Duval School Board Considers Denying Six New Charters; Mulls Over Charter Improvement Plans

Oct 23, 2014

The Duval County Public School Board may put the brakes on at least half a dozen charter schools proposed for next year.

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recommended that the board reject six out of the eight school applications submitted this month.

The eight schools—New World Academy of Duval County; KIPP Jacksonville K-8; Southwood High School; Arts Academy of Jacksonville Preparatory School; Eartha White Service Learning Academy; River City Science Academy at Mandarin; BridgePrep Academy Duval; and Stephen Biko Charter High School—will go before the Duval County School Board for approval in November.

Vitti told board members that out of the eight, there were only two met requirements. Those two were KIPP Academy K-8, which is managed by KIPP Jacksonville Inc., and River City Science Academy in Mandarin, managed by River City Education Services Inc.

“We reviewed each charter school based on its individual merit and then used the rubric to determine whether it passed or not,” Vitti said.

That charter school rubric entails 19 different standards divided into three major areas of organization, finance and academics. In order for an application to be recommended by the district, it must partially or completely fulfill each standard, including a solid budget plan and strong reading curriculum.

Six out of the eight schools did not, with one proposed charter school—the Eartha White Service Learning Academy Inc.—failing satisfy any of the standards.

“This year, I don’t think we had strong applications,” Vitti said.  

Vitti noted that the six schools in question also failed to mention in their applications how they planned to comply with the state’s new rigorous set of standards, which are based on the Common Core. Students across the state will be tested on the new higher level benchmarks this Spring when the new Florida Standards Assessment is administered.

“It gives me great pause and concern to approve a charter school application that doesn’t even mention the new standards,” Vitti told board members Tuesday.

According to district documents, applications for KIPP Academy K-8 and River City Science Academy at Mandarin partially or fully met all applicable standards for approval.

KIPP Jacksonville Inc., which currently operates two other charter schools in the district, seeks to open to 50 kindergarteners next year and expand to 750 kindergarten through fourth grade students by its fifth year. River City Education Services Inc.,  which operates three other charter schools in the district, is applying to open a fourth site in Mandarin to 500 kindergarten through seventh graders next year. The school plans to add an eighth grade and expand to 850 students by its fifth year.

KIPP Impact Middle School received a B from the state this year, while River City Academy and River City Academy Elementary both received an A this year.  The Florida Department of Education did not post scores for KIPP and River City’s other schools.

Vague Plans

Vitti’s recommendations  for the proposed charter schools followed a few scathing remarks from board members about the School Improvement Plans of eight already-established charters.

Charter schools that receive a D or F grade are required by the state to develop and implement a School Improvement Plan containing information such as the school’s most recent three years of data, student achievement objectives and a detailed plan for addressing performance issues.  

Low-scoring traditional public schools are also required to develop a comprehensive School Improvement Plan using a state template.

Tuesday, Board Chairwoman Becki Couch criticized the lack of information included in many of the charter school improvement plans.

“I don’t know how I can approve something like this knowing that it is just inadequate,” she said.

She pointed out San Jose Academy and San Jose Preparatory High School, for example, included an academic objective of increasing scores in reading, writing, math and science but very little detail on how the school planned to execute it. The plan also lacked a timeline for most of their listed goals.

“San Jose Prep, ‘Wow’ is all I can say about their two plans,” Couch said. “There doesn’t seem to be a plan in place for corrective action.”

Phone calls made to San Jose principal Mary Webster were not immediately returned.

Charter school have their own governing boards which can determine the details of their improvement plan, district officials said. However, a charter school’s performance reflects on the district’s overall achievement and graduation rates.

“In the end, they’re considered public schools,” Couch said. “They are included in our school averages.”

According to the Duval County School District attorney Karen Chastain, before rejecting a School Improvement Plan, the board must first provide charter schools with feedback and inform them of what interventions they can use to comply.

Vitti recommended sending feedback to each charter school and inviting charter school heads to meet with the school board to address concerns.

“It gives us insight into what schools are doing to improve…and it’s all part of a body of evidence that we need to look at to make a determination if we would then recommend closure,” he said.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.