State board recommends Durham's Kestrel Heights close high school - become K-8

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Kestrel Heights School

The North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board discussed a bombshell report Wednesday that 160 of 399 Durham Kestrel Heights School graduates received diplomas between 2008 and 2016 with no evidence that they met all requirements.

After a closed-door meeting, the board recommended that the North Carolina Board of Education revoke the school's charter and turn it into a kindergarten through 8th grade school only.



"What's happened at Kestrel Heights is egregious. It's a stain on every public charter high school in North Carolina - some of which are excellent schools," offered Advisory Board member Alan Hawkes.

State officials say some of the graduates missed mandated classes such as English, American history, math, and biology to name a few.

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The Durham charter school self-reported the findings of an internal investigation. It also said that two principals and a counselor who were working at that time aren't employed with the school now.

A new principal discovered the problem in July and the state immediately launched an investigation.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE (.pdf)

Asked how it could happen on his watch, Kestrel Heights Executive Director Dr. Mark Tracy responded "that's a good point. As executive director, I take responsibility and we continue to look at it and investigate and I think our report details that information."

North Carolina's top charter school official said Wednesday the finding of the report are absolutely unacceptable.

"This is a direct violation of Kestrel Heights' charter and mission. I do appreciate that they did self-report this, and are working to come up with a solution that is in the best interest of the students they did disservice to. Our office will continue to assist and monitor that plan," said State Charter School Director Dave Machado.



Machado also outlined what classes graduates may not have completed.

"The affected students were missing one or more mandated classes, including but not limited to: American History, American History II, English 2, English 4, Math 4, World History, Physical Education, Earth and Environmental, Physical Science, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology, Civics. And in your appendix it shows some of the other classes," he told board members.

The State Board of Education has recommended that the Durham County District Attorney's Office determine whether it should investigate possible criminal charges.

As for the Kestrel Heights charter, the State Board of Education is expected to take up the question at its next meeting in early February.

307 students attend the high school. 71 are seniors.

The Class of 2017 could be the last to graduate from the school and the rest of the students might have to find a new place to go to school.

"We'll be working with families as we move forward as whatever decision is made," said Tracy.

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