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Carondelet Leadership Academy Charter School To Close

Carondelet Leadership Academy middle schoolers rehearse for their upcoming performance of "Still Rascals" at the Ivory Theatre on Oct. 25, 2018..
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Carondelet Leadership Academy middle schoolers rehearse for a play in October 2018. The public charter school will close after this school year.

Carondelet Leadership Academy, a decade-old charter school in south St. Louis, will close permanently after this current academic year.

The school’s administration and its sponsor tried to implement turnaround strategies without success, and so the Missouri Charter Public School Commission said last month it will not renew the school’s charter for another five years.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded independent public schools, typically operate on five-year charters under the sponsorship of a higher education institution or the state commission.

“We determined that while it’s very difficult, it’s a very difficult decision to make, that in the best interest of the future of the children, that they will attend another school next year, and we will close Carondelet at the end of this year,” said Robbyn Wahby, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Commission.

Carondelet Leadership Academy educates just over 400 children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school opened in 2010 under the sponsorship of the University of Missouri-Columbia in a former Catholic school building at Michigan and Ivory avenues in the Carondelet neighborhood. In 2017, a developer gifted the church next door, which had been converted into a community theater, to the school to use for its drama program.

The president and vice president of the school’s governing board did not respond to emails seeking comment. Patrice Coffin, the executive director of the school, said she didn’t have anything to add to the commission’s announcement, but she said she hopes a different school takes over the building and operations.

In its decision, the commission said that the school is filling a need in the neighborhood and its classroom culture is strong, but that because academics were not meeting benchmarks, it had to vote for closure.

The school has below-average proficiency on state standardized exams. Only 8% of fifth graders passed the state math exam last year, and only a third of third graders are reading at grade level. Across all grade levels tested, however, Carondelet’s students scored on average a point higher than peers at St. Louis Public Schools in reading and five points higher on math. The statewide proficiency average for both subjects is just under half. 

The state charter school commission took over sponsorship in February 2019 in an effort to improve academics. Carondelet Leadership Academy had already dropped its management company after its first five-year charter, Wahby said, but afterward, academics did not improve.

The commission explored granting a one-year provisional charter extension, but state laws hindered that option. The school’s leadership board approached two other existing charter schools about taking over the school, but an agreement didn’t come together in time, Wahby said.

The school and the sponsor are now working on placing students at other schools for the next academic year.

“While this is a low-performing school, the options for a high-performing school in their community just don’t exist,” Wahby said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.