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One Akron charter school will close for poor grades, another one is at risk

By admin Published: August 28, 2011

The state has ordered one of Akron's oldest charter schools to close by June 30 because of poor academic performance.

Lighthouse Academy in the Wooster-Hawkins area of West Akron is one of three Ohio charter schools ordered to close at the end of the school year based on the latest state report cards.

Marcus Garvey Academy and Elite Academy of the Arts, two Cleveland charters sponsored by Ashe Culture Center, also have been ordered to close.

Fifteen other charter schools, including Romig Road Community School in Akron, are on notice that they could be closed if their report cards don't improve next year.

Romig Road Community School is one of the largest charter elementary schools in the state. It's operated by Virginia-based Imagine Schools, one of the largest for-profit charter school management companies in America.

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately owned schools that must have state-authorized sponsors to operate in Ohio.

A 2006 Ohio law that was amended in the latest budget spells out the criteria for closing charter schools that consistently receive the state's lowest rating and fail to meet ''value-added'' expectations for academic improvement when applicable.

Lighthouse Academy, for example, did not meet the value-added requirement last year and was in Academic Emergency this year and last.

Charter schools where 51 percent or more of the students are on special education plans (for example, Akron-based Summit Academies) are exempt from the law. Charter high schools with ''dropout recovery programs'' (for example, Akron-based White Hat Management's Life Skills Centers) also are exempt from academic closings.

Lighthouse made some progress on test scores this year, but it was not enough to get a higher rating.

''There has been growth with the children, but it just hasn't been enough,'' said Marianne Cooper, executive director of the school's state-authorized sponsor, the Richland Academy of the Arts in Mansfield.

The school's enrollment has fallen from as high as 106 to 86 last year. This year's enrollment is in the 70s.

Parents will get a letter in the mail informing them of the closing so they can transfer their children if they want, but the school year will proceed on schedule and money will be set aside to make sure the school meets its obligations.

When the school officially closes on June 30, its equipment and other capital assets will be sold to pay any remaining debts.

A little history

The Lighthouse Community and Professional Development Academy, as it is still referred to officially at the state, was Akron's seventh charter school, opening in 2000.

Lighthouse began as a K-3 charter school in the Advanced Elastomer Systems building on South Main Street.

Jane Bechtel, the school's developer, said the charter school should be a research and development arm for local public schools, and hoped to share techniques with other public schoolteachers.

By 2005, Lighthouse was still in the AES building and had a second school at the Wooster-Hawkins location on Frederick Boulevard.

However, the school's state-authorized sponsor, Lucas County Educational Service Center, dropped both Lighthouse schools in 2006, citing problems with backdating of documents, late payroll and being in Academic Emergency.

Lighthouse found new life that year with a new sponsor, Richland Academy of the Arts.

Cooper said that Richland took over only the school on Frederick Boulevard. She said she has never met the school's founder.

Richland also sponsored another Lucas County Educational Service Center castoff, the Ida B. Wells Academy. That school, an African-American themed charter school, also was in Academic Emergency and had a $383,932 deficit, according to the former sponsor.

Closing schools

Ida B. Wells' board unanimously voted to close the school in November 2007 because it was having trouble making payroll and paying vendors. Cooper attended the meeting and said she was prepared to suspend Ida B. Wells' charter if the board did not close the school.

In 2008, the state ordered the Toledo Academy of Learning, another of the original five charter schools sponsored by Richland, to close for poor academic performance by the end of the school year.

''Lighthouse was one of the original five charters we were given when we became a sponsor,'' Cooper said. ''We have closed four of those five and now the fifth is closing.'' Richland now sponsors 14 schools, including Lighthouse.

In March, 2010, the Lighthouse board fired Principal Edward Savoy.

''Angela Brown, who came on board a year ago March, has done a terrific job,'' Cooper said. ''They tried very hard to make the necessary academic changes that needed to happen to let that school become successful.''

This year's report card showed some improvement over last year, but it was not enough.

Romig Road facility

Meanwhile, Romig Road Community School is starting its fifth year in a former Apple's Grocery Store across from Rolling Acres Mall and has 525 students.

It has been in Academic Emergency every year and is on the state's ''at risk'' list.

However, the school's performance index score, which accounts for all levels of achievement, improved from 57.3 to 65.1 out of a possible 120. The biggest improvements were in third-grade math and reading, though the scores still fall far short of the standard for proficiency.

The new principal, Christopher Haynes, said the school barely missed meeting its federal requirements for establishing ''adequate yearly progress'' in reading and math. Schools that meet those goals are automatically elevated to ''continuous improvement,'' a rating he hopes to reach next year.

''We're not changing much, just tweaking,'' Haynes said.

To avoid closing, Romig Road will have to demonstrate a year's expected progress in a year's time, a measure known as ''value added,'' which it met this year.

The state has made it harder to both exceed this standard and fall short of it this year for all schools.

Last year, for example, 48 of 181 charter schools failed to meet a year's expected growth in a year's time and 53 met the standard. This year, just 30 out of 196 fell short and 124 met the standard.

Charter school proponents have often asked why district schools can't be closed for poor academic performance.

Starting next year, however, the state will rank district schools. Those in the bottom 5 percent for three consecutive years would be subject to closing or radical restructuring that could include reopening as a charter school.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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