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Charter School Facing Closure Gets More Time To Make Case

Scholar Preparatory Academy

An administrative judge has postponed the final hearing to determine the fate of Scholar Preparatory Academy. The hearing to appeal district plans to close the charter had been scheduled for last November 25. It has been rescheduled for Dec. 17.

The Duval County School Board voted to put Scholar Preparatory on a 90-day termination notice in September after it failed to meet minimum student enrollment requirements. The charter school appealed later that month.

Under its initial contract with the district, the school was required to have at least 130 students to stay open, but that was revised to 112 students and later 96 students. According to the district, the school currently has 66 students.

District officials also contended in their termination notice that issues surfaced concerning the school’s financial management and employee background screenings.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and school board members have said the multiple issues raise serious questions about the ability of the school to sustain itself. But a legal representative for the school said it deserves the chance to try.

“This school deserves to have an opportunity to serve the children that it’s attracted,” said Christopher Norwood, with the Governance Institute for School Accountability. “To close the school before it has that opportunity to serve students is wrong, and we will defend the school’s ability to operate under this termination [notice].”

Norwood was hired last week to represent the school. Monday he filed an amended petition for the hearing, arguing that the issues raised by the board in the termination notice did not account for student achievement, which Florida statute states should be "the most important factor when determining whether to renew or terminate the charter."

But, earlier in the school year, some school board members expressed concern that the school’s failure to meet district requirements before opening could signal problems for students later on.

Scholar Preparatory parent and governing board facilitator Sharitta Holder sees it differently. She said at the school, which focuses on a specialized approach to learning known as the Core Knowledge Sequence, her son is offered one-on-one attention that she can’t find in traditional public schools.

Holder recently moved with her son to the district from Indiana.

“There’s twelve kids in my son’s first-grade class which I love that...It wouldn’t want him in a class with 30 or more,” she said. “And that falls in line with the 15 or more that he had in his classroom last year.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Christopher Norwood as an attorney. Norwood is not an attorney but can serve as a legal representative in Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.