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Next week, the Department of Public Instruction will release for the first time letter grades for each school in North Carolina. The letter grades will largely represent how well a school’s students performed on standardized tests at one given time (that will be 80 percent of the grade), and, to a lesser degree, how much students’ performance on those tests has improved over time (20 percent of the grade).

When the A-F school grades website goes live (it will be accessible at www.ncpublicschools.org/src on February 5), you can view any school’s letter grade as well as a detailed explanation of how the grade was calculated.

This is a screen shot (built with dummy data by staff at DPI) of how the grades will appear.

school grades

If you’re wondering why North Carolina has joined 15 other states on the A-F school grades bandwagon, you can thank Senate leader Phil Berger, who began championing this legislation back in 2011. And you can also thank former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who pioneered A-F school grades in the late 1990s.

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Kinston Charter Academy closed its doors back in September 2013 after years of financial mismanagement. Today, the state auditor released a report investigating the school’s financial practices.

The audit reveals allegations of fraud and abuse that took place on the watch of the school’s CEO and Principal, Ozie Hall Jr. Some of the most eyebrow-raising findings include:

School overstated attendance estimate which inflated state funds received by more than $300,000.

School employed Chief Executive Officer/Principal’s (CEO) unqualified relatives, at a cost of $92,500 in the School’s final year.

Despite ultimately owing more than $370,000 in payroll obligations, questionable payments of more than $11,000 were made to the CEO and his wife.

Despite the School’s dire financial situation, the board approved several expenses already paid by cashier’s check and often with limited supporting documentation. These expenses included vacation leave payouts to the CEO and his wife, who was serving as the board chair, and a new laptop computer for the CEO.

Investigators also had trouble verifying Hall’s past experience running a school:

Although the CEO received degrees in education and administration, his background lacked key qualifications for the position as specified in the School’s 2004 charter. He told investigators that he “ran an alternative school” in Wilmington, Delaware from 1986 to 1990. However, the CEO provided no documentation (no information on students, teachers, curriculum, address, hours of instruction) to support that claim. The Delaware Department of Education and Delaware Public Archives could not verify the school’s existence.

And then there’s this finding:

The CEO’s daughter was hired as the School’s academic officer despite a lack of teaching or school administration experience. She received $40,000 in salary during the 2012-13 school year. The CEO said her duties included monitoring lesson plans for elementary school classes and helping with implementation of Common Core standards. The daughter was a recent college graduate with a degree in American Studies. The CEO told us that she had never worked in a school previous to her employment at the School. She replaced the associate principal who had over 20 years of experience in public schools with her most recent job as “an assistant to the Superintendent” according to the CEO.

Reached by phone, Hall, who is now head of Anderson Creek Club Charter School in Harnett County, said the auditor’s report reflects basic incompetence.

“The fact that they couldn’t find it [the Wilmington, DE alternative school] is another reflection of incompetence,” said Hall. “The report contains outright fabrications.”

State Board of Education chair Bill Cobey says the board will be seeking a legislative fix this session to allow them more authority in dealing with financially troubled charter schools.

Click here to read the full report.

News

Members of a State Board of Education committee met Monday to consider a draft agreement with winners of a virtual charter school pilot program that would require them to provide computers or other technology to needy students.

Explaining that equal opportunities must be provided to every child in accordance with the state constitution, N.C. Office of Charter Schools Director Joel Medley outlined the provision in the agreement that would force virtual charter schools to provide any student, should she need it, with a computer or internet access at no cost.

The provision reads:

1.     Accessibility

7.1       Pursuant to the Constitution of North Carolina which declares that “equal opportunities shall be provided for all students, the Virtual Charter School cannot deny a child access to this program.  If a child is properly admitted through the lottery but cannot afford the appropriate connectivity or equipment, the Virtual Charter School shall provide that access and equipment at no cost to the family

7.2       The Nonprofit will ensure that all of its advertising and marketing materials includes a statement that no child will be denied admission on account of inability to afford the necessary equipment and connectivity.

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The former principal of embattled Charlotte public charter school Entrepreneur High says he plans to file a complaint Friday afternoon to seek reinstatement as head of the school and the ability to reopen its doors early next week.

“Yes, I plan to reopen the school,” Dr. Hans Plotseneder told N.C. Policy Watch Friday. “My termination [as principal] was not following the legal procedure…it was wrongful and I need to be reinstated. My lawyer is on the way to court now.”

Dr. Plotseneder says the chairman of the nonprofit board for Entrepreneur High School, Mr. Robert L. Hillman, did not follow proper procedure when he added new members to the board on January 18. On that day, says Plotseneder, Hillman then had enough votes to formally terminate him as principal (he was fired before Christmas) and get the green light to close the school’s doors.

Mr. Hillman could not be reached for comment Friday.

Entrepreneur High School abruptly shut down a week ago. The school only had $14 in its bank account and enrollment was far below the statutory minimum of 65 students. New Hanover Schools superintendent Tim Markley, who served as a reviewer of Plotseneder’s multiple applications to the state to open EHS, told N.C. Policy Watch he voted against its opening twice, saying “the financials weren’t there.” Read More

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Lawmakers in Virginia’s General Assembly are advancing a bipartisan effort to abolish their A-F school grading system, according to WBDJ7 in Roanoke.

The A-F scale for schools was adopted in 2013 at the urging of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, as a public measure of school quality based on student test scores.

But the law was never implemented. The 2014 legislature delayed it two years.

On a 3-2 vote Monday, a Senate subcommittee endorsed Sen. Richard Black’s bill to abolish the A-F scale entirely. A similar measure is pending in the House of Delegates.

Black, a Loudoun County Republican, said he initially supported the grading scale but has become convinced that an F grade would stigmatize a school’s students and make it hard to recruit teachers. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration supports repeal.

At a live taping of the weekly talk show NC SPIN this morning, panelists expressed concern with North Carolina’s own A-F school grading system, which assesses schools largely on the basis of how students perform on a single test given on one day, rather than the improvement a school makes over time.

Proponents of the A-F grading system, a policy initially launched in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush, say the grades allow parents to better understand how their children’s schools are performing. But critics say grading a school based on its students’ performance on a single test is not a good measure of success and worry that low-marked schools will experience negative long-term effects that include difficulty in attracting high quality teachers.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) said this morning he endorses the grading system, but acknowledged that there are problems with its formula. Other panelists promoted changing the formula so that it was more heavily weighted toward improved student performance on assessments over time.

North Carolina will release A-F grades for its schools for the first time on February 5.