This is a guest post from Randy Ribay who describes himself as “a Camden resident who teaches in Philly and serves as the Vice President on the Board of Trustees for City Invincible Charter School.” The story broke yesterday that City Invincible Charter School will be closed:

I’m on the Board of Trustees for City Invincible Charter School in Camden, NJ. You may not have heard of us because we’re not connected to Rutgers or George Norcross or any other super-wealthy, super-connected individual or organization. We’re a relatively small K-6 school with an enrollment just under 300. You may also not have heard of us because we just opened our doors in fall of 2012. Unfortunately, we’ll be closing them in just about one month thanks to the State’s decision, the latest move in a politically-motivated effort to disenfranchise Camden city.

Ostensibly, state education commissioner David Hespe’s decision is based upon poor academic performance. I won’t deny that our students performed poorly on the 2013 NJASK. I won’t deny that we failed to prepare them sufficiently. I won’t deny that we could have done better, and I won’t offer any excuses.

So why am I convinced this is a politically motivated decision?

First, we must not overlook the simple fact that this decision came two days before the 2014 NJASK testing began. The State did not even bother to see if our students’ scores have improved. This decision is entirely based off of a single set of data that comes from a test administered seven months into our first year of operation. If this announcement were made after two, three, four, five, or more years of scores below those of the already dismal district average then I would understand it.

But that wouldn’t happen, would it? Surely, no school could underperform so consistently under the ever-vigilant eye of the State Department of Education and remain open…right?

Dig into the data and you’ll quickly see the State seems to have more than a few blind spots. There are several schools throughout the city and throughout the state that have failed year after year and yet continue to operate. Please don’t think that I’m creating some argument along the lines of “Hey, you didn’t close those other crummy schools, so don’t close ours!” I just think it reeks of politics that they have suddenly decided to close our school in the very same year KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon schools are set to open. Because there’s a dearth of facilities in the city that can serve as schools, you shouldn’t be surprised to see one of their banners hanging over our doors come September.

Our staff and students have worked tirelessly throughout this school year to learn from our mistakes, to show the State—and themselves—that they could do better. Isn’t that the essence of learning? We made countless changes this year everywhere from rewriting our curriculum to increasing security measures to bolstering our capacity to serve students’ socio-emotional needs. And I think it’s working. Our own benchmark data based on the STAR assessment predicts that we’ll far surpass last year’s scores. We also submitted a 60-page remedial plan which included an itemized list addressing each of the State’s concerns for next school year, which even includes finding a new school leader. Yet, Hespe claims we are not adequately addressing our failings.

I’m sure many of you are asking why should you care about our closing when you’ve probably never heard of us? Why should you care if you don’t even like charter schools to begin with? Because our public education system is being hijacked not only in Camden, but all over our country. This decision simply exemplifies the circumvention of due process in order to benefit those who are more concerned with expanding their brand or their name or their influence or their pockets.

We’re not part of a corporate charter network. We don’t have a plan to propagate our model. When we set out to open this school, we did so with the belief that one size does not fit all in education. We sought to use the city itself as an object of study through which we could advance our student’s literacy and numeracy skills. By doing so we hoped to instill in our learners a sense of pride in the city’s past, a critical eye to examine its present, and the agency to determine its future.

Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t get a real chance to create such a school since that’s not the kind of school those in power want. That’s not the kind of students those in power want.



  • I hear ya! My children attend a charter school in Pemberton Renaissance Regional Leadership Charter School. We are facing similar problems. I find this to be appalling!! This is so wrong in so many ways!! Why do some stay open and others close with the same problems? Seems to me something fishy going on.

  • This is very sad! My daughter is a first grade teacher at this school and I have no doubt she will eventually find another job, but her heart was in Camden and with her students! Sorry to see this happening so soon!

  • Randy, I stand with you, I serve with you, and I support you 100%, thank you for allowing other aspects of City Invincible’s story to be told, and so eloquently.

    As a member of the City Invincible Board, I too care deeply for this City and it’s residents, particularly our children. I know that the dedicated principal of City Invincible, John Frangipani, and his army of teachers have worked day and night on behalf of these beautiful, often very troubled children; they’ve had to built a community within a community around them, to nurture them, to protect them, and that takes time and effort — their first and last priority is to protect our children, sometimes from themselves,
    that’s what had to be done first, before they could begin a meaningful learning process.

    And we were proud we had accomplished that so that this new educational process could begin. And I watched the children’s faces, their smiles, I listened to their laughter, and I knew they were prepared to learn now, they were within a trusted environment, under the protection of teachers and administrators who had proven that they cared about more than just a paycheck; the children could now relax and learn. And the parents, they could relax now too, because this community within a community was for them too, here they found the help and support they needed, too. We even began a special learning and mentoring program for the parents; in our second year, things were really getting good!

