Sharif Davis said he felt sick when he got the message Thursday night that the state Department of Education had not renewed the charter for Oceanside Charter School in Atlantic City.
The school will close in June.
“I was torn apart,” he said, shaking his head as he arrived at the school Friday to pick up his three children in grades eight, six and three. “The school is good. The teachers are great. They really show concern.”
School founder and administrator Jeanine Middleton, a resident of Atlantic City, said she spent the day fielding calls from supporters and questions from parents who wanted to know their options for next year. She said the one consolation was listening to all the support and realizing how much people have appreciated the school over the past 14 years.
Oceanside opened in 1999, and Middleton has poured her heart and soul into the school. She acknowledged that test scores were not where they should be, but said she wished the state had given more consideration to the children she teaches; they come from some of the poorest sections of the city.
In its rejection letter to the school, the Department of Education said Oceanside’s state test scores were below that of the Atlantic City public school district. The data show Oceanside trailing the district by 2 percentage points in language arts and 1 percentage point in math.
Middleton prepared 2012 test data reports showing that while the school did not outperform the district overall, her students did score higher than their peers in the individual public schools in neighborhoods where her students live.
The data show Oceanside scoring better than five of the eight district schools in language arts and better than three schools — the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex, Uptown Complex and New York Avenue — in math. The three public schools that consistently perform better than Oceanside are Chelsea Heights, Richmond Avenue and Sovereign Avenue, but Oceanside gets only 2 percent of its students from those neighborhoods, Middleton said.
“This is really not a valid comparison and has a negative impact on how Oceanside scores in the new comparative analysis,” she said.
Robert Preston, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, has also been with the school for its entire 14 years. He said he was disappointed that the rejection seemed to come down solely to the test scores, which were just a couple of points lower than those of the public school district.
“A quality school is much more than just test scores,” he said. “I thought the mission of charter schools was to offer students alternatives. I just feel badly for the kids, and having to tell them they can’t come back here next year.”
Parent John Barker said he’ll be looking at private, parochial and public schools.
“This was such a great opportunity,” he said. “The minute my daughter got here I could see a difference, so I put my son here, too.”
Barker said his daughter is now a student at Rowan University and his son is in sixth grade at Oceanside.
Tonya Ward works as an aide in the school’s early learning center for preschoolers. She said she was looking forward to enrolling her granddaughter in the school next year. Her niece and nephew, who live in Pleasantville, also attend the school.
“Their parents are distraught,” she said.
One option might be the new Atlantic City Community Charter School that was approved by the state in 2011, but has taken two planning years. It is currently approved to open in September, but little information about it is available. A spokesman for the school said he could not comment until he spoke with school organizers.
State officials said the school still has preliminary approval to open, but will have to meet timelines and be reviewed over the summer before getting final approval.
Middleton said her school’s closing might give that charter school the opportunity to pick up enrollment quickly, but she also did not know its status.
Contact Diane D’Amico: