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ARMSTRONG: Document outlines objections to charter school

by on March 12, 2013 10:40 AM

FORD CITY — A 17-page document explaining the Armstrong School District’s decision to deny a charter to Everlasting Elderton Charter School argues that the application failed to demonstrate the proposed school’s ability to provide “comprehensive learning experiences,” to show sustainable community support or to serve as a model to existing schools.

According to state law, a charter school must show it can provide those learning experiences, that it has sustainable community support and that it can serve as a model to existing schools.

The district’s administration pointed first to the curriculum model outlined in the application. While it references the common core standards, it does not show pacing guidelines, assessment options or instructional resources.

The application features a focus on the micro-society program, in which students set up a faux society complete with businesses and buying and selling to apply the skills they learn in classrooms. But the administration argued in the document that the program was never directly correlated or aligned to the common core standards, and that the program is “used almost exclusively” for younger students — not secondary.

“The EECS Charter Application does not contain any data to support how Micro-Society can be successful with its secondary students,” it stated.

Similarly, while the application references co-operative opportunities between students and area businesses, it is “vague and lacks detail” as to how that will work as a learning experience.

“A comprehensive framework of supporting all subject areas with this model is undefined,” it stated.

And the proposal did not list specific textbooks for the secondary classes.

“Not having any idea of what educational resources the school will utilize at this late date indicates that EECS does not have the ability to provide a comprehensive learning experience. In addition, it does not provide Armstrong School District with an ability to evaluate the proposed educational resources.”

There were also a number of concerns related to specific programs:

  • The foreign language classes to be offered were not specific. At the public hearing Dec. 27, the charter school said the language would depend on the certifications of the teacher hired to teach them, and the district argued that showed the school was not prepared “to offer a comprehensive learning experience.”
  • A library science staff position is not included for the first school year, and the budget does not include an Internet safety education program or how records will be maintained.
  • The proposal does not include a gifted program at any level. “The lack of any individualized programming for these students illustrates a significant deficiency in its application,” according to the document. Similarly, there are no staff positions for advanced placement courses or partnerships with universities for dual enrollment opportunities in the proposal, and no plans for technical school opportunities.
  • The proposal does not outline how the program will be adapted for special-education needs, and the administration argued that the proposal does not include sufficient staff to meet those needs. It also does not outline services for English language learners, and has no defined criteria for students to qualify for Title 1.
  • Plans for benchmark assessments were vague, and the budget did clearly provide for related costs.
  • The proposal’s professional development plan “was not comprehensive” and did not specify how teachers are expected to use the micro-society concept. The budget calls for six high school teachers, but the proposal does not specify how six teachers will be able to meet “the diverse curriculum needs for a high school.”

The administration also argued that the charter school failed to demonstrate community support. Specifically, the public hearing in December was poorly attended once school administrators and members of the EECS founding board were discounted.

“The trustees only had a few individuals in attendance in support of this charter plan. It is obvious from the attendance the evening of the hearing that community support is undemonstrated and unsustainable,” it stated.

Letters received in support are “minimal in number,” several were exactly the same, and the majority lacked addresses to verify whether the writer is a district resident. Letters from businesses did not focus on building partnerships with the school to enhance student learning, but rather to restore lost business after Elderton Junior-Senior High School closed.

“The EECS was designed not to provide a new learning model, but solely to find a way to reinstitute the closed junior-senior high school building,” according to the document.

And the administration said the school’s proposal showed “negligible” information about how the micro-society concept was uniquely connected to instruction in a way that could be a model to public schools.

Because both elementary and secondary students would begin school at the same time, young children attending from farther parts of the district would have early and long bus rides. And it would have a negative economic impact to the district, requiring a dedication of about 3 mills of taxes to the charter school, according to the administration’s document.

Lastly, the Letter of Intent from Elderton Towne Hall — the tentative location of the proposed school as outlined in the application — states that the rental rate of $10 a square foot is negotiable and may need utility services added, and that the charter school would be responsible to make necessary changes.

But the administration stated that the charter school’s board president, Catherine Ernest-Fouse, said at the public hearing that the building’s owner would perform the improvements.

“The cost of converting a building into a public school … will be significant and has not been properly taken into consideration by EECS nor is such an expense contained in the proposed EECS budget,” the document states.



Heather Roth covers White Township and the Armstrong School District, police and courts and general assignment stories. She can be reached at hroth@indianagazette.net.
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