COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education has approved the renewal of Challenge Charter Academy, but the state Board of Education still has to approve the renewal in order for the school to continue next year.
During the board's monthly meeting Tuesday, the board members unanimously approved the recommendation of Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews, who recommended that the school have its contract extended for three years, ending June 30, 2016.
The decision caused those in the packed board room -- filled with students, parents and staff of CCA, many dressed in shirts that said "Charter schools rock" -- to erupt in cheers and applause.
"Given CCA's Priority School status in Georgia, the NCSS administration has great reservations about extending CCA's contract beyond a three-year period," Mathews said in his recommendation. "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 only made Adequate Yearly Progress for the 2009-10 school year.
"Just looking at the data, I was not convinced," said board member Shakila Henderson-Baker before the vote.
She said she asked questions related to the budget and academics last week during a special called board meeting and afterwards with Principal Ernetta Dailey-Worthy. She also visited the school before and after last week's meeting.
"That really helped me in the decision-making process and painting the entire picture," Baker said. "This (recommendation) is a compromise for us."
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, which Baker noted is somewhat unfair to the school, 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 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 on reserve. Also, the financial department noted that there is no budgeted item in any year for computers, instructional equipment or classroom furniture for the school.
Worthy previously said that 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.
"CCA's new local board of directors, parents, students and faculty appear poised to make a sincere go at improving student learning outcomes," Mathews said in his recommendation. "This is certainly that opportunity."
Baker encouraged Worthy to revamp the school's mission statement and wished for the school to head in the right direction.
Although the local school board agreed to allow the school to continue, the state Board of Education still has to approve the school's renewal in order to continue its funding.
Mathews said Tuesday that he will write a letter of recommendation that will be forwarded to the state board, along with the renewal petition that has to be submitted to the state board prior to Nov. 1.
"I think that the local board's approval will mean a lot to the state board," he said.
The state board can vote to accept the renewal or it may terminate the agreement for reasons such as if the school has violated laws or failed to comply with standards of fiscal management. It meets Nov. 14.
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.