By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
The judge ended the shotgun marriage, but the school board agreed to let Boston Avenue Charter School stay in operation until all its legal appeals are exhausted.
"A change like this in the middle of the year is pretty disruptive," board member Stan Schmidt, Port Orange, said in an interview. "School closings are pretty emotional. You want to disrupt as little as you possibly can. It's still a live issue, and could go the other way."
At its last regular meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Volusia County School Board approved a judicial order allowing it not to renew the charter school's contract. That, in effect, means Boston Avenue's closure. The school district's attorney, Ted Doran, said in an interview that the district could now close Boston Avenue at any time. However, the district agreed to let the school operate as it prepares an appeal that will go to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.
"Reasonably speaking, (Boston Avenue has) the potential to drag it out at the most 18 months," Mr. Doran said. "It would most probably be one year."
Micah Jackson, the school's chief operating officer, said Boston Avenue has won earlier legal struggles with the district and it'll continue as a charter school when this round of courthouse wrangling is done.
"I'm encouraged and very ready to enter into the next appeal phase," he said in an interview after the meeting. "The appeal process, I feel will fall into our favor."
School Management Solutions, the corporation administering the charter school at 340 N. Boston Ave., opened for the 2008-2009 school year after legal combat. In a previous incarnation, as Academy of Excellence, the corporation was denied by the board to open a charter school at the Boston Avenue campus. The company appealed the rejection to the state, which overturned the board's decision.
Since then the district and school have been locked in dispute. Last March, the school board voted not to renew the school's contract, which ended on June 30. While it wasn't a vote to close the school, that was the effect. Boston Avenue went to court and lost in December.
For the 2011-2012 school year, the state Department of Education gave Fs to only two Volusia schools: Boston Avenue and Burns Science and Technology School in Oak Hill. The grades were mostly due to poor performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That was Boston Avenue's second F. It got a D in 2010.
Mr. Jackson said the three years of poor FCAT showings was due to Boston Avenue receiving students who were performing poorly in area public schools and not having enough time to bring them up to grade level in FCAT tested subjects, such as reading. Also, he said the school uses innovative approaches to instruction that help individual students learn, but not in ways measured by standardized tests. The school's small size also magnifies a small group of students performing poorly on the FCAT.
"The largest reason is the size of the school," he said. "One student off that day drastically affects our score. For us, one student in a grade can be 10 percent (of the overall grade). The county, obviously, doesn't care."
The school has lost students since last school year. Saralee Morrisey, the district's planning director, said Boston Avenue had 228 students during this school year's annual 20-day count, down 22 percent from 295 the previous year. Some of the loss can be attributed to overall student decline in Volusia. This year's countywide 20-day count was 61,124 students, 512 fewer than last school year. The largest losses were among elementary schools, such as Boston Avenue.
The district's 10 charter schools, hybrid private schools that operate with funding from the district, have nearly 2,000 students among them.
DeLand parents Heather Pace and David Lavigne had two children attend Boston Avenue, up to the last school year. One went onto DeLand Middle School, and the other returned to a public elementary school. They said their children had mixed results at the charter school.
"My son did great, honestly," Ms. Pace said. "My son, he's a quick learner. I know some other kids who went there who aren't really on top of things. You have to find ways to teach them, and they had a little more problems there -- especially with the FCAT. (Boston Avenue) didn't have as many programs for the kids that were behind."
Mr. Lavigne said his son seemed to be making some progress at Boston Avenue, but was still having some academic problems.
"His report card grades were very good at B, A, but his FCAT (scores) weren't," he said.
Mr. Doran said former Boston Avenue teachers testified to Judge Early that they were forbidden to give students grades less than Cs. He said that gave parents an artificial sense their students were doing well at the school.
School Management Solutions did run Heritage Academy, a charter school in Bunnell. It, too, was getting Fs from the state. The Flagler County School Board voted to close that 180-student school last year. Nichole Richards, who was principal at Heritage, was transferred to run Boston Avenue.