COVINGTON -- Students and parents spoke out in support of the Challenge Charter Academy during a special called school board meeting to discuss the school's renewal.
The school has been in operation since 2008 when the Newton County Board of Education first approved the school's charter petition. The school's charter is now up for renewal by the board.
Earlier this year, the school submitted a petition for a charter renewal to the Newton County School System. It also submitted its explanation of intent, current status and future plan to the superintendent's office. The superintendent returned the plan with questions and comments, which the school has to clarify.
During Tuesday's special called meeting, NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews discussed with members of the school board the questions and responses with the school administration.
The school began in 2008 with funding from Project Adventure and a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. It has since lost that funding and is supported mainly through state and local funds. NCSS supports the school with about $300,000, while the state funds the school at about $800,000 annually, according to Mathews.
The school reported that it does not hold any funding in reserve, but it has created a balanced budget and has always met state and local financial reporting deadlines.
The NCSS financial department brought up concerns with the school, noting that the school has not budgeted for an increase in retirement and health insurance coverage over the next five years, and that it relies on Title I and priority school program grants over the entire next five years, even though they are contingent funds. School board members Shakila Henderson-Baker and Abigail Coggin also said they were concerned about these financial issues.
"If (the board) won't (fund the school), then (parents) have to do it," said parent David Rowser. "And we will."
Also, the financial department noted that there is no budgeted item in any year for computers, instructional equipment or classroom furniture for the school.
School Principal Ernetta Dailey-Worthy said her staff will work to incorporate those changes, and she has hired a new chief financial officer for the school to develop a strategic plan and help better promote the school.
She and other school staff members and parents in attendance at the meeting said the school has a perception problem -- many people don't even know about the school and some who do think it is like an alternative school program.
Although the original charter petition for the school states that the school is for students who have dropped out of school, are in need of credit recovery or are economically disadvantaged, among being labeled in other categories, the school is open to all students.
"Some students may have some deficiencies, but not the majority of the students," Worthy said, adding that some students are gifted and some come from private and home schools. "The face of the student population is different and beautiful now."
The school is open to all Newton County students in grades six through 12 and has a current enrollment of 105 students, including 62 males and 43 females. The school projects an enrollment of more than 300 students over the next five years.
System officials and board members also questioned the low attendance rate for the school and that the school hasn't better tracked students. Worthy said the school is better at doing that now with the addition of a career counselor.
Earlier this year, the school was put on the state's priority school list, which is the 5 percent lowest performing Title I schools in the state. It has only made Adequate Yearly Progress for the 2009-10 school year.
According to testing data from 2010 to 2012 for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Exams, the Georgia High School Graduation Tests and End of Course Tests compared between the school and other NCSS schools, Challenge Charter Academy had average scores lower than NCSS schools in all but one area, sixth-grade English Language Arts in 2010. Additionally, scores decreased in 17 of 29 areas over the three years.
A few students spoke at the meeting, saying their grades have improved after moving to CCA from a home school or another NCCS school.
"It's like a regular school, but it's a smaller setting, so it's better for children who can't concentrate," said junior Courtney Smith, who added that there is less bullying at CCA and that she was on the Honor Roll last year for the first time.
Rowser said that the principal and all of the teachers know every student by name.
"I love my teachers very much," said freshman Denzel Smith, who was home schooled before attending CCA. "If I'm having problems, they take the time out of their schedule to teach me."
The school board was given the opportunity to vote on the charter renewal Tuesday, but it declined to do so. It is scheduled to vote on the renewal at its Oct. 16 monthly meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in the board room at the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.
Mathews said he intends to make his recommendation to the board Friday.
Mathews reported Tuesday that the charter renewal may be terminated if a majority of the parents or staff requests such; if the state school board says that the school has violated laws or failed to comply with standards of fiscal management; and upon written request of the local school board that would give reasonable notice to the school.
If the local board decides not to renew the charter, the school would have an opportunity for a hearing on Oct. 29. If the local board decides to renew the charter, the state board also would have to approve the renewal.