Worcester charter school faces probation

A Worcester charter school is facing possible probation less than four years after it opened because of a wide variety of issues that include weak academic results, declining enrollment, and unstable finances.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will decide whether to place the Spirit of Knowledge Charter School on probation at its monthly meeting next Tuesday. The move eventually could lead to the school’s closure if it fails to fix its problems by December 2014.

In a memo to the board, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said he was recommending probation out of concern that the school’s board of trustees had failed to effectively oversee the school.

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“This action signals clear concern about the school with the hope that [Spirit of Knowledge] can fulfill the probationary conditions and offer a successful educational program to the students it serves,” Chester wrote in the May 10 memo, provided to the Globe today. “Based on the success—or lack thereof—of [Spirit of Knowledge] in meeting the conditions imposed in connection with probation and in alleviating the causes of probation, I will recommend further action as appropriate.”

Paula Bailey, the school’s executive director, said Spirit of Knowledge already is taking steps to address the concerns the state has raised and expressed optimism that the school would prevail.

“We deeply believe that things at [Spirit of Knowledge] are headed in the right direction,” Bailey wrote in a letter to parents that was posted on the school’s website.

This is the second time this year that Chester has recommended placing a charter school on probation, a rare move made by state officials. In February, the state board approved Chester’s probation recommendation for the Boston Renaissance Charter School because of declining scores on state standardized tests.

Spirit of Knowledge’s possible probation is one of several charter school issues that will be taken up by the state education board next week.

The board also will consider an appeal by the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, which is seeking to overturn Chester’s denial of its expansion request earlier this year. Chester rejected the request, citing a number of issues regarding the school’s board of trustees, such as repeatedly violating the state’s open-meeting law.

He ordered the board to make a variety of changes, such as bringing new members to the board and for training on how to properly conduct business.