09/09/2013 – Tapestry Charter I


Video – Work Session – Tapestry Discussion


Recap – Work Session – Tapestry Discussion
Presented by Dr. Alice Thompson, Interim Deputy Superintendent School Leadership and Operational Support.

Rationale
The mission of Tapestry Public Charter School (Tapestry) is to offer an inclusive, individualized learning environment that is academically engaging, both for neurotypical students and those on the autism spectrum, and to create a positive school culture that empowers all students to take possession of their innate talents and become creative builders of their own future.

This curricular design will allow all children to thrive, but it will be particularly engaging for students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who may not reach their potential in traditional middle and high school environments.

Requested Action
It is requested that the Board of Education approve the charter petition for the Tapestry Public Charter School, Inc. for the proposed five year charter term.

Mayfield – The key characteristic of this school is that it will be serving autistic children. Will this school be serving exclusively autistic children and their siblings? What percentage of the school will be autistic children?

Dr. Alice Thompson – The petition projects 50% of the school will be autistic children. It will be an inclusion model like Coralwood.

Mayfield – What impact will this have on the school district’s autistic population?

Pat Copeland – We have at least 400 autistic children in grades 6 – 12. Tapestry would server anywhere from 31 to 78 students per grade level. Tapestry could potentially support the autistic needs of the school district for those grade levels.

Mayfield – Tapestry would be expected to improve the academic performance of those students. What level of commitment are they making compared to what we are doing.

Dr. Alice Thompson – They committed to 3% academic improvement each year.

Mayfield – Have they provided any evidence that they can do that?

Pat Copeland – This is a new school. They have a community that would better serve autistic children.

Mayfield – The school hasn’t demonstrated success. Do any of their staff have a track record of success?

Dr. Alice Thompson – We don’t have anything to support that.

Dr. Morley – How do we make sure Tapestry doesn’t go over their requested enrollment for various types of students? What guarantees is Tapestry providing that they can meet the needs of the various students?

Dr. Alice Thompson – The first year they are only going to have 96 students. If more apply, then we will use a lottery.

Morley – If it goes over are they going to take more such that we will then have to pay them more.

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – You bring up a significant point. There has been a history of mission creep. Going forward, all new charters will have to sign to a specific contract that will limit that from occurring. That has not been the position of the DeKalb School District up to this point. It’s a concern we have and are addressing.

Ramsey – We’ve had some conversations with the state regarding this matter. The state made some changes to that process about 3 years ago. Now it’s incumbent upon each school district to negotiate those kinds of items into the charter agreement.

Morley – I’m concerned about the viability and ability of the staff to meet the academic needs of the students. We don’t seem to be for sure how qualified they are. What guarantee do we have that the staff can meet the needs of the students.

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – We have no guarantee particularly when you have start up charters.

Morley – If we have an HR that verifies credentials, has experience, goes through a process, protocol and procedures to make sure everything is in place. Do we have that option to make sure the Tapestry staff will go through the same HR requirements?

Dr. Alice Thompson – That is a concern for all charter schools. The state does allow charter schools to waive certification requirements. Public school districts are required by NCLB to ensure all teachers are content certified or provide a timeline to become content certified. Tapestry and other start up charters, their certification requirements are waived.

Morley – I was the first Support Director (part-time) for Teach for America. We hold some of our educators to one standard and have waivers for others. Is there a challenge at any particular time with this?

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – Questions are being raised and you’re challenging it right now. These are promises and we won’t know until some point in the future when we can conduct an evaluation.

Morley – That concerns me. Out of the charter schools we have now, how many are meeting the milestones and are actually successful.

Pat Copeland – Approximately 50%

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary]– To your point, charter schools are not a magic bullet. Just because it’s a charter, doesn’t mean they are going to generate higher performance, either academic or career readiness.

