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Turner & Gusciora: DOE Has Given up on Some of Trenton’s Most Vulnerable Students

15th District Legislators Say State Ignored Critical Data & Needs in Denying Charter for Emily Fisher School

Senator Shirley K. Turner and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (both D-Mercer/Hunterdon) questioned the wisdom of the State Department of Education (DOE) on Thursday for its decision to close the Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton and send hundreds of Trenton’s most vulnerable students searching for a one-on-one learning experience in the vast public school system.

Since being granted a charter in 1998, Emily Fisher Charter School, which houses fifth through twelfth grade, has had its charter renewed twice since. During that time, the school achieved the Safe Harbor ranking for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, making it one of four high schools statewide to achieve Safe Harbor two consecutive years in their school category. The school’s current charter was set to expire on June 29, 2012, absent a renewal by the department, which was confirmed today via letter from Acting DOE Commissioner Cerf.

“Emily Fisher Charter School is a very unique school in that it serves at-risk students, 40 percent of whom have behavioral or academic problems, or special needs, and others who will not succeed in a traditional public school environment,” said Turner. “The vocational training available to Emily Fisher’s students to prepare them for work and to contribute to our economy and communities will be lost when they return to the district. It’s unfortunate that the Department of Education is ignoring these unique factors and shuttering the doors.”

“Emily Fisher is a unique charter school in that they take in some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged students,” said Gusciora. “Ultimately, this decision really hurts the students and places an additional burden on Trenton public schools that now have to take in 500 or so more students. The question that really needs to be asked is: will these students receive a better education in a less intimate environment?”

The legislators recently took the department to task after Acting Commissioner Cerf wrote a letter informing officials at the Emily that it would be losing its charter based on DOE data allegedly showing that the school’s tests scores have not improved over the last three years. However, the legislators noted that an independent study from the College of New Jersey, HSPA scores, and NJ ASK rankings, show that Emily Fisher has improved over the last three years.