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Big Picture facing vote of LAUSD board to deny charter renewal

Vanessa Romo | May 11, 2015

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Big Picture High School

Students at Big Picture High School

Big Picture High School, a charter school attended by mostly troubled teens, will likely be shut down in June after a review by the LA Unified Charter Schools Division reported that it is dissatisfied with the school’s, um, big picture.

The school board tomorrow is considering turning down its request to stay in operation.

The charter has never met any of its enrollment targets. What should be a student body of 572 is currently at 90. Which is why the renewal application submitted in February sought to modify its expansion goals from 572 ninth through 12th grade students to a capacity of 200.

But the school’s growth plan is not viable, the Charter School Division says. Further, it has determined the school’s failure to grow and its shrinking enrollment have lead to a steady decline in finances. Net income for the school has fallen to a $44,493 deficit from $174,957 in the black five years ago, according to an audit by LA Unified.

The school is located in an office building in downtown LA. It is part of Big Picture Learning, a Rhode Island-based charter group that operates 43 schools in 17 states and four countries.

Nicole Nicodemus, the school’s principal, says it recently received a new infusion of money.

“While the Charter Schools Division was doing the audit, we got two checks for $50,000,” she told LA School Report.

She also argues that while the student population has not grown to the projected size, it is serving a group of students with few options in the traditional public school model.

“We serve a large population that has been asked to leave other schools,” Nicodemus said. “They haven’t been technically expelled because that’s a whole legal process, but they have been ‘counseled out’ of traditional schools because they have had academic or behavioral issues.”

Without schools like Big Picture, she contends, these students are at high risk of dropping out of school, altogether.

That also explains the school’s low scores on standardized tests. “Our students are coming from a very different place than most other kids, but you’re judging them by the same standards,” she said.

Findings that led to a report recommending denial of the charter also showed “the school has not effectively demonstrated strong academic achievement in core content areas.” Overall test scores have plummeted, and the school is not conducting internal assessments necessary to measure the progress of student achievement, according to the district.

Still, Nicodemus remains hopeful that board members will remain open minded before voting on the future of the school tomorrow.

“I’m hoping they will listen to what we have to say and be open to discussing the different options we’ve put forward,” she said.

Nicodemus and Big Picture officials have proposed partnering with other organizations to recruit more students.

“There’s one group that we could partner with, and it would double our enrollment in the fall,” she said.

Big Picture has also submitted a petition to convert to an affiliated charter school. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to stay open,” she said,

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