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Oak Cliff Charter School Threatened With Closure Can Stay Open, State Rules

Bill Zeeble
More than 2,000 kids attend Faith Family Academy, a charter school in Oak Cliff.

Faith Family Academy, an Oak Cliff charter school, will stay open after all. The state had ordered the closing of the school, and a dozen others statewide, because of financial and student-performance problems. But last week, the state ruled the Dallas school could stay open -- by using the charter of its Waxahachie branch.

An educational long-shot has paid off. Under Senate Bill 2 passed in 2013, the Texas Education Agency must revoke a school’s charter after three consecutive years of failed performance. Appeals have almost universally failed in the law’s two-year life.

But Faith Family’s argument worked, according to DeEtta Culbertson with the TEA.

“This is a provision the commissioner has, just as much as he can abate a school district revocation and give them another chance,” Culbertson said. “This in effect puts the failing charter under one that is doing much better in hopes of turning that school around.”

In this case, that “better charter” is Faith Family’s other school in Waxahachie that meets TEA standards. Faith Family superintendent Mollie Purcell says that move was based on another Texas charter operation that survived by doing something similar.

“This deal is huge,” Purcell says. “It’s a major accomplishment where I think the TEA and commissioner have used good judgement.”

Purcell also wants changes to the Texas Senate bill that put her Oak Cliff school, with more than 2,000 kids, at risk in the first place. She says her low-income families, many of whom don’t speak English, need to be measured for the barriers they’ve overcome. She says the state doesn’t consider that.

“So Senate Bill 2 is basically a situation where your boyfriend breaks up with you because you were fat three years ago and they don’t take into account the fact how much weight you’ve lost,” Purcell says.

Culbertson, of the TEA, says the Oak Cliff campus must still improve, even though it’s now run by a charter in good standing.

“That Waxahachie charter has to address those issues that caused Oak Cliff to be revoked,” Culbertson says. “And if nothing changes and/or the Waxahachie charter fails to meet the minimum academic and financial threshold in the years ahead, then its future is also in jeopardy.”

Purcell says changes are in place to ensure improvements at the Oak Cliff school. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.