The Journal Gazette
Sunday, April 24, 2022 1:00 am


Unwanted charter school wisely gives up

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

CORRECTION (4-25-22): Due to an editorial writer's errors, there were several inaccuracies in our April 24 editorial. Fort Wayne Preparatory Academy's application has been pulled; however, the Indiana Charter School Board is still scheduled to meet on April 28 in Indianapolis. Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy is closed as its charter was revoked on Dec. 11, 2018. The story should have noted that the West Central-based Smith Academy for Excellence opened in the fall of 2012 and operates within the Fort Wayne Community Schools area. In using data from another news source, a graduation rate percentage was incorrectly attributed to Accel.

The Indiana Charter School Board was scheduled to finish what it started last week and vote whether to green light the application for a new Fort Wayne charter school at a meeting Thursday in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis meeting was canceled on Friday, when the application for the academy was “voluntarily withdrawn by applicant.”

As organizer of the proposed Fort Wayne Preparatory Academy, state law required the board to hold a public hearing in the community before it could decide the school's fate. That meeting was Monday at the Allen County Public Library's main branch, where the planned charter encountered heavy resistance.

The academy had sought to open in the 2023-24 academic year with 150 elementary students. Leaders wanted to expand to middle grades, eventually serving 400 students, according to the 268-page application. The academy expected to draw students from FWCS, and its application said it planned to open in “the southwestern area of Fort Wayne.” But it identified “one current target” on the city's southeast side – the former Zion Lutheran Academy building at 2313 S. Hanna St.

About 25 people – including Fort Wayne Community Schools board members and Superintendent Mark Daniel – urged the state's charter school board to reject the application. Opponents questioned the academy's proposed budget and staffing plans. They pointed out two of the academy's three board members live in the Southwest Allen County Schools district and not FWCS, and they criticized the record of the education service provider, Accel Schools.

Allen County already has two charter schools – Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy in the FWCS district and Timothy L. Johnson Academy in the East Allen County Schools district. A third charter would strain already limited resources, and not just funding, said Daniel of FWCS.

“We have teacher shortages,” he said Monday. “Where are these teachers going to come from?”

According to an annual survey by Indiana State University's Bayh College of Education, 96.5% of polled Hoosier school districts reported teacher shortages, the Terre Haute Tribune-Star reported in October. The 2021-22 survey had 199 participating school districts, including some charter schools.

Speakers at Monday's public hearing questioned the academy's staffing, including one person who said $70,000 isn't enough to attract a high-performing principal. FWCS teacher Eileen Doherty said the academy's application lacked allocations for positions such as school nurse, school counselor or a therapist. “Our kids need school counselors,” she said. “That is a definite.”

Indeed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019” highlighted a concerning drift in the mental health of U.S. high school students. More than 1 in 3 had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40% increase since 2009, and about 1 in 6 reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% spike since 10 years ago.

“With no nurse, no counselor, no case manager, no transportation, no librarian, this is a bare bones money making operation disguised as a school,” said Julie Hollingsworth, a FWCS board member and retired teacher.

The academy's education service provider, Accel Schools, has drawn the attention of Carol Burris, a former award-winning New York school principal and executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit group that opposes charter schools. In a story she wrote for The Washington Post in January, Burris said Accel is an American-based charter school company with ties to Pansophic Learning, a joint venture between for-profit charter chain Stride and Safanad Limited, a Dubai investment company.

Accel now manages 73 charter schools in Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Washington. The service provider has compounded the revenue of Stride by 80%, Burris said. But Accel schools' total graduation rate is 56.3%, she reported, a far cry from the 88.9% graduation rate for FWCS.

The Fort Wayne community told the Indiana Charter School Board it didn't want or need yet another charter school. Residents should be heartened that their wishes were heard.

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