Cobb charter school may not close after all

A Cobb County charter school that was slated to close this summer, may get a second life.

The Georgia Board of Education is scheduled Thursday to vote on a 3-year “probationary” charter for the International Academy of Smyrna, and the Department of Education staff are recommending approval.

The charter would be with the State Charter Schools Commission, an independent agency that already approved the charter this week. The state board merely has to ratify it.

In an emotional meeting last month, the Cobb County school board voted to deny renewal of the school's local charter, which expires this summer. The decision, premised on plummeting academic results, would have displaced the roughly 1,000 students there.

The school, whose mission is to develop critical thinkers and “well-rounded world citizens,” underperformed both the district and state averages on the state report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index. It has relatively high poverty, which correlates with lower performance, yet also underperformed most district schools with similar demographics.

Cobb officials dismissed one of the charter school’s main defenses: a claim that Cobb shorted the school $2.1 million over three years. With that money, it would have had a bigger financial cushion and might have paid teachers enough to reduce its problem with turnover, principal Kari Schrock told the Cobb board.

Cobb staff retorted that the school shorted itself by filing inaccurate staffing reports for three years in a row.

The school’s independent board, desperate to keep the doors open, then applied for a charter through the state.

Charter commission staff wrote in response to the petition that the school’s academic track record would not ordinarily warrant a state charter, but in this case there were extenuating circumstances.

The commission staff blamed Cobb.

"For the last three years, the school received an average of $1,853 per pupil less than the average brick-and-mortar state charter school," they wrote. They added that "the school's local authorizer" -- that would be Cobb -- failed to abide by the National Association of Charter School Authorizer's principles by failing to give the school timely reviews and documentation of deficiencies "until well after the time for remediation had passed," leaving the school no chance to show it could address the shortcomings.

Assuming the state board signs off on the charter, the school can remain open at least three years, but will likely have to show it’s gaining ground to get a renewal after that. And it will have to do this without the benefit of local tax dollars from Cobb.

Credit: Ty Tagami

Credit: Ty Tagami