The Newton County Board of Education won't vote on the requested renewal for Challenge Charter Academy until Oct. 16, but parents, teachers and students let their voices be heard at a called meeting Tuesday. And their common plea is for the board to renew their contract and let CCA continue.
CCA is in its fifth year in Newton County. Identified as a start-up charter, meaning the school did not exist prior to becoming a charter, their contract is up for renewal every five years. And although the Newton County BOE does not govern the charter school, which has its own board of directors, they do have to authorize the continuance of the school. Test scores from CCA are also counted in with Newton County's scores as a whole.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews explained to the board that there are several ways to terminate a charter, including a majority vote by parents and guardians of enrolled students or a majority vote by faculty and instructional staff; the state may find that the school has failed to adhere to the terms of its charter, or the local BOE may vote to not renew.
In its original petition from Oct. 17, 2007, CCA stated they would have "significant support from Project Adventure, a national non-profit with a large youth service program in Covington." However Project Adventure closed roughly two years ago, and according to CCA's Charter Response to Questions, stopped providing "program services related to adventure education after Year 2 due to the funding cycle of the U.S. Department of Labor grant."
A large concern by board members is hard data: how do students at CCA do academically, compared to those at other schools in the county, and are the numbers increasing at CCA annually. Additionally, there is not data available for the first two years, since Project Adventure was involved and CCA students had test data recording with them.
Compared to Newton County students in 2012, CCA students failed to meet the local standard in eighth grade writing, sixth, seventh and eighth grade CRCTs, the Georgia High School Writing Test, and end-of-course tests. There were too few students at CCA to compare with graduation test results. In both 2012 and 2011, CCA students failed to meet the county standard in every test given, with the exception of sixth grade English/language arts CRCTs in 2010, when CCA students scored 94 to NCSS' 90.
District 4 representative Almond Turner said he found it difficult to determine the success of CCA if they were unable to track the students once they were back in the regular school system - for those that decide to go back. CCA Principal Ernetta Dailey-Worthy admitted that while answering the board's submitted questions regarding CCA, it gave light to things they need to work on going forward, including keeping more data on students. Turner's question about the students who typically choose CCA was met with anger and frustration by many parents in attendance, who said that the assumption by many that CCA is for "bad kids" or those with "deficiencies" was something they were working hard to fight against.
Dailey-Worthy explained that initially there was not a strong focus on academics and instruction when CCA first began. But that as things progressed she said they saw the need to make it look more like a school and have more of an instructional focus. Now, although some students come there because of poor behavior that gets them booted by Newton County Schools, many students go because of the small size and the opportunity for one-on-one instruction by teachers.
"That was the stated mission in the beginning," Dailey-Worthy said. "The average student may have issues, but it is not the majority of our students as it was in the beginning. That is the reputation we have been fighting against. That is not the mission going forward."
Charles Wilburn, who sits on CCA's board spoke to the BOE, saying the charter school was needed for Newton County, not for the school system, but for the childeen, adding that kids who can't get attention in larger settings can get that at CCA.
"Newton County needs Challenge Charter! And I will appreciate every consideration you do to keep challenge charter and thank you for listening to me," he said.
One student, whose twin attends Newton High School, said that he was on the honor roll last year at CCA - the first time she had ever been on the honor roll in her high school career. She said there were less fights, less bullying and more one-on-one attention available to her at CCA.
A parent spoke up, saying her daughter had improved in her CRCT scores and that she has been on the honor roll since beginning middle school at CCA.
"As a parent I am begging you, please continue to have Challenge Charter Academy in the county," she said.
Another parent addressed the board, saying that his daughter's biggest problem now is that "people tell her that she is going to a second Sharp," he said, referring to the former alternative school.
"You're right," he continued, "There is no funding. But us parents, we're going to do it. If you don't do it, we'll do it... There are good and bad in all. It's what we require of our students. It's what the teachers and administrative staff require of our students... The principal and teachers know every student by name there. That's old school. And I'm old school."
After two hours of discussion and listening to comments, the board adjourned. According to Mathews, they must vote on whether or not to extend CCA's contract on Oct. 16. If the board votes to not extend the contract, there will be a hearing on Oct. 29. By Oct. 30 the board's decision must be related to the Georgia Department of Education and the State Board of Education.