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Court hearing on future of New Hope Academy

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Lawyers in the fight over whether to keep New Hope Academy in York open argued their cases before a three-judge panel in Commonwealth Court Monday.

The York City Board of School Directors wants to revoke New Hope’s charter, citing low test scores and possible ethics violations in how the school has been run. New Hope is appealing the decision.

Students, teachers and parents attended the hearing wearing T-shirts saying “#SAVENEWHOPE.”

“If the school’s closed down, what hope do they really have? That’s the only hope they have, this school,” said Kevin Byers, a parent of two students at the school.

A lawyer for the school district pointed out the charter school failed to make adequate yearly progress 2012.

The school opened in 2007.

In 2012, the state’s proficiency target was 81 percent in reading and 78 percent in math. At New Hope that year, the overall percentages of kids scoring proficient or better were 37 percent in reading and 35 percent in math. In the York school district that year, 40 percent of students were proficient in reading, and 52 percent tested proficient in math.

According to documents from the Pa. Department of Education, students in 11th grade showed declining performance from 2011 to 2012 in reading and math.

“Certainly, when you take students from 6th through 12th grade and you’re getting them, and you’re far behind, and you only have six months to prepare them for a test, sure they’re not going to be able to meet those goals. But, if you look at our students who’ve been with us over a period of time, they’ve grown,” said Kiersten Sutton, director of community partnerships at New Hope.

During the court hearing, attorney Robert O’Donnell, who represents New Hope, argued the state’s charter school law doesn’t explicitly say what performance standard should be met to determine whether a school’s charter is renewed. He called the PSSA, which was used to determine if New Hope made adequate yearly progress, an “arbitrary standard.”

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini called the state’s charter school law “a mess.” He went on to say, “You wouldn’t have much of a charter school law if we didn’t fill in the gaps.”

Following the hearing, York School Board President Margie Orr declined to comment on the specific issues raised but questioned why New Hope’s students attended.

Orr said, “Why waste a school day on these kids? I mean, their grades are already in the toilet. Why would you waste a school day?”

The three-judge panel hearing the New Hope case didn’t say when they’d make a decision. O’Donnell said he believed it would happen within a month.