Preclarus charter school expected to close after losing sponsorship

Updated with comments from the board president.

One of St. Louis' worst-performing charter schools is expected to close permanently in June.

Preclarus Mastery Academy, which enrolls about 150 students from fourth to eighth grade, has scored as poorly as an unaccredited school district for the past three years, according to standards set by the state. The school received just 46 percent of points possible on the state's annual report card of schools last year.

University of Missouri-St. Louis, which sponsors the school's charter, told the school board Monday that it will revoke its charter in June. Under Missouri law, schools that lack sponsors cannot remain open.

"This school struggled to provide an effective academic program from its inception, primarily due to ineffective leadership in its early years," said Bill Mendelsohn, UMSL's director of charter schools, at a Missouri Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Mendelsohn said the founding school board had little governance experience. He said the school's founder left after just two years and left a replacement who had no leadership experience.

"We knew that that was a likely situation," said Doug Thaman, director of the Missouri Charter Public Schools Association, who was notified of the revocation. "They really made valiant efforts to try and turn the school around and to improve instruction and academic performance. Unfortunately, the results have just not been what the sponsor found to be satisfactory of meeting their contract."

The school's leaders say they are looking at possible options to keep the school open. Tabbatha Sipes, board president, and Tonya Harris, superintendent, said they are upset they were not given more of a chance to improve the school with their new leadership.

"We are proud of our scholars and program and that we have overcome a difficult start to our program under a different administration in 2010," Sipes said. "It is unfortunate that UMSL has overlooked this progress in favor of a termination."

The school opened in 2011 and is located at 620 North Grand Boulevard. UMSL had last renewed the school's charter in 2015.

Charter schools are public schools that are independently run, receive state funds and have no local taxing authority. These schools have a charter, or contract, with an entity that they must comply with, or else risk losing that charter.

There are currently 17 charter school agencies in the city. Seven of those performed as well as a fully accredited school district last year and six scored as well as a provisionally accredited school district.