-St. Louis has overruled its charter school office and agreed to continue sponsoring Preclarus Mastery Academy.

The middle school earned less than 47 percent on its 2016 state report card, the lowest score of all current St. Louis charter schools.

Bill Mendelsohn, the executive director of UMSL’s charter school office, notified Preclarus it was losing its sponsorship in January due to poor academic performance. But when Preclarus asked the university to take a second look, an administrative panel reversed Mendelsohn’s decision.

In order to renew its charter at the end of 2015, Preclarus signed a two-year contract with UMSL and promised to score at least 58 percent on its 2016 state report card. The panel said last month that the contract “did not allow a reasonable amount of time for the changes to have a measurable effect.”

Mendelsohn said that he believed he "made the right decision to terminate the contract," but accepts the decision. 

Preclarus Mastery Academy, located inside Third Baptist Church, has 200 students enrolled in the 2016-2017 school year.
Credit Provided | Preclarus Mastery Academy

Preclarus Superintendent Tonya Harris said it was reassuring for the university panel to reach the same conclusion the school had: that it was on the right track.

“We are doing what we need to do by our students,” said Harris, who believes the state report card doesn’t accurately reflect the improvements Preclarus has made since she took over in July 2015.

“Preclarus has done a really great job of meeting students where they are,” Harris said. “When you look at our testing data, you see movement. And I think that’s what really we have to focus on as a community: How are we moving students and cohorts to higher levels of achievement?”

According to Harris, most students start out at Preclarus two or three grade levels behind. She thinks the state report card doesn’t give enough credit for helping kids catch up.

Under Preclarus’ existing contract, the charter school would have to earn at least a 68 percent on the 2017 report card to continue being sponsored by UMSL.

Mendelsohn said he may be willing to revisit that target, but will continue to hold the middle school to high standards.

“It is possible if they don’t reach the target, it’s possible we’ll be right back where we were this past year,” Mendelsohn said. “And we will certainly be considering whether or not to terminate sponsorship and revoke the charter, that would result in closing the school at the end of 17-18.”

In a statement, UMSL Chancellor Tom George said he trusted the university panel’s recommendation and decided to grant Preclarus another year to improve.

By Missouri law, charter schools are held accountable by their sponsors, not the state.

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.