Curtain call: Riverside’s Encore charter high school closing for good

Riverside’s Encore Junior and High School for the Arts got a last-minute stay of execution in March. But the novel coronavirus is finishing off the charter school.

On Thursday, April 30, the charter school’s governing board voted to close Encore for good on June 30.

According to the meeting agenda, school officials expected low attendance in the coming school year.

The Encore Education Corporation continues to operate its original Encore Junior and High School for the Arts in Hesperia. Its charter expires in June 2021. Representatives of the corporation did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon, May 4.

Supporters of Encore Junior and High School for the Arts filled the auditorium of Central Middle School on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as the district board decides whether to renew the school’s charter. (File photo by Ryan Hagen, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

The school survived a brush with death earlier this year, when Riverside Unified School District officials were reluctant to extend its charter past June 30, citing concerns about Encore’s financial health and poor test scores.

Even before the novel coronavirus hit, Riverside Unified officials were skeptical that the school could get the attendance levels needed for financial stability. Encore’s Riverside campus had 872 students this school year, according to the California Department of Education, and in March, school officials projected those numbers would fall to about 600.

School officials also had a history of off-the-mark financial projections. The 2018-19 school year, according to Riverside Unified officials, had been projected to end with a balance of $323,000. Instead, it ended with a deficit of $696,000. The school was forced to cut more than $11 million from its budget to balance its books in July 2019.

Encore officials also felt the school should be compared academically to schools in the Jurupa and Moreno Valley unified school districts. But despite those schools having a much higher number of English-language learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students, they still outperformed Encore in English and math scores.

Campus leadership was due to be replaced this summer, under the terms of the deal with Riverside Unified.

Instead, Encore’s Riverside program will end after this school year.

Parent Lisa Cook pulled her two students from Encore this year in frustration.

“The school management from the board to the CEOs seems unprepared to handle the complexities of managing a school,” she wrote in an email. “The curriculum, Cyber High, was dull and not academically rigorous. My daughter had every production she was supposed to perform in her junior and senior year cancelled either because the school neglected to purchase a licence to put on the production or the teacher in charge was fired. My son was told he could not take an arts class this year because they ‘were all full’ after staff cuts were made after Winter Break.”

Cook’s daughter will graduate from a Riverside Unified school this year and her son has transferred to a Jurupa Unified School District middle school.

Riverside Unified school board president Kathy Allavie is quoted in a district news release as saying that “we understand the circumstances for the closure and want the very best for all Encore-Riverside students,”

The district has many “robust” visual and performing arts programs, Allavie said, and “would welcome any student wishing to stay in the Riverside area.”

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