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EACS hears plea to sponsor charter school

At the request of Timothy L. Johnson Academy parents and officials, the East Allen County Schools board will discuss authorizing the charter school.

Johnson Academy is searching for a new sponsor after Ball State University announced recently not to renew the school’s charter, citing low test scores and insufficient improvement. State law allows traditional public school boards to sponsor charters.

“We would be thrilled and thankful if you would consider sponsoring Timothy L. Johnson in the fall,” Ebonee Pilot, parent of a sixth-grader at Johnson, said Tuesday during a school board meeting.

Pilot’s remarks received a standing ovation from fellow parents and supporters of the school who filled the district’s boardroom.

The discussion lasted well into the evening, with much of it focused on authorizing the charter school and the district’s performance in the area of now-closed Harding High School.

As state sanctions loomed over the school because of low test scores, the board voted in 2010 to close the school, which now houses Harding Junior-High School and East Allen University, the district’s college and career magnet program.

Board President Neil Reynolds asked board member Stephen Terry when the school would need a decision. Terry, who is also an administrator at Johnson Academy, said it would be by the beginning of April.

Board member Terry Jo Lightfoot appeared upset that at least one board member had already met with Johnson Academy officials.

“I don’t believe there’s a lot of transparency about this,” she said.

Reynolds said he was approached by Johnson Academy board President Mike Nickleson about discussing the option.

Board member Chris Baker said he attended a meeting at Johnson Academy to hear from officials about the option.

“There was no promises, no nothing,” Baker said.

Both Baker and board member Bob Nelson said the district had failed students in the Harding area and the board owed it to the community to consider authorizing the school, which is in EACS’ former Village Elementary School.

Lightfoot was the only member against considering the move, saying looking into authorizing the charter would take time away from other important work.

“We need to concentrate on the kids we have,” she said.

Board member Bill Hartman said he didn’t think the district should get into the “business of sponsoring charters” but wasn’t opposed to further discussion.

He said Reynolds assured him there was no decision during meetings with Johnson Academy officials. He brought up the issue of Terry as a member of the EACS board and an administrator at the school.

“Anyone with common sense would know that’s a conflict of interest,” Hartman said. “Steve should disqualify himself from a vote.”

Terry said the district is the Johnson Academy’s first choice as a new sponsor. The school’s board has also approved appealing Ball State’s decision.

He said the charter has its challenges but has made improvements.

“The best thing we could do is to say to the community, we care about your needs, … and we’d love to partner with you,” he said.