Academy Makes Case on Charter
A preliminary administrative hearing on The Academy of Moore County Tuesday set the stage for another hearing expected later this summer that could decide the ultimate fate of the school.
Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. ruled in favor of The Academy Tuesday, staying the State Board of Education's action not to renew its charter until a final decision on the merits of the case can be made.
The stay keeps the school's charter in place and school operational past the June 30 expiration date.
The state board voted in March not to renew The Academy's charter, pointing to a history of low academic performance. The Academy and its attorneys have argued that the board was "arbitrary and capricious" in making its decision.
They contend that it failed to consider the results from a corrective action plan the school implemented in 2008, and instead focused on testing data from previous years. The school met its state growth expectation last year - the first time in four years. The school is confident about this year's testing results as well. It also opened a new $2.2 million facility in Aberdeen this year.
"I think the undisputed fact in this case is there was a corrective action plan, that it produced the results that were intended, but it was totally ignored and disregarded by the board," attorney Kieran Shanahan told Morrison.
Allyson Schoen, the school's director of education, defended the progress he school has made when she took the stand Tuesday.
Schoen admitted that the school has had academic issues in the past but believes the corrective action plan has addressed them. She said she was under the impression that if the school followed the plan, its charter would be renewed by the state board.
The state's Office of Charter Schools recommended to the board that The Academy be granted a three-year charter renewal.
Schoen said when the charter renewal came before the board, its members seemed unwilling to hear information from staff about the corrective action plan.
"I felt like they really weren't listening to the data, the present data that was in front of them at the time," she said, "and the strides that we had made, the gains."
Schoen said the school's parents are in "panic mode" now that the future of the school is uncertain.
"We are providing an atmosphere for students that is conducive to learning," she said. "We are making academic gains. There's a great one-on-one - there's a relationship between teachers and students that I feel that many of these students didn't receive in the traditional public schools.
"Many students came to us broken. They didn't believe in themselves. For the first time in their lives, they know they have a chance."
About 60 percent of The Academy's students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Many of its students are considered "at-risk," and the school qualified for Title I funding this year. The school has about 100 students on its waiting list.
The state painted a much different picture of The Academy Tuesday, arguing that the school has been failing its students. Assistant Attorney General Laura Crumpler suggested that The Academy's students would be better served in the traditional public school system.
"The state's contention is that we have an obligation to protect these children and they are not being protected in this environment," she said. "They are much better off going back to their home [public] schools, rather than being in this school."
Some Academy parents have expressed concerns over the possibility of sending their children back to traditional public schools, contending that their children struggled in that environment before but have performed better since coming to The Academy.
Crumpler questioned Schoen about why the school proceeded with the construction of a new building when the charter was set to expire in 2010, later adding the the school "set itself up" by doing so.
The state argued that the board carefully considered The Academy's academic performance over a matter of months before issuing its March decision, and that The Academy failed to present evidence that proved that the board disregarded the results of the corrective action plan.
State education officials testified that it isn't uncommon for the board not to follow the recommendations from staff on charter renewals or other issues.
Officials from the Office of Charter Schools said they worked closely with the school on the renewal process, but never gave The Academy the impression that they would be guaranteed the renewal if they successfully implemented the corrective action plan.
"We can't make a promise," OCS Director Jack Moyer said. "We don't have the authority to make any promises."
The state board has the ultimate authority in issuing, renewing or revoking charters.
Jean Kruft, a consultant with the Office of Charter Schools, echoed what Moyer said. Crumpler asked her if she agreed or disagreed with the board's decision to allow The Academy's charter to expire.
"It's not my job to disagree or agree [with the board's decision]," she said. "However, I don't believe it was a bad decision."
No state board members testified at the hearing.
A full hearing on the case is expected sometime in August, with a decision coming sometime this fall.
Contact John Krahnert III by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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