Embattled charter school may be closed


By Kate McNeil

A Marble Hill charter school that made headlines last year when all of its teachers quit before the end of the school year might now be shut down.

The International Leadership Charter School, on Exterior Street off Broadway, remains on probation with the city Department of Education and its principal and founder, Dr. Elaine Ruiz-Lopez, must resign officially by Sept. 28. If the school does not comply with the Department of Ed's requested steps, its charter could be revoked.

The charter school opened in September 2006 with about 80 ninth-grade students and eight teachers. By December, Dr. Lopez had fired two teachers, two had resigned and in May the rest quit. Teachers turned to local media, calling Dr. Lopez "abusive" and a "tyrant."

Infuriated parents took matters into their own hands on May 10, staging a walk out with students in protest of Dr. Lopez's leadership.

The embattled principal hired substitute teachers to finish out the year. In May, the school's board of directors demoted Dr. Lopez. She was allowed to stay on to oversee school operations, but not instruction.

During the summer, the board hired Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., a law firm, to investigate several allegations against Dr. Lopez and the school. The charges ranged from wrongful firings to prevention of union organizing.

The private firm released a 30-page report of its findings on July 12, essentially exonerating Dr. Lopez.

"Dr. Lopez had reasonable bases for actions with respect to most of the complaints… Notwithstanding the disruptions, [the school] appears to have provided a good educational experience to its students," the report stated.

While teachers said Dr. Lopez was "verbally abusive and bullied and intimidated" them, the report found that Dr. Lopez's "stances - though strict - were not unreasonable."

Addressing the issue of turnover, the law firm sided with Dr. Lopez who hired "inexperienced teachers" because the hiring was done "late in the process."

The firm was only able to interview one of the eight teachers who were fired or quit last year.

Despite the findings, the report does not hold much weight with the Department of Education, who has given the school an extended deadline to meet its requirements, namely finding a new principal and replacing Dr. Lopez.

While the school has a five-year charter from the DOE, if it does not follow requested changes, the charter could be revoked.

Despite all the disruptions last year, the school's students performed well on the Regents examinations - with more than 60 percent passing biology and algebra tests. Ninth-graders are not required to take Regents tests.