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More updates from this month’s Charter School Advisory Board meeting

Though the annual charter school report was the most anticipated agenda item on the Charter School Advisory Board’s January to-do list, the two-day meeting included other important decisions on charter applications, performance, and policy.

Applications

The advisory board voted to recommend three charter applications for ready-to-open status to the State Board of Education, with one application not recommended, and — in what may be a first in recent memory for the Advisory Board — a split decision on another.

Next Generation Academy

There was some confusion on protocol when Board members split their vote on whether to send Greensboro’s Next Generation Academy to the SBE with a ready-to-open recommendation on the second day of the meeting. Next Generation describes its curriculum as a reading-intensive course of study that provides individualized learning plans for each student.

With member Tammi Sutton absent from the meeting, the Board was without a deciding vote to break a tie when the meeting moved to the discussion portion of the interview process.

Board member Alan Hawkes, a Guilford County resident, noted that the location of the school in the county was in an underserved area. “It can only benefit these children in this zip code,” said Hawkes. “They are underserved right now in a very, very bad way.”

Other members, such as Eric Sanchez, noted their disappointment with the quality of the group’s application and lack of clarity in explaining their proposed educational plan and curriculum.

Board Chair Alex Quigley agreed, saying “You didn’t really, in my mind, get past the education plan, cause I don’t really feel like a clear answer was ever given, despite asking the same question a couple of different ways, a couple of different times.”

Quigley went on to say that he had been impressed with the school’s Board chair and principal, but that he thought more time to “clarify the vision” of the school and get more specifics would be helpful. In particular, he said he’d like to have a better sense of what the classrooms will look like and what the difference will be between the elementary and middle school.

Member Joseph Maimone agreed that representatives could have done a better job of explaining themselves, but returned to the issue of need in this particular community.

“Mr. Chairman, I, too, wish the application and the responses could have been a little clearer,” said Maimone. “The offset to that is the point has been made very clear of the desperate need in that community.”

Quigley urged the Board to maintain a high standard when considering applications for ready-to-open status.

“I agree that there is a need,” said Quigley. “But it’s got to be high quality. That’s our mission.”

Board member Cheryl Turner said that the kids most in need are the ones that need the best schools.

“Those are the schools that when we approve them, we need to know that those schools are going to go and be successful,” she said. “These are not the kids we need to practice on anymore.”

Quigley said the school wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility, and reminded his fellow advisory board members that several of their colleagues had ran successful schools that helped students in low-income communities.

“The people on the [Charter School Advisory] Board who have run schools successfully that changed the trajectory of kids’ lives in low-income communities are saying that this is not at the level that our kids deserve.” Quigley said later. “Do you not believe us? Like … do you not believe us?”

“There hasn’t been one argument made that it is quality,” Sanchez said at one point. “And that’s our mission, right? It’s not about creating more schools. It’s not about finding need and throwing schools there. The mission is to ensure the existence of high-quality charter schools.”

After more discussion on Next Generation’s education plan, a motion was made to not recommend the school’s application for ready-to-open status. That resulted in a split vote, 5-5, and a failed motion.

According to an email after the meeting from Office of Charter School’s lead education consultant Deanna Townsend-Smith, EdNC was able to confirm this will go to the State Board of Education as “Not Recommended – Tie Vote.”

Bonnie Cone Classical Academy

The Board voted 6-3 — with one member abstaining — to recommend Charlotte’s Bonnie Cone Classical Academy for ready-to-open status to the State Board of Education. Cone’s application describes the school’s mission as equipping “… students with the tools of learning to think critically, reason effectively, and communicate persuasively through the rigors of a classical education.”

Ridgeview Charter School

On the second day of the two-day meeting, the Advisory Board voted 6-2 — with two members absent — to recommend Gaston County’s Ridgeview Charter School for ready-to-open status to the State Board of Education. Ridgeview is a K-8 school that plans to offer gender-based classroom instruction in core classes in the middle-school grades, with co-gender classes for middle-school electives and in the elementary grades.

Discovery Charter School

Durham’s Discovery Charter School was recommended for ready-to-open status by a unanimous vote. Discovery is a proposed school that will “prepare students to be self-motivated lifelong independent and collaborative learners” through a STEAM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum.

Paul L. Dunbar Charter School

Rowan County’s Paul L. Dunbar Charter School was given a not ready-to-open recommendation by a unanimous Board vote. The school is proposed for the community of East Spencer, a predominantly African-American community in Rowan County and a town that according to the school’s application currently does not have a local school. The school’s mission is to “develop the gifts and talents of each child through the acquisition of knowledge and skills as preparation for service to the self, family, community, nation, and the world.” EdNC is working on an article about this vote.

Performance Committee

On Tuesday, the Board heard from members of the performance committee on the Bona Fide Summer School program and received an update on action plans submitted by schools who had received an academic notice for either low-student performance or academic growth.

Staff from the Office of Charter Schools presented to the Board on the response of the four schools that had been given an academic notice. The schools are High Point’s Phoenix Academy, Rocky Mount Preparatory School, Tarboro’s North East Carolina Preparatory School, and Oxford Preparatory School.

Each school’s notice letter and response with proposed action plans can be read here.

The Board voted to recommend the action plans for Phoenix, Rocky Mount, and North East to the State Board of Education, with a request to Oxford Preparatory Academy to return to the Advisory Board for a presentation and further discussion on their action plan.

Policy Committee

Following the action plan review, members of the Advisory Board’s policy committee led a discussion on weighted lotteries, conflict of interest policies for charter school board members, and state-of-resident requirements for charter school board members. The recommended revisions to all three provisions can be read here.

The policy committee discussion concluded with the Board voting to recommend that Charter Provision 4.1 be amended to require that only a majority of a charter school’s board of directors must have primary residency in the state, removing the phrase “…and all officers…” from the provision’s language. The Board voted to to send provision 4.3, identifying conflicts of interest for charter school boards of directors to the State Board of Education as written.

The Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Charter School Advisory Board will take place on February 8 and 9. Agendas will be available at the State Board of Education website prior to the meeting.

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.”