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December’s Charter School Advisory Board Meeting

Two schools did not have their charters renewed during the first day of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board meeting in Raleigh. The Board voted not to recommend renewal to the State Board of Education for Charlotte’s Kennedy Public Charter School and Crossroads Charter High School.

In voting against the schools’ charter renewals, committee members cited both institutions’ struggles with academic achievement and institutional finances.

Kennedy Public Charter

During the Kennedy Public Charter review, Board Chair Alex Quigley cited the school’s uneven academic performance, noting that the school fluctuated from an almost 12 percent grade level proficiency in 2013 after the introduction of Common Core, to up to almost 30 percent in 2014 before dropping again to 18 percent in 2015. And the school received a school performance grade of F and did not meet academic growth expectations in 2015.

“What’s going on?” Quigley asked the school’s representatives.

School Superintendent Fred Grosse responded that much of the difference was due to the school introducing a new curriculum — which meant re-training faculty — and the school’s move to Johnson C. Smith University, which the Advisory Board requested the school do as one of the stipulations of its previous renewal.

Later in the review, Board member Steven Walker asked the school’s representatives to explain why the Board should renew the school’s charter.

“Why in the world would we keep a school open that’s performing at 18 and a half percent grade level proficiency?” asked Walker. “And that’s down from the year before.”

Some Board members noted the school’s transition from a residential school and its large population of economically disadvantaged students — almost 82 percent — as some additional reasons for poor academic performance and a reason to renew the charter.

The Advisory Board ultimately voted to not recommend the school’s charter for renewal due primarily to the organization’s inability to show satisfactory academic growth over the past three years, another stipulation of its previous renewal.

According to the Department of Public Instruction website, Kennedy Public Charter began operations in 1998.

Crossroads Charter High School

Another Charlotte charter school with a high population (86 percent) of economically disadvantaged students, Crossroads Charter High School, was reviewed immediately after Kennedy.

Crossroads came to the review already on financial probation and facing a sharp decline in student enrollment.

The school has enacted a new fiscal management policy and a credit-card use policy for staff members — among other measures — to improve the school’s financial standing.

A sticking point for the Board was the delay in the school’s most recent audited financial statements, which followed on top of a four-month delay in the previous year’s audit.

“My biggest concern is the downward spiral that you see when a school is in distress,” said Board Chair Quigley, citing the school’s poor student achievement and the trend in declining student enrollment.

The school’s attorney Edana Lewis noted that the school’s board was reconstituted as recently as November 2014, pointing out that most the issues the current school board was facing were set in motion prior to that.

But ultimately, the Advisory Board voted not to recommend renewal, with Board member Joseph Maimone stating earlier in the discussion that, “This is as clear a case as I have seen in all the years I have been on this Advisory Board that this is not a case for renewal.”

According to the Department of Public Instruction website, Crossroads Charter began operations in 2001.

Other renewals and applications

It was better news for the four other charters that appeared before the Board seeking renewals. Schools that received a recommendation for renewal on the first day were Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School in Hollister, Queen’s Grant Community School in Mint Hill, New Dimensions Charter School in Morganton, and Hope Charter Leadership Academy in Raleigh.

The Board also considered during its two-day meeting five applicants seeking to open charter schools. Ultimately, the Board accepted three and rejected two.

Iredell County’s Lake Academy withdrew its application prior to the meeting.

After multiple attempts over the years, the Winston-Salem-based Addie C. Morris Children’s School was recommended for open status by the Advisory Board. Addie C. Morris is described in its application materials as a “unique STEM learning community that will provide a rigorous, collaborative blended learning model that will develop proficient, creative, self-motivated life-long learners during their fundamental years.”

Gaston County’s Montcross Charter Academy was recommended for open status by the Advisory Board. Montcross will be partnering with the Education Management Organization Charter Schools USA to launch a college preparatory school that offers individualized student learning plans.

Movement School, a proposed west Charlotte charter, was recommended for open status by the Advisory Board unanimously. The Advisory Board also praised the school’s model and strong board representation.

Wake County’s Acorn to Oak, a proposed environmentally conscious school based on the public Waldorf education model, did not receive a recommendation for ready to open status from the Board. In the discussion before the final vote, some Board members expressed concern regarding a lack of information on the school’s academic concept and the application’s budget projections. Even though the school was not voted for ready to open status, Board members expressed interest in the school’s model and encouraged the applicants to revisit its budget model and consider re-applying in the future.

Aurora Preparatory, a proposed charter in southeastern Beaufort County, was not recommended by the Board. The Board cited a need for a tighter, more focused application and made note of the strongly worded impact statement from local citizens on the effects a charter in the small community might have on the local public school, S.W. Snowden Elementary School. One person called it a “nefarious attempt” to establish a charter school in the area, and the Board received a petition of more than 500 signatures against the school’s establishment.

Policy recommendations

At the start of the first day’s meeting, the Board took up potential recommendations for revising the state’s policy on fast track replication of existing high performing charters in the state and more clearly defining the difference between a normal replication and a fast track replication.

Fast track replication allows for an established school — a high-peforming school that has been operating successfully for a period of three years in the state — to have a truncated planning year, bypassing the normal requirement of a two-year planning process.

The Board voted on a final policy at the start of the afternoon session on the second day. Drafts of the policy can be found here.

January meeting

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for January 11th and 12th.

Correction: Board member Steven Walker was previously identified as Scott Walker. 

Todd Brantley

Todd Brantley is the senior director of public affairs at The Rural Center. He formerly served as director of policy and research at EducationNC.

He grew up in Randolph County where he attended Farmer Elementary School, Randleman Middle School, and Randleman High School. Todd attended Randolph Community College before graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995. He received a master’s in theological studies from Duke Divinity School in 2002 and a master’s from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009.

Prior to his work at The Rural Center and EducationNC, Todd also worked as the associate communications director at MDC providing strategic communications support for several programs, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Partners for Postsecondary Success and the Developmental Education Initiative. Todd was part of the writing and research team that produced the 2010 and 2011 State of the South reports. While a graduate student, he interned at The Story with Dick Gordon and was the editor of The Fountain, the alumni magazine for the Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He was part of the research and writing team that received the Governmental Research Association’s 2014 Most Distinguished Research Award for a report on the use of telepsychiatry in rural areas. He was a co-author of How the Triangle Gives Back, a 2008 report that examined local philanthropic and charitable giving in the Research Triangle region. His writing and research has appeared in the Daily Yonder; Insight, a publication of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research; and NC DataNet, a publication of The Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A native of North Carolina, Todd currently splits his time between Raleigh and Pikeville, where he helps maintain his wife’s family’s farm. He says, “As a product of this state’s systems of public education, from secondary, to the community college system, to our public postsecondary system, I have seen firsthand how important these institutions are for the social and economic wellbeing of this state and its citizens. Regardless of whether you are a new resident or a native, a parent or not, we all benefit from the fruits of our current system of public learning, and the hard work and foresight of those who came before us who understood that, regardless of political affiliation, North Carolina needed to be a national leader in access to quality education for everyone.”