Morley – I know where the state is leaning and going towards, but if we can set up a different system over here, what it is that keeps us from having certain variables in place within the system that we already have to make sure that education is at a level of success. So, I have many questions and concerns. As a taxpayer we need to be able to question where we are going. We are held to certain standards as a public school, but then we can allow and sit back and allow that charters are not held to that same standard.

I was reading an email from a parent that concerned me. She looked at charters allowing them to have autonomy and independence. That’s OK to have autonomy and independence, but what does that say about the rest of us who have to adhere to certain standards. How much autonomy and independence to we give?

John Coleman – I want to make sure I understand the admissions and lottery process. Is the 96 irrespective of whether they were neurotypical or autistic.

Dr. Alice Thompson – 96 total, period.

John Coleman – Is there a separate lottery for neurotypical and autistic students?

Dr. Alice Thompson – No.

John Coleman – They are setting up essentially a catering service rather than a traditional dining service because of sensory needs of the students. What are the financial impacts of that to the families?

Dr. Alice Thompson – I believe the petitioners are planning on that being in line with traditional dining services.

John Coleman – One of the only changes to the academics requirement stated was the drop of a social studies requirement.

Dr. Alice Thompson – We are doing 23 units instead of 24 units. They didn’t say why.

John Coleman – It’s a reasonably small school in the beginning. There is a small teacher and administrator to student ratio. How does that compare to the cost per student we have now?

Dr. Alice Thompson – The student teacher ratio now is 16:2 with this charter school because of the autistic kids.

Dr. Bell – That’s roughly half the number of students we normally have in the rest of the system.

Dr. Alice Thompson – The FTE carries a different weight on special ed students, so this would not be such a big impact depending on which category they fall in to.

John Coleman – What is the typical student teacher ratio for students with intensive special education needs.

Dr. Alice Thompson – That’s IEP driven depending on the exception. The chart we brought to the board in July lists those ratios. You can see it through eboards.

Marshall Orson – These are middle school students we are trying to provide services in environments that are not optimized. We have Coralwood and Hawthorne for students in Pre-K and elementary that meet their needs. Unfortunately, after 5th grade we are ill equipped to serve the needs of these students.

To the Interim Superintendent’s point, which is true of any charter, there are no guarantees. It’s also true of any traditional school. We have successful schools as well as very unsuccessful, failing schools. It’s incumbent upon us to optimize success. The charter movement, which is no silver bullet, arose because we are not successful in every environment. As a system we are bound by a set of rules. Charter schools were designed to create environments in which there could be waivers for some of those rules with the concept of success. We can’t guarantee success. But there is a contractual requirement for success, 3% year to year improvement. The failure to meet those benchmarks gives the board the authority to revoke their charter. The whole nature of the charter movement isn’t to create independent schools, but create environments with autonomy and independence, but the ultimate responsibility of the charter is outlined in their contract.

We have an obligation as an inferior unit of the state of Georgia to recognize that the state has embraced charters as one alternative to the delivery of education services. We have embraced it. We have charters.

One of the primary movers for charters is the ability to have control over the hiring practices in their school to optimize their staff for the community they are serving. One of the debates, which is fair, are they qualified. The difference between qualified and experienced is lost in education at times. Ultimately, we want a highly effective teacher. The charter petition is seeking that.

One of the things I noticed in the charter, is they emphasize finding partners for the school. Partners who are active participants in the school who bring services or experiences that meet the needs of the students. They’ve done a lot of work in that area.

One of the questions was about how the lottery works and how the distribution of the types of students work. There are questions under the law whether you can force the 50% outcome.

I think we should be embracing opportunities to pursue innovation and new approaches. I don’t think they result in the undermining of the school system. They strengthen us if we are willing to be a leader in embracing these ideas. If we approve this, they are a DeKalb County charter school and not an independent charter outside the purview of the DeKalb County.

Melvin Johnson – The purpose of approving the charter school would be: 1) It shows some exception to the way we deliver the instructional program to our students. Have you identified any instructional strategy that would be different than what we are already doing?

