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State Board moves forward on Heritage charter revocation

In the second day of their monthly meeting, the State Board of Education recommended revoking the charter of Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy in Bertie County. 

After Heritage Collegiate appealed the State Board’s November decision, a three-member review panel met  Tuesday to hear presentations from the school and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). With remarks considered from both sides, the panel supported the board’s call for a charter revocation.

Olivia Oxendine, one of the three board members who served on the review panel, told EdNC on Thursday there were issues with Heritage Collegiate not conducive to operating a school.

“The school was just not positioned to move forward to do well,” Oxendine said. 

According to the board review panel’s recommendation, issues flagged by DPI included Heritage Collegiate’s failure to submit timely reports, noncompliance with a statutory requirement to have at least 50 percent of its teachers licensed, repeated financial noncompliance, and noncompliance with the Exceptional Children’s program.

State Board member Rebecca Taylor, who served as the review panel chair, said that no Heritage Collegiate board members were present at Tuesday’s meeting. Heritage Collegiate Executive Director Kashi Bazemore-Hall represented the school and presented its transportation and child nutrition programs as primary successes.

After opening in 2014, Heritage Collegiate was low-performing each of the last three years, with an F in 2015, a D in 2016, and another F in 2017. The school denied the issues submitted by DPI but did not provide specifics in any rebuttal.

In a Facebook post after Tuesday’s panel hearing, Bazemore-Hall said she left the meeting feeling good and determined.

“Why? Because I was truthful, and I did my best,” the post read.

Dave Machado, director of the Office of the Charter Schools, indicated to the board on Thursday that Heritage Collegiate will again appeal but noted that closure procedures will begin immediately. Board Vice-Chair Buddy Collins raised the issue of creating a transition team for charter schools in these termination situations, to assure students’ instruction is not disrupted by administrative failures.

“It’s important that we keep the students in mind,” Collins said.

Tension between Johnson, Board

Superintendent Mark Johnson detailed his vision on Thursday for the redesigned School Report Cards website, which is now live.

Johnson guided the State Board through the new product, which features mobile-friendly information on schools’ performance. Upon choosing a county, users are led to snapshot tiles of individual schools, with grades and color-coded references to signify if goals are being met.

After Johnson’s presentation, the conversation shifted toward questions of whether DPI and the State Board were meeting its own fiscal goals. In the 2017 budget, the General Assembly set aside $1 million for an audit of DPI. A report is due to the legislature in May 2018. Johnson called for the board to have a working session separate from the audit, as early as January.

“What the General Assembly is looking for is accountability — accountability with the money that is sent to this department,” Johnson said. “I think through really having a working session with the state board, you can show that you are digging into the details.”

The board countered with questions for clarity on DPI’s priorities, including potential cuts. Member-at-large Eric Davis wondered why the board did not get a chance to weigh in on any request for proposals. Member-at-large Patricia Willoughby asked where DPI’s plans can be reviewed.

“We are going to send out the link as soon as we have it,” Johnson replied.

Management of Aristotle Preparatory Academy tabled

The board tabled a vote on allowing Aristotle Preparatory Academy in Charlotte to contract with charter manager Achievement for All Children. The board is not scheduled to meet again until January 3-4, 2018.

The Aristotle management item was initially brought forth for discussion in July. In a November report, Aristotle informed the state’s Charter Schools Advisory Board that it was receiving support from Achievement for Children without an executed contract.

At Wednesday’s State Board session, Achievement for All Children was named one of two finalists to run Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County. The site was chosen as the first Innovative School District.

A News & Observer report earlier this fall cited connections between Achievement for All Children and John Bryan, a contributor to North Carolina politicians and school-choice groups. Former Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) who introduced the bill that created the ISD, also serves on Achievement for All Children’s board.

“My decision is all about how well the kids are being educated in the context, whether it’s traditional or charter,” Oxendine told EdNC. “If the school is not positioned to do well, if it’s struggling financially, if there’s a lack of direction, if there’s not the board’s support behind the intent and spirit of the charter, if it’s an absent board of directors, I’m going to vote not to continue it. That’s where I stand.”

Chris Gentilviso

Chris Gentilviso is a master’s student at the UNC School of Media and Journalism. Prior to arriving in Chapel Hill, he worked as a producer for TIME Magazine and an editor for The Huffington Post. A product of New York City’s public schools, Chris graduated from Northwestern University with a B.S. in journalism.