Parents Fight for Academy
Parents of students who attend The Academy of Moore County are organizing a fight to save the charter school.
Last week, the State Board of Education denied a request to renew the school's charter for an additional three years. The school is appealing the decision, but if those efforts fail, it will be forced to close June 30.
The decision has upset parents who firmly believe in the school's mission. About 30 parents gathered at the school Monday morning to discuss ways to raise awareness about the issue. They've created a Facebook group and plan to contact government officials - from state representatives, to U.S. senators, to the U.S. Department of Education and even the White House - about the situation. They held a "phone-a-thon" Tuesday.
Allyson Schoen, director of education, gave an impassioned defense of her school before the parents Monday. She questioned why the state board didn't visit the school before making its decision, and said she was "infuriated" and "appalled" by what she saw going on in Raleigh.
"My problem is, how can you shut a building down when you've never made a visit?" she said. "You don't know what's going on in these classrooms You've never been here to see the differentiated instruction going on. You've never been able to see a kid get excited about coming to school, and wanting to be here every day.
"I see that ... Don't tell me we're not doing our job. We are doing our job."
Schoen criticized the state for focusing on test scores, instead of the "whole child" - including social and developmental growth. The school has many students who struggled in the traditional public school system. Parents at the meeting said their children are now thriving in The Academy's environment of small-class sizes and personal attention.
"We as educators have to give [students] an opportunity," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, [the state board] is not allowing us that opportunity by closing this school."
Schoen, her staff and the parents appear confident that they can successfully appeal the state board's decision and keep the school open.
State Rep. Jamie Boles attended the meeting and expressed his support for the parents' effort. He also voiced his confusion over why the state board would make such a decision. He said he, Sen. Harris Blake and Rep. Garland Pierce met with officials from the state's Office of Charter Schools, who informed them that they recommended that The Academy be granted a three-year charter renewal.
"We cannot figure out from the board's side," he said, "because all of the benchmarks from DPI (N.C. Department of Public Instruction) set for you all, you all have met. We don't understand what's going on."
The state cited the school's "low performance" as its reason for not renewing the charter.
"The State Board of Education looked at the school's performance, which was low, and debated the issue and felt that it should not continue its charter," said Sara Clark, spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
The Academy met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the state's expected growth goals for the 2008-2009 school year. It was identified as a "priority school" by the state, meaning that fewer than 60 percent of its students' end-of-grade test scores were at or above achievement level III on state testing. Level III is considered "proficient."
The Academy adopted its current kindergarten through eighth-grade model for the 2005-2006 school year. It was founded as a middle school in 1997.
According to records on DPI's Web site, The Academy has met its AYP goals three out of the last six school years - in 2003-2004, 2005-2006, and 2008-2009. It met the state's academic growth expectations three of the last seven years - 2002-03, 2003-04, and 2008-09.
The Academy was identified as a "priority school" in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. It was called "low-performing" in 2007-08, meaning fewer than 50 percent of its students' scores on state tests were proficient.
It received "no recognition" in 2004-2005, meaning it didn't meet growth standards, but at least 60 percent of students were proficient" in testing. It had "high growth" and was named a "School of Distinction in 2003-2004 for having at least 80 percent proficiency and was called a "School of Progress" in 2002-2003 - meeting growth with at least 60 percent proficiency.
Schoen maintains the state is looking at past testing data, which does not accurately portray the school's recent progress. Despite its past struggles, the school has opened a new $2.2 million facility this year and has invested heavily in technology - part of the school's mission.
She admitted the school has had problems in the past, calling the administration a "revolving door" and was known in the community as a school of "last resort." She said the school's former facility in Southern Pines was "deplorable." She praised former Director of Education Bill Moore for stabilizing the school and giving it a vision.
But beginning in 2008, the school worked with the Office of Charter Schools to implement a corrective action plan to right the ship. A major part of that initiative was the construction of the new school building. This year, Schoen said 100 percent of its teachers are "highly qualified" - certified teachers teaching in their area of expertise.
It has also installed SmartBoards in 8 of 11 classrooms.
"Absolutely, it worked," Schoen said.
This year, the school has 174 students from Moore, Scotland, Hoke and Richmond counties. It has a waiting list of about 100 students.
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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