Pat Copeland – Good question. Our current middle and high schools work hard to ensure a quality education for all of our students. The one component I see them utilizing more so than we normally would is technology.

John Coleman – I didn’t realize there was a federal limitation on targeting percentages of certain populations. Could we set quotas for the number of autistic students? Can we give autistic children preferences in the lottery?

Ramsey – We can’t answer that question

John Coleman – How can we make changes to the charter at this point in the process?

Copeland – We can say to the petitioners pending board approval, revisions are mandatory.

Melvin Johnson – Any changes the board desires to make, they can approve the charter contingent upon whatever changes the board requests. Normally, the charter committee would be here to respond.

Administrator – The way the process works is once the charter is approved, then we submit it to the state. Then they create a separate document for how the charter is enforced. We have had concerns with that document. We have gone to the state and said we need to be a part of that. We can go to the state with requests. We’ve tried to put in a provision that addresses sky rocketing enrollment.

Melvin Johnson – That’s going to the state. But, it has to be dealt with here first.

Marshall Orson – Whatever conditions we put on, they can’t be extra legal. I believe the petitioners would have put that in the petition if they thought they could legally do so.

Dr. Morley – We have to be realistic. Sometimes people just don’t know. We have the responsibility to educate them. Back to Dr. Johnson’s concern, what is it that this school is going to offer that we are not already offering, or can not offer, or keeps us from being able to offer what is supposed to be offered to meet the needs of these students? Especially if we are getting all this money for these students. Why can’t we meet those needs?

Mayfield – This is the first time I’ve seen this petition. So, I come with the presumption we have 30 days to deliberate as we would a policy. Do we have 30 days?

Dr. Alice Thompson – We got it in may. So we are late.

Mayfield – That may require us to meet our fiduciary responsibility to table this for 30 days. Can we negotiate the waivers? Do we need to know what the state’s terms and conditions prior to us signing off on this, so we don’t have to deal with a second set of conditions placed on the contract?

Johnson – It is my understanding. We voted on the Charter Amendment a while ago. If we deny Tapestry this charter, as a start up charter, they could go directly to the state. The state could approve it.

Lawrence – In that situation they would become a state sponsored charter school.

Mayfield – If we negotiate an element that we want to happen, but we can’t get it into the state contract. I think the board needs an appropriate amount of time to place conditions on the contract that allows us to have intermittent checks.

Orson – We’ll be in violation of the law if we defer this. We are past the deadline.

Johnson – Not unless the petitioners request an extension.

Orson – We can’t do that ourselves.

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – If there are specific concerns, I suggest you share them with Dr. Thompson and Ms. Copeland. We can then re engage the petitioners. With their consent we can avoid any violations. We want to have a cooperative relationship.

Mayfield – Where are we with the 90 business days?

Dr. Alice Thompson – We are at 80 business days. So, we have 10 business days.

Johnson – Would it be permissable with the board to write down any requests and give them to the the interim superintendent? The petitioners can then bring back a revised petition to the board.

Orson – The state has made it quite clear they are headed toward blanket waivers. We should be mindful of this and not come to lager heads with the state.

[glossary slug=’interim-superintendent’]Interim Superintendent[/glossary] – We are currently negotiating with the petitioners and not the state. I’d also remind everybody that the Ga DOE is in a state of major flux, so it’s hard to say where they are.

Johnson – I would like to see us move forward in a legal, legitimate way that is looking out for the students. We have no control over what the state does. Can we all agree on submitting our requests in writing and letting the petitioners get back to us?

Orson – I’ve rarely heard of anything being measured in 90 business days. It’s usually 10 business days or 90 calendar days. If it’s 90 calendar days, then we’re passed the deadline.

Johnson – OK. Please let us know that by 5pm today.

John Coleman – I would move this off the consent agenda to the business agenda.

Johnson – This item will not be placed on the consent agenda and will be taken up again in the business meeting.