Gwinnett County’s school board recently granted two charter school renewals, a five-year extension for New Life Academy of Excellence and an additional year for North Metro Academy of Performing Arts.
The contracts for both schools were set to expire on June 30, 2019.
At a board work session, Associate Superintendent Steve Flynt presented a recommendation from the school district’s Charter School Review Committee for a three-year renewal for North Metro Academy. The Norcross-based school originally chartered in June 2014 serves 262 students from kindergarten through fifth grade with a curriculum that integrates performing arts. But in three years of scores on the state’s College and Career Ready Performance Index, a report card on public schools, it is well below state and district averages.
In the 2016-2017 school year, the most recent scores available, North Metro Academy scored 67.9 while the statewide average was 75 and the Gwinnett County average was 82.4.
Although Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said there are signs of improvement, the board rejected the committee recommendation.
“They’re on the right track and their scores are on an upwards trajectory,” Wilbanks said. “They have a long way to go, but can hit the state standard.”
Other issues plaguing the school are its financial plan, organizational structure and leadership, said Flynt. In its four years, the school has had three principals. The recommendation of three years was to give the new leadership an opportunity to establish financial stability.
“At any time, we can come back to make recommendations based on areas where they aren’t achieving,” said Flynt. He said the principal and board are eager to improve.
“They been very collaborative and don’t hesitate to ask for help,” added Flynt.
The board agreed to the recommendation for the maximum renewal period for New Life Academy. Its current principal was one of its founders and has been with the school the entire 12 years. It serves 564 K-8 students and projects an enrollment of 720 by 2024. The school’s charter was officially granted by the school board in 2006 and was renewed in 2009 and 2012.
The Duluth school is not a language-immersive program, but every student takes Mandarin.
Although its CCRPI scores faltered in the 2014-2015 school year, it has been above state averages all other years and close to or above district averages all other years.
That was a year that the state’s new Milestones standardized test was released, said Flynt.
“This is the essence of what a charter school can be,” said board member Mary Kay Murphy.