By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
All of Volusia County's eight charter schools, including one the school district is trying to close, as well as two alternative schools operated by contractors, received acceptable ratings this spring, staff reviewers told the school board at a meeting last week.
But every school also had at least a little room for improvement, the reviews show.
Charter schools are public schools operated by private groups under contracts with the school district. Although they receive state funding, they're free from many of the state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Supporters tout them as a way of encouraging innovation in education.
Each year, district staff reviews every charter school's performance in such categories as providing instruction, maintaining facilities, preparing and serving food, handling financial affairs, providing human resources and the use of technology in classrooms.
"The reviews are designed to give and get feedback on what's done right and what's done wrong," said Dr. Alicia Parker, assistant director for program accountability for Volusia County Schools. "The recommendations can be specific or more general."
Mackenzie Booth, manager of the district's charter school office, said there is no set number of visits each charter or contracted school will get.
"We try to go in multiple times," Ms. Booth said. "We think that helps keep the lines of communication open."
Both she and Dr. Parker praised all the schools for being "accommodating" and "welcoming" to district staff, even when visits were unannounced.
After the visits, status ratings are based on the contract each school has with the district and the review findings for each item in a category, which were said to have "met" requirements, "partially met," "not met" or "not applicable," Dr. Parker said.
Reports listed which items the schools were to be commended for, and recommendations for improving their performances in specified areas.
The list of recommendations was especially lengthy for Boston Avenue Charter School in DeLand. While most of the suggestions were in the instructional category, every category had at least one recommendation.
District officials ordered the school to cease operations by June 30 because the school's state-assigned grades were two Fs and a D over the last three years. Administrators with Academies of Excellence, the company that runs Boston Avenue Charter, have gone to court to try to overturn the district's order.
The other charter schools are Burns Science & Technology Charter School in Oak Hill, Easter Seals Charter School in Daytona Beach and DeLand, Ivy Hawn Charter School of the Arts in Lake Helen, Reading Edge Academy in DeBary, Richard Milburn Academy in Daytona Beach and DeLand, Samsula Academy in Samsula, and the Chiles Academy in Daytona Beach.
AMIKids in Daytona Beach and PACE Center for Girls in Ormond Beach are alternative schools run under contracts with providers.
Most of the schools aced their reports, getting overall "met requirements" in all or most of the performance segments, including Easter Seals, Reading Edge, Samsula Academy (a sister school to Reading Edge), The Chiles Academy, AMIKids and PACE Center for Girls. But even those schools had at least a couple of recommendations from the review staff, ranging from better coordination of teaching materials to more staff training to more responsible handling of financial issues.
Not all the schools had representatives at the board meeting, but those who spoke after their school's report were complimentary of the district's reviewing staff.
Jan McGee, principal of Burns SciTech, which opened in 2011, had been credited with making an immediate change of schedule to correct one deficiency.
"It was an open and collaborative effort on our first audit," she said. "We learned a lot and we're growing."
Ivy Hawn Charter School, which was said to have done "exceptionally well in many levels," was another first-year review subject. Principal Dr. Carol Kelley also said Dr. Parker and Ms. Booth were very helpful.
"Our goal is to demand much from our students," Dr. Kelley told board members. ""It's a very exciting adventure, and I appreciate your support."
Lynn Sinnott, president and chief executive at Easter Seals of Volusia/Flagler, also praised the district staff.
"The review was very positive," Ms. Sinnott said. "All the comments were very positive and very constructive."
The School Board took no action, but Chairwoman Diane Smith did make an observation after the nearly 90 minutes of presentations.
"It's so nice to hear about the collaboration that's going on between the charter schools and district staff," she said. "The perception is that the school board is not supportive of charter schools, but charter schools do fit a niche for some students. I know it's a lot of work, but thank you."