The Philadelphia School District's charter school office has recommended that another charter school possibly be shut down.

Eastern University Academy Charter School in East Falls was recommended for non-renewal.

The charter schools office on Friday made public its guidance to the School Reform Commission. The school will remain open while a final decision is made — a process that could take years.

Eastern, a school for students in grades seven through 12 that enrolls 332 pupils, was cited for problems with academics and operations. It opened in 2009.

Omar Barlow, Eastern's principal and CEO, said that the recommendation was surprising, "upsetting and disappointing," and that the school would fight it.

"I just don't see how you justify closing a school when our college acceptance rate is better than some of our peer schools, and when we have a great college matriculation rate," said Barlow.

Omar Barlow, CEO and President of Eastern University Academy Charter School.
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
Omar Barlow, CEO and President of Eastern University Academy Charter School.

The charter schools office noted that Eastern's graduation rate is higher than a number of its peer schools — 79 percent in 2015-16, compared with a 66 percent average for its peer schools. The school's graduation rate has declined over the course of its charter, however, and its high school students did not meet goals for attendance or achievement on state Keystone exams.

At the middle school level, Eastern students struggled in academics and attendance.

Barlow said that students come to the charter school – which allows eligible students to take college courses at Eastern University and Community College of Philadelphia while still in high school — often reading at third- , fourth- and fifth-grade levels.

"It takes time to turn that around," Barlow said. "It is hard work when you have middle school kids who are coming with these low levels of achievement, but by the time they get to our high school, they're going to be OK and they're going to be college-ready."

Eastern students are required to have some sort of post-secondary option as part of the plan for their senior year, and many get into — and attend — four-year colleges, Barlow said.

Barlow acknowledged that the school has challenges, but said it is working to fix them.

"They're talking about killing opportunities amid a major dropout crisis in Philadelphia, a crisis with black males? This is a school that gives black males options," said Barlow. "I feel like they're cutting our legs out from under us when they're just looking at scores."

Eastern was also cited for problems with noncompliance in areas of special education and English-language-learner policies. It runs afoul of its own bylaws, as well as the state Ethics Act, and has issues with student health services, school safety practices, teacher certification, and other operational areas, according to the charter school office.

The recommendation is just the first step in a lengthy process. If the SRC adopts the recommendation and votes for nonrenewal, that triggers a formal hearing at which Eastern gets to lay out its case in great detail. The SRC would then take up the school's fate again, and if the charter school doesn't like the outcome of that second vote, Eastern could appeal to the state.

The charter schools office on Friday also recommended that Philadelphia Electrical and Technical Charter School in Center City have its charter renewed with conditions. Pending is a recommendation for the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia.

On Thursday, the office separately recommended shutting down Khepera Charter School in Logan over financial and management concerns. That revocation recommendation comes after an earlier nonrenewal vote and hearing.