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Members of the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board made a recommendation to the State Board of Education yesterday to give fellow advisory board member Baker Mitchell’s Wilmington charter school, Douglass Academy, a temporary waiver that would allow the K-2 school to avoid complying with state law that requires charter schools to enroll at least 65 students.

Last month, the Office of Charter Schools sent a warning to newly opened Douglass Academy, placing it on Governance Cautionary Status for failing to bring its enrollment numbers up to the statutory minimum of 65. At the time that the Office of Charter Schools visited the school, only 35 students were in attendance. Currently the school’s student enrollment stands at 33.

Members of Douglass Academy’s Board of Trustees, as well as its headmaster, Barbra Jones, were asked to come to Raleigh yesterday to explain its low enrollment numbers to the Charter School Advisory Board.

Douglass officials said that their low student numbers were attributable to the fact that they had to change the school’s location and deal with last-minute renovations, prompting confusion and doubt among what they referred to as their “target market.” Read More

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The state’s Office of Charter Schools issued a warning letter to Douglass Academy in Wilmington, whose enrollment numbers fall far short of the state’s minimum requirement of 65 — and if numbers don’t go up, the school’s charter could be revoked.

Founder of Douglass Academy, charter school operator Baker Mitchell, manages a total of three three charter schools in North Carolina through his ‘Roger Bacon Academy’ —  and he is hoping to open a fourth charter school this fall.

From the Star News in Wilmington:

Douglass Academy opened in August 2013 and has kindergarten and first- and second-grade students. Originally, the school was geared toward students living in low-income and public housing units, such as Jervay, Hillcrest, Houston Moore and Greenfield Village. Original plans were to build a new school along South 13th and Greenfield streets or to rent the old Lakeside High School building. But neither of those options worked, and the school decided to rent and renovate the Peabody Center at North Sixth and Red Cross streets.

Mitchell said the school’s struggles to find a building confused some parents who had originally enrolled their children in the school.

“We got tied up with a facility issue and really didn’t have a designated location until about four weeks before school started,” Mitchell said. “We wound up not making enrollment.”

That caused the state to place the school on governance cautionary status, which is the first step in a three-level warning system. The school has 30 days to correct its problems, according to state Board of Education policy. If it makes the corrections, the status is removed. If it fails to correct the issue, the school moves up to governance probationary status, the second warning.

Mitchell said all of Douglass Academy’s 33 students had re-enrolled for next school year and 63 new students had also enrolled.

“We should start off next year with a minimum of 96 students,” he said.

Douglass Academy officials will be required to go before the Office of Charter Schools and the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council on Monday to explain the low enrollment numbers.

Baker Mitchell also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Council, the body tasked with reviewing charter school applications and making recommendations to the State Board of Education for which applicants should be green lighted to open charter schools.

Last week, local lawmakers and community leaders got a tour of Douglass Academy that was sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. AFP aimed to showcase alternative education possibilities now that the cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in the state has been lifted. Americans for Prosperity head John Dudley was unaware the school was under a warning.

Mitchell, who has collected in the neighborhood of $16 million in taxpayer funds over the past five years for managing the two other charter schools in southeastern North Carolina, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General. Details of the case have not been made public.

Edward Pruden, Superintendent for Brunswick County Schools, theorizes that the investigation has to do with improper enrollment practices. Boosting enrollment numbers would direct more state funding to Mitchell’s charter schools.

“According to information Brunswick County Schools received, the basis of the alleged investigation was that Charter Day School … used improper means to encourage homeschooled and private school students to enroll during the first few days of school to increase the average daily membership,” Pruden wrote in a letter he sent to the State Board of Education.

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UPDATE: State board members voted to not renew the charters for PACE Academy and Coastal Academy, meaning the schools will close at the end of the school year. The board’s decision can be appealed to an administrative court.

The State Board of Education decided today to not renew support for  today whether a handful of charter schools up for renewal should continue to operate, including charter schools in Carrboro and Morehead City that have been flagged by state education staff as problematic.

Staff from Office of Charter Schools are recommending that the state board terminate charters held by the Coastal Academy for Technology and Science (formerly known as Cape Lookout Marine Science High School) in Morehead City and PACE Academy in Carrboro.

“Both schools had patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance, and concerns related to the financial sustainability of each school,” DPI staff wrote in materials provided to state board members. “The nonrenewal votes of the CSAB were unanimous in both instances.”

The state board is expected to make its decision later this morning. (UPDATE: The state board voted late Thursday morning to not renew the school’s contracts.)

To find out what happens, you can listen to audio of the meeting here, read public documents about the renewal process here  or follow N.C. Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner, who is at the meeting, on Twitter here.

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As this editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer makes clear this morning, the supposed purposes of North Carolina’s charter school movement — i.e. to be “laboratories of innovation” that will spur improvements in the traditional school system —  are increasingly being shown to be what critics have long contended: fraudulent.

More and more, charters are becoming the system that anti-integration advocates tried to create back in the 1960’s and 70’s — a segregated and exclusive, publicly-funded alternative school system.  To quote the editorial (which focuses on a new charter built immediately adjacent to an exclusive gated community in Harnett County):

“As they were being brought into the public system in the mid 1990s, the idea was that they would be laboratories, experimenting with curricula and teaching methods in ways that perhaps could help conventional schools. Unfortunately, charters now are seen by too many as private schools that get public money.

They’re not. But more are starting to look that way even if they’re not yet behind private gates.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

 

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Members of the Charter School Advisory Board are meeting today to review charter school applications for 2015. Nine of the 71 applications that were submitted last December have been deemed incomplete by the board and will not move forward.

The nine charter school applications that won’t move forward are as follows:

Empowerment Academy Charter School (Vance County)
J.E. Graham Leadership Academy (Hoke County)
Kaleidoscope Art and Technology High School (Wake County)
T.E.A.M. D&K Academy (Mecklenburg County)
Russell Lee Jones Charter High School (Mecklenburg County)
Antonio Academy (Durham County)
James Madison Academy (Wake County)
Pinnacle of Durham Charter School (Durham County)
Ridgeview Charter School (Gaston County)

Francis Deluca, president of the Civitas Institute, would have been on the board of the proposed James Madison Academy, which did not make it past today’s review.

Final approval for charter schools wishing to open in 2015 will come no later than January 15, 2015.

Last week, the State Board of Education approved 26 charter schools to open this fall.