Members of the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) green lighted one more charter school to move toward opening for the 2015-16 school year, after Board members decided in April to reconsider rejected applicants and give them a second chance to make their case for opening a charter school in the state.
Ignite Innovation Academy, which would be located in Pitt County, could serve 216 students in grades K-8 using a blended learning instructional model that relies heavily on technology in the classroom.
The proposed charter school initially received low marks from the CSAB subcommittee tasked with reviewing its application this past winter; while its mission was deemed “adequate,” the three other sections of its application that deal with finances, governance, and the educational plan were all deemed inadequate, citing insufficient funding and poor planning for professional development, delivery of instruction and educating children with special needs.
Today, Ignite’s board members were invited to Raleigh to present their case for opening once again to the full CSAB committee. But during the interview, advisory board members continued to express concerns about the ability of the school to effectively deliver a blended instructional model that would rely heavily on computer software and online instructional methods.
“What computer programs are you going to use,” queried Alex Quigley, CSAB member who led the interview and discussion. Board members cited, among other possibilities, Khan Academy — a free online instructional delivery method that Quigley said was okay, but demands much culling and management in order for it to be effective.
As for other online instructional learning software options, Quigley cautioned Ignite’s board members, “There is a lot out there that is bad and expensive.”
But Ignite’s board chair, Steve Hale, believes in the promise of blended learning and its ability to keep kids engaged.
“My hope is that the blended model keeps their attention better,” said Hale.
Members were also concerned about Ignite’s ability to adequately serve students with special needs, given that they would have only one special education teacher for 216 students, as well as the school’s very lean operating budget.
If Ignite does not reach their proposed enrollment figure of 216 students, their ability to remain solvent will be difficult. The proposed charter school has a $31,000 cushion if they don’t meet that target number, and does not have another funding stream option at this point.
“$31,000 is a pretty small number,” said Quigley. “We’ve seen other schools come in under their target number before.”
StudentFirst Academy, the Charlotte charter school that famously closed its doors near the end of this school year after gross allegations of mismanagement, opened last August with 338 students, about 22 percent below projections.
In spite of these concerns, members of the CSAB decided to allow Ignite Innovation Academy to begin the process of opening in 2015.
For the 2015-16 school year, 71 charter operators submitted applications to open schools in North Carolina. Sixty-three of those operators had applications that were worthy of a subcommittee review, and of those 63, only 21 were invited for interviews in Raleigh with the Charter School Advisory Board.
The CSAB heard numerous complaints from applicants that the process did not allow for a chance to properly address questions and concerns that could have easily been allayed by the charter operators before being rejected.
The charter school review process currently does not allow charter school applicants to interact with CSAB members until they reach the interview stage, although they are allowed to witness the subcommittee review in person.
Of the 2015 charter school applicants that made it to the interview stage, only eleven were recommended to the State Board of Education to open next year, citing considerable rebuke from charter school advocates. Ignite Innovation Academy bumps that number up to twelve.
Sen. Jerry Tillman publicly scolded Office of Charter Schools chief Joel Medley for the fact that so few charter schools have been approved for 2015.
“I think we got a flaw in the thinking there, and I want that corrected,” Tillman said. “If these changes do not take place – not just on paper, but in the mindset – then other things will be considered.”