ANTIOCH -- Members of an embattled charter school formed to help at-risk students catch up with their peers pleaded their case last week for a five-year renewal.
Dozens of students, teachers and parents from RAAMP Charter Academy crammed into the Antioch Unified board room at Wednesday's public hearing, touting the merits of the school programs and positive influence on children.
Antioch trustees will consider approval of the charter later this month.
The charter renewal request comes two months after the California Charter Schools Association called for RAAMP's closure, saying it falls below its minimum criteria for renewal based on low standardized test scores.
Karla Branch, RAAMP's executive director, told trustees Wednesday that test scores for the school's two primary subgroups -- African-American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students -- are "right in the range" of those groups in other Antioch schools, and meets the state education code for renewal.
"But, we're more than test scores. We are a very small community school, but we are doing great things for our kids," Branch said.
Semetra Lee, a single mother of a seventh-grader and second-grade twin boys in the charter, agrees. Lee said that previous schools her sons attended have not cared, but "RAAMP has embraced my children with open arms."
"They started off a little rocky, but now they love their school, they love their teachers, and their teachers love them back," said Lee, fighting back tears. "Without RAAMP, I don't know where I would be or where my kids would be."
Other parents lauded the school's program for the one-on-one attention students receive, small class sizes, the presence of male role models and extended staff hours, including academic schooling on Saturday.
All but two of the 23 public speakers at the meeting were in support of RAAMP.
Elizabeth Robitaille, the charter school association's senior vice president of achievement and performance management, told trustees that RAAMP is underperforming compared with other state and district schools, based on "not just our metrics, but almost every academic achievement measure that is currently available."
RAAMP scored 623 on the API (Academic Performance Index) last spring. API scores range from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000. Its test results have fluctuated in its three years of recording, going from 649 in 2011 to 689 in 2012, before dropping last spring. The charter's student population changed by 58 percent last school year, Branch said.
Like a startup business, Branch said the charter has dealt with some "uphill battles," including multiple locations, fluctuating enrollment and financial instability. The charter received a three-year, $120,000 grant last May and expects an increase in per-student funds from the Local Control Funding Formula.
"We've had some challenges, but we also have a strategy to improve. We desire to do better and intend to," said Cheryl Cooper, RAAMP's board chairwoman.
Following the hearing, trustee Claire Smith asked for more information ahead of the Feb. 26 meeting showing whether the school is fiscally solvent and can be for the next five years.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.