    But now comes this attack and there’s no way we can protect these deserving children, the future leaders of our community from this brutal attack being waged by an individuals who obviously don’t care, cannot see, and aren’t interested in looking for the good that’s going on at City Invincible.

    One thing is for sure, if this sudden school closing was about the children, these beautiful 300 minority children who live day in and day out within a war zone of poverty, crime and violence, then someone would have spoken to the children and their parents; someone would have asked them about City Invincible; and then, they would have taken the time to look at the second year test scores to see how well they are really doing…

    • I am writing to you to share an injustice that has occurred to a small neighborhood Charter School in Camden, NJ with the hopes that someone will intercede to right this wrong.

      In September 2012, City Invincible Charter School opened in Camden with the goal of providing a holistic education for each child. Located in a church in one of the more challenging areas of Camden, surrounded by vacant buildings and several (yes-not one but several) operating drug houses, City invincible opened their small school. Students began to enroll, many without records from their previous schools. It became immediately apparent that many of the children who were enrolled had failed in their previous educational settings. Students were several years below grade level in both reading and math. Special academic and behavioral deficits quickly rose to the service. Much of year one of the school’s operation was spent on teaching students to adhere to appropriate rules and procedures as teachers began fill the many academic gaps for each child. After being open for seven month, the students took the 2013 NJ ASK. As expected, the scores were very low. But at City Invincible, this was seen as a starting point, a base line, a foundation for the many interventions that were going to be put into effect for the upcoming school year.

      When the school doors opened in September 2013, the school had plans in place. Construction had taken place and each classroom now had the latest technology to support learning. Lap tops for the children were ordered so students could take advantage of online learning. Extra teachers were hired in order to reduce the class size to one teacher for every nine students. Students were scheduled for small group supports throughout the school day. Research based intervention programs, such as Corrective Reading, were employed to accelerate student learning. Coaches were hired to support teacher growth (this is where I come in, as I was hired part time to give in class teaching support). A Special Specialist, a counselor and a social worker were hired to assist students and families in need. A full time English as a Second Language teacher was hired. A predictive formative assessment began to be administered and analyzed every six weeks so that each child’s progress could be carefully tracked and individual learning plans could be created with the goal of bringing each child up to grade level. A Parent University was created to involve families in this daunting task .By implementing Responsive Classroom, and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS), we saw a 40% reduction in our suspension rates. As the year progressed, both behavioral and academic skills began to improve and the predictive assessment showed that our students were gaining knowledge and would show a growth on the NJASK of more than 20-30 points. Though the implementation of Responsive Classroom and PBIS ,the suspension rate was decreased by 40%. The hard work was paying off.

      One Monday in late February, a small team from the state came unannounced to City Invincible Charter School to visit. They visited some classrooms, reviewed a few lesson plans and spoke to several teachers and left. The entire visit took less than one half of a school day. City received a letter a week later stating that the school had two weeks to submit a “compelling” school improvement plan to the state or else the school would be closed based on its first year’s scores. The school set to work to create a quality, compelling plan that would accept the past, highlight the changes made during the second year of operation and detail the many improvements in the plans for year three. This plan was submitted to the state on March 13, 2014.

      Meanwhile, several large charter operators began to publicize their plans to move into Camden. Articles in the newspapers herald their arrival. The big boys were here. Much like when Walmart comes into town, often the small “mom and pop” stores begin to close. The leadership at City Invincible began to wonder if this too was going to be the case in Camden.

      On May 1, 2014, the Thursday prior to the administration of the 2014 NJASK, some of the teachers at City Invincible were contacted by people from some of the other charters sharing that City was going to be closed by the state. Later that evening, City received a letter from the state stating that they were closing the school as of June 30, 2014 based on the first year (really seven months) scores. The leadership at City were astonished that this unprecedented move was occurring and that it appeared others knew about it prior to City being notified. All the work to support student growth would be for naught. By closing the school in June, the state would not have to report scores for the school. City would never know how their students did on the 2014 NJASK.

      I am writing to you to see if there is any way someone can intercede for this small “mom and pop” school . Just as flowers need time to germinate, put down roots and grow, so do schools. To judge a school based on seven months is ridiculous. Why give a four year charter if schools are not given four years to operate? No school can erase years of academic deficits in seven months. Please help give
      City Invincible Charter School a chance to serve the underserved and a chance to flower.

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