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State Board of Education votes to close Charlotte Learning Academy

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SBE board member James Ford greets Charlotte Learning Academy parents, teachers and students during Thursday’s board meeting.

Citing a pattern of low performance, the State Board of Education on Thursday voted to close Charlotte Learning Academy, one of 32 schools across the state whose charters were up for renewal this month.

Leaders of Charlotte Learning Academy (CLA) attending the State Board of Education’s (SBE) monthly business meeting expressed disappointment at the decision.

A member of the school’s Board of Directors was not sure Thursday whether school officials would appeal.

“We need to get together with the board [the school’s Board of Directors], then we’ll evaluate the next steps,” said Andre Rose, a member of the CLA board. “Certainly, it’s something that’s available to us. We need to consider everything that goes into it and who we would be appealing to.”

Rose said his immediate concern is CLA students who will be displaced if the school is forced to close.

The school serves 260 mostly at-risk, economically disadvantaged students in grades 6-12 who find it difficult to succeed in a traditional school setting

“The reason the school was formed was to create an educational environment, and I would even say a family, for some of these students who feel like they needed that to be successful,” Rose said.

Rose was joined at Thursday’s meeting by his wife, CLA Principal Stacey Rose and nearly two dozen parents, teachers and students. One student sobbed uncontrollably after the SBE made its decision.

CLA leaders had requested a three-year charter renewal.

“We asked for time to pull it together,” Stacey Rose told Policy Watch on Wednesday.

School board member James Ford, a Charlotte resident, was the lone SBE member to vote in favor of renewing the CLA charter.

Ford offered an unsuccessful substitute motion that would have delayed the vote until next month following an Office of Charter School visit. He hoped such a visit would provide a clearer picture of what’s happening inside the school beyond the achievement data.

Ford said he was particularly interested in the gap between CLA’s graduation rate and students’ achievement and growth profiles.

CLA Principal Stacey Rose (Left), and husband Andre Rose (Right), a member of the school’s Board of Directors, await the SBE decision during Thursday’s board meeting.

Despite its academic struggles, Charlotte Learning Academy [CLA] has a 73 percent, four-year graduation rate and a 93.5 percent, five-year graduation rate, which is slightly higher than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“I feel like there’s a deficiency of information to make a conclusive decision on closing the school,” White said.

CLA leaders boast that many of their graduates attend college where they persist and are successful.

The CSAB made a strong case against renewing CLA’s charter during last month SBE meeting.

Charter school officials noted that only 17.9 percent of the school’s 260 students were proficient on state tests last year, the school has been rated an “F” school five consecutive years and students only met expected growth once in five years.

SBE member Amy White, who co-chairs the board’s Education Innovation & Charter Schools Committee, said the board could not overlook the school’s pattern of low performance.

“We have to hold our charter schools accountable because they have applied to be different,” White said. “We allow them to do that because they say they will be different than our traditional schools. I’m disappointed they were not able to make it work.”

White said she believes “good things” happened to students at CLA, but the school didn’t live up to the expectations of the SBE or the Charter School Advisory Board.

The board discussed whether CLA could have been considered for what is essentially a charter for alternative schools, a designation that would allow the school to remain open under a different accountability a model.

Steven Walker, vice chairman of Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), said Wednesday that CLA would not have qualified for alternative school status.

To qualify as alternative school for the purpose of accountability, Dave Machado, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, told the SBE that a school must include grades 9-12 and have 75 percent of students at-risk of academic failure to qualify.

The school must also enroll students who are either involved in the judicial system, served by a treatment facility, serving long-term suspension, high school dropouts or are at risk of dropping out, Machado said.

The state currently has four charters that are considered alternative schools. They are Commonwealth High School, Stewart Creek High School and Central Wake High School, which are all dropout prevention schools and Thomas Academy, a residential school.

Walker sent a shock wave through the SBE meeting Wednesday when he awkwardly compared videos from former students talking about their experiences at CLA to a marketing strategy that could make a “dirt sandwich” look good.

The students sent the video to SBE members in an attempt to sway their decision about whether to close the school.

“I’m not trying to compare the school to a dirt sandwich or anything like that but what I’m saying is that if you market something you can make it look real good,” Walker said.

CLA leaders left Wednesday’s SBE meeting visibly shaken and “seeing red” after Walker’s comment.

Ford addressed Walker’s comment at Thursday’s meeting.

“We need to give careful consideration to the words that we use and make sure we don’t dehumanize folks or diminish their work,” Ford said. “The reference to dirt sandwiches yesterday [Wednesday] was belittling to the students.”

Here is the video of former students sharing their experiences at CLA: