Education

Coming days are critical for Macon Charter Academy

Parents wait outside Macon Charter Academy for school to be dismissed in October.
Parents wait outside Macon Charter Academy for school to be dismissed in October. wmarshall@macon.com

Macon Charter Academy’s fate could be decided this week, with one of two options on the table: a second chance to right the ship, or termination of its charter.

As the state considers MCA’s improvement plan, Bibb County school Superintendent Curtis Jones said he thinks it’s possible that MCA can make progress in its deficient areas, which the school system and the Georgia Department of Education highlighted in reports late last month.

Among the shortcomings noted after a site visit by Bibb school official were leadership, teaching and learning, and fiscal management.

“We’re still in contact with the Georgia Department of Education about the improvement plan that has been submitted,” he said.

However, the plan submitted on Wednesday -- the same “improvement response” sent to Bibb County -- may not be sufficient to meet state standards.

“We’re not trying to overwhelm MCA,” Jones said, adding that the charter school can’t address one education entity and not the other.

And there could be problems for MCA using the same response for both the Department of Education and the school district. While each one had requested answers to similar questions of concern, the instructions for responding were different.

In an Oct. 7 email, the day the corrective action plan was mandated for submission, Louis Ertse, associate state superintendent of accountability over charter schools, expressed his concern over MCA’s response.

“You failed to attach the required corrective action plan,” Ertse wrote to MCA board Chairwoman Lonnicia Maxwell. “You mistakenly attached your response to Dr. Jones. You also failed to provide the required documentation regarding the governing board meeting held to approve this plan.

“I will extend the deadline for timely submission to midnight (Wednesday) for you to email to me the corrective action plan that addresses the numbered items in the letter I sent last week that placed MCA on probation -- with your answers numbered accordingly -- as well as the required governing board meeting documentation.”

An updated plan was never submitted, though.

Ertse told The Telegraph that the DOE would be reviewing what the school submitted for “soundness,” and plans to have its conclusions soon.

Jones said he anticipates an analysis of the improvement plan will be a “joint review” between Bibb County and the DOE.

In the event the school closes -- triggering a possible influx of nearly 700 students back into the school system, Jones said he is weighing Bibb’s options.

“Worst-case scenario, the students are going to be in school somewhere,” he said.

Jones also pondered and asked, “Would we be able to use (MCA’s) teachers and their facility?” Or would the state offer the school’s charter to someone else to keep it running?

In looking at all of the possibilities, he said, “We’re working together.”

When the Georgia Charter Schools Association -- an advocate group for Georgia public charter schools -- heard about MCA’s probationary status last week, the group reached out to the school to offer its help.

“In my memory, it is unprecedented for a charter school to be placed on probation and possibly facing closure during its first year of operation,” Tony Roberts, GCSA’s president and CEO, said. “So I’m very concerned.”

The association’s offer of help never came about, though, because of the strict deadline imposed by the state, as well as the timing of MCA’s fall break this past week.

Roberts said he would have needed a minimum of two full days of access to staff, teachers and parents to get to the root of MCA’s issues.

And that couldn’t happen while the school was empty.

In an Oct. 1 email to Ertse, Maxwell, the board chairwoman, asked for an extension but was denied.

“That you would even ask this question raises serious concerns about your judgment,” Ertse replied to Maxwell, adding that the deadlines were non-negotiable.

While it’s not a requirement that MCA use the association’s help, it is a “cost-free option,” according to an email from Ertse.

It may be too late for the association to help with MCA’s improvement plan, but it could still provide assistance should the DOE let the charter school continue to operate.

All that’s left, Jones said, is to wait and see if MCA has the capacity to address its issues.

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 or find him on Twitter @davidcschick.

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