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Challenge Charter renewal granted
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Cheers rose from dozens of Charter Challenge Academy parents, students and teachers after the Newton County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a three-year contract renewal for the local charter school.

After hours of discussion at last week's work session, the board followed Superintendent Gary Mathews' recommendation of approving a three-year contract, instead of signing up for another five-year contract to follow the one first signed in 2008.

Mathews said seeing so many students at Tuesday's meeting proved to him the children loved their school and said three years was a good compromise.

Board member Shakila Henderson-Baker echoed those thoughts and said that she was voting for the renewal because of that dedication, despite the school's poor statistical performance.

Mathews laid out his case for a three-year renewal of the school whose initial charter stated that the school was for students who had dropped out of school, were in need of credit recovery in order to graduate or move forward, and those students considered to be economically disadvantaged. It is now a choice school, and while some students do still fit the initial charter and mission statement, more are there because of a need for more one-on-one teaching, which can be found in the smaller class sizes. The entire enrollment for CCA - which is home to middle and high school grades - is just over 100 students, compared to other local middle and high schools, some of which have thousands.

"Given Charter Challenge Academy's Priority School status in Georgia, the Newton County School System administration has great reservations about extending CCA's contract beyond a three-year period," Mathews said in his recommendation before the meeting. "Indeed, as superintendent, I will not recommend board approval of a new four or five-year contract as there are too many performance issues within both your response to our questions and the actual data related to overall performance. That said, a new contract of three years should provide CCA with sufficient time to substantially improve the current trajectory of results. It is certainly our hope that CCA, as an independent public school, will indeed show considerable improvement thus removing the Priority School status it now holds."

CCA is ending its first five-year period and had requested a renewal of another five years. The BOE submitted several questions to the school, which were answered at a called meeting last Tuesday. One problem, in its original petition from Oct. 17, 2007, CCA stated they would have "significant support from Project Adventure, a national nonprofit 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." Much data that was request by the BOE for the first two years after CCA's opening was kept by Project Adventure, and unavailable.

Parents, students and teachers from CCA attended last week's meeting, all expressing their love for the school and telling board member's about the successes they and their students had experienced having smaller class sizes, less bullying and less fights, according to one eleventh grade student. They also said the school had gone from an alternative to alternative school to a school that was concerned and focused on academics, asking for more time to prove this to not only the board, but to Newton County residents as well, many of whom saw CCA as a school for "bad kids."

In a memorandum by Mathews to the board, he called Project Adventure's abandonment of the CCA "unfortunate," adding, "However, as was made clear at the BOE special called meeting of Oct. 9... CCA's new local board of directors, parents, students and faculty appear poised to make a sincere go at improving student learning outcomes. This is certainly that opportunity."

Now that the board has approved the petition for renewal it will be considered by the State Board of Education since funding of CCA comes from both local and state sources.

Mathews told CCA's principal Ernette Dailey-Worthy that he would be drafting a letter to the state, informing them of the board's recommendation.