Hamilton County charter schools’ contracts lack performance metrics

All eight of Hamilton County’s public charter schools must amend their contracts with the school district to include a performance framework — or language that defines the academic, financial and operational success metrics on which they are evaluated — to comply with state law.

The State Board of Education identified the missing language after an evaluation of Hamilton County Schools’ charter review process and ordered all contracts to be amended.

The performance framework requirement became law in 2018. The State Board of Education released a suggested framework for charters to adopt and revise based on a school’s specific goals.

“We are required to annually review each charter based on this state framework,” Kelly Coffelt, the district’s charter schools coordinator, said during the Board of Education’s annual weekend retreat Nov. 4.

As to why the contracts had not yet been updated, Coffelt said the district lacked the staff.

“There were a lot of documents and policies and routines that had not been developed,” Coffelt said. “As we grew up with more charter schools, we just didn’t have a person dedicated to doing that work. So, some things were not being put in place.”

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In Tennessee, hopeful public charter schools must undergo an approval process through local school districts. The school board either approves or denies an application. If denied, the charter school may appeal the decision through the state’s public charter school commission, which makes the final decision.

Hamilton County Schools has never denied a charter application, Superintendent Justin Roberston said this month.

Charters operate autonomously from local school districts. They have their own governing board, hiring personnel and instructional programming, all of which must meet Tennessee standards.

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Local school districts are responsible for evaluating the charters based on those standards.

When the state last audited Hamilton County Schools’ charter evaluation process in 2021, the district received a score of 1.83 on a scale of 4, or “approaching satisfactory,” Coffelt said. The low score required a corrective action plan that must be completed by January.

School Board Chairwoman Tiffanie Robinson, an independent of Chattanooga, said the board had not been notified of the evaluation.

Other board members said it was important to stay aware of those issues because, while charter schools are autonomous bodies, the students are part of the district.

“They’re our students, our data,” Coffelt said. “They are part of our districtwide data. And that’s why it’s important that we follow these things.”

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Coffelt noted that Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence has been designated by the state as a “focus school,” meaning it has one or more significantly and consistently underperforming student groups. The school primarily serves economically disadvantaged students of color. For the 2021-22 school year, 6% of state assessments taken at the Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence Middle School had passing scores in all subject areas tested.

While Hamilton County Schools perform frequent benchmark testing throughout the school year, charters are not required to submit their interim reports to the district, only the state.

The Board of Education will vote Thursday to approve the contract amendments.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at [email protected] or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.

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