After Durham school's 'egregious' errors, NC charter board considering more statewide oversight
Posted January 12
Raleigh, N.C. — After this week's discovery that a Durham charter school gave unearned diplomas to 40 percent of its graduates, the state Charter Schools Advisory Board said it will consider adding more oversight to all charter high schools in the state.
Board Chairman Alex Quigley said Thursday he'd like the board's policy committee to examine "charter school oversight, particularly around high schools and graduation requirements" at an upcoming meeting with the full board, likely in February, March or April.
Quigley said he believes the diploma problem discovered at Kestrel Heights School in Durham was "an isolated incident, but it's important."
He cited the growing number of charter high schools and growing number of charter high school applicants in the state and said the board needs to make sure "there are some potential mechanisms in place" to catch problems.
Kestrel Heights' diploma problem wasn't discovered for eight years. The school reported this week that 40 percent of its graduates – 160 of 399 students – received diplomas in the past eight years without earning all of the proper credits.
Charter advisory board members discussed the possibility of having state consultants, who are already visiting the schools, pull records to make sure students are taking the required classes and are eligible to graduate.
In Kestrel Heights' case, the new principal discovered the diploma problems in July, shortly after she took the job.
The problems stemmed from "systematic errors" by a counselor and two principals, according to the school's Executive Director Mark Tracy. He said he does not believe their actions were "willful, intentional or done with malice" but noted that they "are no longer employed" at the school.
The State Board of Education has recommended that the Durham County District Attorney’s Office determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.
On Wednesday, the state Charter Schools Advisory Board recommended that Kestrel Heights close its high school, effective July 1, and continue serving students only in grades K-8.
Board member Alan Hawkes called the school's diploma problem "egregious" and a "stain on every charter high school in North Carolina."
"This is precedent-setting in North Carolina, and we have to be firm," Hawkes added. "This can be a cautionary tale to other charter schools in North Carolina."
The final decision about the school's fate rests with the State Board of Education, which will meet in February.
Kestrel Heights' leaders say they plan to hold a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in the open space between the elementary and middle school "in order to answer questions and address any comments or concerns."