This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
North Philadelphia’s Wakisha Charter School is closing its doors Friday, only the second charter school in Philadelphia history to do so in the middle of a school year. Wakisha was supposed to close Dec. 23, but last week the school’s administration stopped classes and moved up the last day to Dec. 19.
In a letter from school administrators first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Martha Woodall, the school citied dwindling teacher and student numbers as the reason for closing its doors sooner than initially announced. The letter maintained that there were only "three administrators, and 10 classroom teachers and support staff" as of last week. According to the Philadelphia School District, about 180 students are still enrolled at Wakisha in the District’s enrollment software, but classroom teachers report that only around 100 students are showing up.
Mid-year closing ‘largely unprecedented’
This fall, Walter D. Palmer Charter in Tacony shed more than 500 students — including its entire high school — two months into the school year. But Wakisha remains one of only a few charters to completely close during the school year. In 2013, cyber charter Solomon Charter School closed its brick-and-mortar operation during instruction. But because cyber charters are regulated at the state level, the Philadelphia School District doesn’t count Solomon’s closing as a Philadelphia charter school closing.
Although the District was not a part of the decision to close Wakisha, its Charter School Office has been assisting students and parents in making the mid-year switch to a new school. Peng Chao, the District’s charter office operations coordinator overseeing the transition, said the mid-year closing is "largely unprecedented." Chao said the office will continue to work through the holidays to help students find new schools, but that "mid-year closing strains the entire transition process."
Roughly 100 students have transferred to other schools to date, according to Lauren Thum, another operations coordinator with the Charter School Office. Thum says the students have transferred to a mix of charter and traditional public schools throughout the city. Most will end up in District schools because many charters have already reached their enrollment caps, Thum said.