May 31, Atlanta: The State Charter Schools Commission hears from Georgia Connections Academy, an online charter school, during annual performance reviews.
Photo: Ty Tagami/AJC
Photo: Ty Tagami/AJC

Georgia charter schools queried on low performances

Several of the state’s low-performing charter schools met with their authorizer, the State Charter Schools Commission, Wednesday to explain what they’re doing wrong and how they can improve.

A half dozen schools were scheduled for performance reviews with the commission, which granted the charters and can take them away.

Trump's education secretary's plans for reforming U.S. education revolve around charter schools and vouchers.

Charter schools operate independently with public funding and must meet academic and other performance benchmarks to maintain their charters. State charter schools differ from locally-authorized charter schools in that they do not get local tax dollars.

Among those presenting was Fulton Leadership Academy, whose leaders said the school was focusing on literacy and the use of testing data to improve scores. The Academy cut its teaching budget by eliminating paraprofessionals, who, school leaders explained, didn’t seem to be helping to boost the scores.

The school earned a “D” from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement [GOSA] in 2016, down from a “C” in 2015.

Georgia Connections Academy, a statewide online school with about 3,800 students, said technology problems had limited use of student testing data to diagnose student needs. That led state commission member Tony Lowden to wonder about accountability for the firm the school pays to manage operations.

“It just seems to me that they should have more skin in the game when it comes to academic performance,” Lowden said. “It sounds like to me they’re holding you hostage.”

School principal Heather Robinson said the school will be renegotiating its contract with manager Connections Education at the end of the next school year.

The school earned a “D” from GOSA in 2016, same as the prior year and up from an “F” in 2014.

The reviews continue at the commission’s next meeting on June 28, when several metro Atlanta schools are on the agenda, including Ivy Prep with campuses in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, and International Charter School of Atlanta and Atlanta Heights Charter School. In 2016, Ivy Prep’s campuses earned two “Ds” and an “F” from GOSA, International earned a “C” and Atlanta Heights earned an “F,” same as the prior four years.

Also on the June agenda is the state’s largest public school, Georgia Cyber Academy, an online charter school with nearly 13,000 students. The school earned an “F in 2016,” down from a “D” in 2015.

Charters typically last five years and must be renewed. For schools starting the fifth year of their charter, this will be the final performance review before their renewal hearing, which likely will occur around the end of this calendar year, said Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the commission.

The schools and their scores:

• Fulton Leadership Academy, in East Point, Fulton County: D 

Georgia Connections Academy, online with statewide enrollment: D 

Statesboro STEAM College, Careers, Arts and Technology Academy, in Statesboro, in Bulloch County: D 

GA School for Innovation and the Classics, in Hephzibah, in Richmond County: F

Scintilla Charter Academy, in Valdosta, in Lowndes County: F 

Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, in Cherokee County: C 

Coweta Charter Academy, in Senoia, in Coweta County: C

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