Academy of Dover is up for charter renewal this fall. The Secretary of Education will announce his recommendation at the December State Board of Education meeting and then the State Board will vote on it. The school has a gigantic hurdle to overcome: their enrollment.
Today, the Charter School Accountability Committee released the report from their initial meeting with Academy of Dover on October 10th.
Mr. Blowman noted that the school’s enrollment has declined steadily over the years, from 308 students in school year 2013-14 to 247 students this school year.
That is a very serious drop! Their approved charter enrollment is 300 students. Charters can’t go below 80% of that, so their magic number is 240. How bad is it? To put things in perspective, they decreased their Kindergarten classes from 3 to 2 this year because of lower enrollment. That is their bread and butter for future growth.
Ms. Johnson stated that if the current 2016-17 enrollment is projected out based on the trends to date, the school would be at 46% enrollment in four years, well below the required 80%. She added that this trend is occurring at every grade level versus one particular cohort. She reiterated that the school must provide a strong plan to mitigate this year’s reduced kindergarten enrollment and the low year-to-year retention rates.
Teacher retention was also an issue, but Academy of Dover is not immune to this issue. Many charters and districts regularly suffer through this process each year.
This is my problem with charter school renewals. So much of it is based on standardized test scores. Far too much of it. I can’t sit here and mock charters about low test scores while demonizing them in traditional schools. This very huge flaw in education is universal. For any school to feel they have to create a “Smarter Balanced Boot Camp” to drive up scores shows exactly what is wrong with the system to begin with. This school already has a long day, from 7:45 to 3:30. By keeping struggling students until 5pm and factoring in transportation, that is half of a student’s day. Gone.
One thing I was very happy to see was a minor modification request submitted by Academy of Dover to reduce their number of school days from 200 to 180. Citing a lot of absenteeism of students the first two weeks of school and the last two weeks, the school said they are listening to parents. But of course the DOE has to pick that apart as well.
I believe the DOE needs to take a strong look at their Charter School Accountability Committee. The non-voting members, at least two of them, had a lot to say during this meeting. More than I’ve seen in a long time. But when one of the voting members could potentially stand to gain if the school shut down… that I have a huge problem with.
The next Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, where the committee will give their final recommendation, will occur in late November or early December. I think the school has come a long way since the Noel Rodriguez days. I think they realize what their major mistakes were and have attempted to take swift action. The addition of Gene Capers, a former Principal from Capital School District, as a curriculum director, was a stroke of genius. Cheri Marshall has come a long way. While she was thrust into a position of leadership based on another person’s wrong actions, she has grown in that role. I saw a confidence in her at the renewal meeting last week that I didn’t see during their formal review a year and a half ago. While this may seem to be too little too late for those who are no longer at the school, no human being can change the past but they can try to make a better future.
I gave this school a very hard time the past couple of years. So much of that surrounded a central theme: transparency. I think the combination of Rodriguez’ shenanigans, special education issues, and their start and stop time of the school year are playing a major part in their current enrollment woes. My recommendation: approve their minor modification and let them stay open. See what happens in the fall. If their enrollment falls below 80%, the DOE will be forced to follow the law. But give them a chance. We have had far too many charter schools close that serve minority and low-income populations the past few years. It is not good. They have to get special education right, but they are not the only school in this state struggling with that. We must, as a state, clearly define a better strategy for special education and make sure all schools are consistent with that path.
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