Charter expansion details in progress
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
January 24, 2013 12:00 AM | 2482 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Regarding Cherokee Charter Academy’s high school expansion, recently approved by the Georgia Department of Education, the school’s Local Governing Council continued to keep mum on plans at its meeting Wednesday.

However, Cherokee County Board of Education member Kelly Marlow spoke out during public forum to once again rally the troops for school support following the charter’s re-approval.

Chairwoman Heather Blevins said there was a lot of “screaming from the rooftops” when the school received its five-year renewal as a state special charter school at the state boarding meeting last week.

“There was a lot of work that was done to get that where it needed to be and we’re grateful we are also adding nine through 12 (grades),” Blevins said. “We’ll start with ninth grade with our current eight-graders.”

Blevins said she knows people in the community have a lot of questions and the board will be providing information as it is available.

According to the petition filed with the state, the school received approval to add additional square footage for the high school — whether that is an addition to the school’s building on Sixes Road or another facility has yet to be announced.

“Just know that we are working on it and we are very excited,” Blevins said.

Marlow, who was sworn in as the BOE’s Post 1 board member at its Jan. 17 meeting, said she was addressing the board as a parent and not in any other capacity. Marlow’s 10-year-old twins attend Cherokee Charter Academy.

“I want to congratulate (Principal) Vanessa (Suarez), your staff, all the parents and I want to congratulate the Local Governing Council and the Georgia Charter Education Foundation for the charter renewal,” Marlow said. “That is way beyond our wildest dreams and a fantastic victory for the children of this community and for Coweta (Charter School.)”

Marlow said she has spent some time in the early days of the legislative session at the Capitol meeting with education reform groups.

“There’s a lot coming down again this legislative session in terms of school choice,” Marlow said. “Even though we have a charter renewal and we’re going to be taking the school beyond anything we ever dreamed of, it is important, I believe, that we all still stay engaged with our Cherokee legislative delegation, with the school choice folks down under the Gold Dome (and) especially with the people that are going to continue to fight for more education reform.”

Marlow suggested the LGC members, parents and staff work to step up advocacy efforts and continue to fight for “all of the end reform we would like to see” and communicate those efforts through school newsletters.

“We can take a breath now, but we cannot stop,” she said.

Marlow provided LGC members copy of Senate Education and Youth Committee members’ names and contact information.

In addition to Blevins and Suarez, Danny Dukes and CSUSA Director of Development Sandy Castro were present. Calling in via teleconference was Byron Greene.

New members Dudley Wass, a Canton resident, and Jonathan Pfohl, a Towne Lake resident, were also in attendance.

Larry Blase and Vince Baker were absent. Blevins told the board Baker recently received a promotion and requested to step off the board. She said she hopes to bring candidate recommendations to next month’s meeting and requested other members provide nominations.

Another public forum participant, Barbara Knowles, said she wants the school to address bullying issues at the school.

Knowles, a parent of a CCA student, said she supports the school but she’s hearing “constant” rumors and wants the school to provide greater emphasis on bullying policies.

“I am greatly concerned about a number of bullying issues I am hearing from a number of parents all through elementary into junior high,” Knowles said.

In school reports, enrollment for December totaled 1,008, which tops the school’s budgeted enrollment of 995 students with 99 percent in attendance. In December, nine students withdrew and there was a total of 24 suspensions, with 13 in-school and 11 out-of-school.

So far, 875 students have recommitted to attending the school next fall and 212 students are on the waitlist.

The board also reviewed parent and teacher surveys, both taken in the fall of 2012.

Parent surveys showed satisfaction increased in almost every category except for the student information service/technology and transportation results.

Suarez said the drop in technology satisfaction could be due to a change in programs over the last year.

Compared to other Charter Schools USA schools, Cherokee Charter has the lowest food service satisfaction at 56.4 percent, compared to 76.2 percent. All CSUSA schools use the same food vendor, Preferred Meal Systems, which follows all federal guidelines pertaining to school meals.

Blevins said she plans to lead a food service committee to include Suarez and parents to address the issue to improve food service satisfaction.

Results showed 51 out of 80 employees took the anonymous staff survey, with each showing an increased satisfaction in all areas asked.

Suarez also presented second benchmark data for reading, math, language, general science, science concepts and practice.

“I look at the chart and conclude our averages are pretty low,” Suarez said, but added individual data showed student performance was improving.

She noted a slight drop in all scores from the first benchmark to the second, except for eighth grade, which saw a 9.4 percent performance increase in reading. The biggest drops were seen in fourth- and fifth-grade reading of 11.3 and 13.5 percent respectively and first- and fifth-grade math, down 13.8 and 17.7 percent.

Suarez said since August, the school has been focusing on math and writing.

“We fully expect our math scores to go up this year,” Suarez said.

Wass asked how this compared to CCSD schools, and Suarez said 75 percent of students are on par or exceeding for CRCTs overall.

“Where we have work to do is math,” she said. “We’re not where the district is and part of our contract is that our scores are either matching or exceeding the district, depending on what it is.”

Blevins said benchmarks from the district are not available but CRCT information is an “apples to apples” comparison between CCA and district schools.

Financials for November were also presented, with CSUSA financial analyst Hillary Daigle forecasting the school will finish off the year with approximately $80,000 more than budgeted.

“We still have six months to go but it’s looking like the school is doing well,” Daigle said.

Dukes, who also serves as Chief Financial Officer for Georgia Charter Educational Foundation, said he will work with CSUSA’s financial department to begin doing a cash flow analysis per a recommendation by the state Department of Education during the charter renewal process.

“This a modified accrual basis, what we currently have, and we need to determine where the cashflows are,” Dukes said.

He also said he wants to consider a bank other than Wells Fargo that is not fee-based to handle CCA’s funds and will bring a recommendation to the next meeting.

Georgia Charter Educational Foundation will hold its meeting, which will not be accessible via teleconference, at 10 a.m. at McGuire-Woods Promenade, located at 1230 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 2100. The next LGC meeting will be held Feb. 27.

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January 25, 2013
Benchmark tests are down 11-17%, 24 students suspended in a 15 day period and a cash flow issue, sounds great!

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