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Syracuse school district exploring turning Delaware into charter

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo
Delaware Elementary School opened in 1917 on South Geddes Street in Syracuse's Near Westside.

The Syracuse school district is considering turning one of its underperforming elementary schools into a charter school.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras sent a letter home Friday to parents of Delaware Elementary School saying a charter school is the best option available under state rules for chronically poor-performing schools.

Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern said Friday the union has been in talks of making Delaware an in-district charter school, instead of one run by a private company.

"It will still remain part of the district with our students and our teachers," Ahern said.

He said the union has had talks about taking over a school for some time, but he says he doesn't know if the union is even capable of taking over a school.

Charter schools receive public funding, but operate independently of education standards.

Delaware, along with Hughes Elementary and Fowler High School, have been "priority schools," meaning they were below state standards, for three consecutive years. That prompted the state to order the district to either drastically overhaul the schools or close them.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

The district has already decided to phase Hughes and Fowler into new schools -- Hughes with a classical curriculum and Fowler focused on leadership and public safety. They'll begin the phase in for the new school year in the fall.

But the district has had more trouble coming up with a plan for Delaware, which is located on Syracuse's New Westside. They've needed an extension from the state and been quiet about possible new paths for the school.

The letter from Contreras, dated May 8, says closing or phasing out Delaware is not feasible because there isn't enough space in nearby schools to send students.

Contreras also writes that SUNY is not interested in taking over the school, even though Onondaga Community College was mentioned in March as a possible new leader of the troubled school.

So, Contreras said, a charter school is the best remaining option.

"We believe that this is the best option because it is the least disruptive to Delaware students, families and staff at the school," she wrote.

Contreras writes parents will be involved in the discussion about Delaware's future and a conversion to a charter school could not happen without approval from a majority of the parents of students at the school.

The letter does not specifically mention the teachers' union operating the school.

Having an in-district charter school run by the teachers' union would allow for more flexibility from state standards, Ahern said. 

"We have the ability as teachers and practitioners to really take control of the curriculum and instruction in a way that we don't normally have in a regular school," Ahern said.

Ahern suspected the state, once it approves the charter school proposal, would give the district a year to work on the program.

The state education department has declined to comment on just what the district submitted to it late Monday, the deadline for a proposal.