Superintendent will recommend renewal of Charter Academy

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews will recommend that the Newton County Board of Education renew the contract for Challenge Charter Academy tonight.

Last week, the students and parents spoke out in support of the Academy during a special called meeting to discuss the school's renewal, which is up this year after first being approved for five years by the board in 2007.

The school opened 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.

Mathews will recommend the renewal for a period of three years, ending June 30, 2016.

On Friday, Mathews sent school Principal Ernetta Dailey-Worthy his recommendation:

"As I've shared with you previously, and given CCA's Priority School status in Georgia, the NCSS administration has great reservations about extending CCA's contract beyond a three-year period. Indeed, as superintendent, I will not recommend board approval of a new four- or five-year contract as there are too many performance issues within both your response to our questions and the actual data related to overall performance. That said, a new contract of three years should provide CCA with sufficient time to substantially improve the current trajectory of results. It is certainly our hope that CCA, as an independent public school, will indeed show considerable improvement thus removing the Priority School status it now holds."

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 made Adequate Yearly Progress only for the 2009-10 school year.

"It is unfortunate that Project Adventure abandoned the initial establishment of Challenge Charter Academy after just a year or so," Mathews wrote in his recommendation. "However, as was made clear at the BOE Special Called Meeting ... CCA's new local Board of Directors, parents, students, and faculty appear poised to make a sincere go at improving student learning outcomes. This is certainly that opportunity."

The NCSS financial department has 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.

Additionally, 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.

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 board members also shared concern at the special called meeting regarding finances.

Worthy said her staff will work to incorporate 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 also is working to curb a perception problem -- she thinks that many people think the Academy is like an alternative school.

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.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the renewal at its monthly meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. today in the board room at the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.

If the local board decides to renew the charter, the state board also would have to approve the renewal. The local board also may terminate the renewal, which also would have to be approved by the state board.