The Claiborne County School Board has denied for the second time an application for charter school status, submitted by Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) on behalf of J. Frank White Academy. In its summary, the school district lists points of concern, the chief being that the Academy does not qualify under Tennessee Codes Annotated §49-13-106 (c)(1) because of its current status by the Tennessee Department of Education as a private school.
The Academy, as an existing private school, is not able to convert to public charter school status under state law, according to the denial summary.
The second school board concern has to do with transportation needs for all prospective students.
According to the summary, LMU has apparently concluded that the proposed charter school mission statement is achievable with or without transportation.
“Lincoln Memorial University believes parents/guardians in Claiborne County want to provide their children and loved ones with high-quality educational opportunities that match their interests and passions. We believe parents/guardians, with or without transportation, with students zoned to Claiborne County Schools will make the necessary effort to transport their children to a public, K-12 charter school, if our STEAM focused curriculum matches their individual interests,” reads LMU’s response to the concern.
The summary states that substantiation of this belief by LMU must be researched via data analysis and presented to the district review team for consideration. A formal countywide survey of all parents would be feasible, appropriate and necessary to make an accurate determination. That determination can be formed if all parents in the district have an opportunity to voice their concerns and offer input, the summary states.
The third concern deals with an apparent lack of documentation by LMU that would prove the charter school founding team followed all directives on a checklist provided by the Tennessee Department of Education.
Included in that long list are directives that require at least some of the founding team to attend at least two charter school conferences or workshops prior to submitting the charter application. Other directives require all founding team members to receive training in accountability, assessment planning and governance.
During its June meeting, the school board gave the Academy a preliminary ‘thumbs down’ on its first go-round for charter school status.
At that time, Director of Schools Connie Holdway said granting the application would create “a profound fiscal impact” on the school system and would not be in the best interest of the students, district and community.
During last week’s meeting, Holdway reiterated the financial ‘slam’ the county would endure if the Academy was granted charter status.
“The financial obligation of (the Academy) going from 85 students to 350 students would be astronomical,” said Holdway.
Board member Sam Owens agreed with the director’s assessment.
“It would create a $5 million impact to the school,” said Owens.
The initial application was denied by the school board in June, citing three ‘legal’ reasons for doing so. The first reason is the proximity to the Academy of H.Y. Livesay, one of three state-designated rewards schools.
The fact that the Tennessee Department of Education has never identified a school within the Claiborne school district as a priority school, or one that is earmarked for special attention due to its low scores, was attributed as the second reason.
Academic scoring was listed as the third reason for denying the application.
“Claiborne County students have scored higher in grades three through eight reading and math assessments than bordering Tennessee counties for the past four years according to state and SCORE reports. The Claiborne County School District has established a strong academic foundation and is expected to continue in an upward trajectory,” reads a portion of the initial denial summary.
The battle over this issue is likely to continue for an indeterminate length of time, as LMU and the school system goes through additional reviews and appeals.
Final determination of this matter is in the hands of the Tennessee Board of Education.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.