Photos were taken down off bulletin boards and tears streamed down cheeks Tuesday at the very last, last day of school at Oceanside Charter School in Atlantic City.
The school will officially close at the end of the month after the state Department of Education did not renew its charter this year.
Just a few blocks away, at the All Wars Memorial Building, representatives of the brand new Atlantic City Community Charter School, or ACCCS, rushed to enroll enough students to meet the state requirement of having 90 percent of its proposed enrollment of 150 students in grades K-5, in place by June 30. If it gets final state approval in July, the new school, managed by CSMI Education Management in Chester, Pa., will open in September at Oceanside’s site.
For parents of the more than 350 students leaving grades pre-K through seven at Oceanside, there is sadness and still some uncertainty about where their children will attend school next year and the quality of education they will get. Some have already enrolled in the city’s public schools, and some have applied to the new charter school or the Galloway Community Charter School in Galloway Township. A few are looking at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School in Atlantic City.
“I’m in denial,” admitted Natalie Vitale, of Atlantic City, as she picked up her son, Angelo Williams, 8. “He’s been here since preschool. It’s family. I want him to stay here with the staff.”
Tiffany Passley, of Atlantic City, said she does not want her children in the local public school, but she’s not sure where they will go.
“I’m still in shock,” she said.
Oceanside founder and Principal Jeanine Middleton said she notified all parents that the new school is taking over the site, but overall she is taking a neutral position on what parents should do.
For me, it’s never been about charter vs. public schools,” she said. “It’s about finding the best environment for the kids.”
A previous story in The Press of Atlantic City showed Oceanside outperforming the Uptown Complex, the Martin Luther King Jr. Complex, and New York Avenue School in 2011-12 state tests in math and language arts. Those are the three schools Oceanside students are most likely to attend.
The new Atlantic City charter school has no track record. But a review of the 2011-12 test scores of the CSMI-run Chester Community Charter School, published in its Pennsylvania Department of Education Report Card, show student’ passing rates on the 2011-12 Pennsylvania state test are lower than Oceanside’s, though they do take different tests.
The Chester school is also in “warning” status with that state’s Department of Education. The school was investigated in 2011 for testing irregularities and was still under state monitoring in 2012, according to various media reports.
Locally, the Galloway Community Charter School was notified Friday by the N.J. Department of Education that it was being put on probation because of poor academic performance on state tests. Its charter is up for renewal in 2013-14.
Middleton said that while Tuesday was a sad day, she is grateful for the years they had.
The back cover of this year’s yearbook quotes Dr. Suess: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Math teacher Mariam Hussein said it’s been hardest for the sixth- and seventh-graders, some of whom had spent their entire academic lives at Oceanside. The younger students don’t really understand that the school is closing, and the eighth-graders will move on to high school.
Hussein took candid photos all year long, posting them on her door and bulletin board. On Tuesday students snapped them up, their last memories of the school.
Sixth-grader Shamira Timmons, 12, has been at the school since kindergarten and said everyone there is like her family.
“I feel like I am losing part of it,” she said. She lives in Mays Landing and will attend the William Davies school there next year.
Seventh-grader Samirah Sartor, 13, who also started in the preschool, said she had looked forward to graduating next year.
“I have friends and teachers here I like that I may never see again,” she said.
Sartor and Ny’Jaia Brantley, 13, plan to attend the Galloway Charter School next year.
“I want to graduate from a charter school,” Brantley said.
Staff members collected their paychecks and shared pizza with students. Art teacher Lesley Mayo painted “OCS” on students’ faces. He taught at the school for six years and said he is applying for other jobs. Students stopped to hug parent liaison Dimitria Baldwin as she watched them leave.
“We are awesome, no matter what,” she told them.
Officials at the new ACCCS would not give an estimate Tuesday of how many students have enrolled, saying they are still taking applications. Clifford Kendeall, an employee of CSMI, will serve as the new principal. He said response has been “pretty good.”
LaKindra Wright-Cunningham, of Galloway Township, left Oceanside Tuesday and went directly to register her daughter for the new charter school. Her son will attend eighth grade at the Galloway Middle School, but she wants her daughter, who will enter third grade, closer to her job in Atlantic City.
While the school plans to use Oceanside’s site in 2013-14, its flier promotes a brand new school in fall 2014, but as of yet does not have a location, Kendeall said.
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