Charlotte Learning Academy leaders left Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting visibly shaken and “seeing red” over a comment made by Steven Walker, vice chairman of the Charter School Advisory Board, who awkwardly compared videos from former students of the struggling charter school to a marketing strategy that can make a “dirt sandwich” look good.
“I’m not trying to compare the school to a dirt sandwich or anything like that but what I’m saying is that if you market something you can make it look real good,” Walker said.
The Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) has recommended that Charlotte Learning Academy’s (CLA) charter not be renewed due to poor academic performance. The school serves mostly at-risk, economically disadvantaged students in grades 6-12 who find it difficult to succeed in a traditional school setting.
Successful graduates, some now in college and others serving in the military, made videos to share their CLA experiences with members of the State Board of Education (SBE). The SBE is expected to decide Thursday whether to close the school.
During an interview, CLA Principal Stacey Rose appeared on the verge of tears.
“Did you hear what he said,” Rose asked? “He compared them [students] to dirt sandwiches.”
Rose’s husband, Andre Rose, who sits on the school’s Board of Directors, said CLA will make a complaint to the SBE about Walker’s choice of words.
“If that’s the view, then the fix was in by the time we showed up here,” Rose said. “The kids who sent those videos sent them from college or from the military, which further shows the point that we’re reaching our goals.”
When asked about Walker’s comment, SBE member James Ford called it “inelegant and dehumanizing.”
“There are certainly better ways to communicate,” Ford said.
Nearly 20 CLA parents, teachers and other supporters attended Wednesday SBE meeting. Many of them appeared stunned after Walker made his “dirt sandwich” remark.
The CSAB made a strong case against renewing CLA’s charter during last month SBE meeting.
Walker noted then that only 17.9 percent of the school’s 260 students were proficient on state tests last year, the school has been rated an “F” school five consecutive years and students only met expected growth once in five years.
He continued to make a case against charter renewal on Wednesday.
“I’m sure the passion is there for the school,” Walker said. “I’m sure there are good people at the school who want to see the school succeed. They’re just not getting it done.”
Walker said he is concerned that if CLA is allowed to continue to operate, it will be difficult to shut down any charter, regardless of performance.
Despite its academic struggles, Charlotte Learning Academy [CLA] has a 73 percent, four-year graduation rate and a 93.5 percent, five-year graduation rate, which is slightly higher than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Andre Rose said CLA narrowly missed its growth marks, and noted that few charters have been closed after five years due to students’ academic performance.
“They were given the opportunity to continue to grow and meet some of the challenges they had,” Andre Rose said.
CLA leaders acknowledged the school’s academic struggles. They have requested a three-year charter renewal.
“We asked for time to pull it together,” Stacey Rose said. “I know Mr. [Steven] Walker stated that there are schools out there like ours, serving students like ours who are getting A’s and achieving, but those schools have been opened pretty much 20 years and they were not that way in the beginning.”
Ford asked if CLA could be considered for what is essentially a charter for alternative schools, a designation that would allow the school to remain open under a different accountability a model.
Walker said CLA does not qualify for the alternative school designation.