Thursday, May 3, 2012

Because Spartanburg needs a Texas-based charter school

When I first scanned this note, I thought High Point University, way up in North Carolina, was trying to open a charter school in Spartanburg. Why, I thought, would someone in North Carolina want to entangle themselves in running a charter school down here?

I read it more closely and discovered that the people initiating this charter school in Spartanburg aren't from North Carolina, they're from Texas.

So I'll revise my question: Why does someone in Texas want to entangle themselves in running a charter school here?

In the absence of any sensible answer, I must conclude that it's the same as it always is when ideological individuals and organizations seek to dismantle and privatize public education: It has to be about the money.

An application for a new charter school in Spartanburg County was filed Tuesday with the South Carolina Department of Education.

Organizers behind High Point Academy aim to open doors to the new public school on the west side of the county by the fall of 2013. The school first must earn approval from both the state Charter School Advisory Committee (CSAC) and South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD).

High Point Co-Executive Director Lori Manning describes the proposed school as a nonreligious, nonprofit community educational charity. She said the school, backed by Faith in Action Fort Worth (FIAFW), will have a heavy emphasis on the arts, technology and hands-on, kinesthetic learning.

Okeydoke. This begs -- begs, pleads, demands -- a little scrutiny. Let's go slow with this: The proposal is "backed by Faith in Action Fort Worth," but it proposes to be a "nonreligious... community educational charity."

One Google search -- only one, folks, because this isn't difficult -- netted a fine 72-page document produced by the state of Texas in 1996, signed by then-Governor George W. Bush, and festooned liberally with quotes from the good governor, titled "Faith in Action: A New Vision for Church-State Cooperation in Texas."

Oh, you're going to love this part of it, found on page 12:

The Unique Status of Religious Providers: Religious-based caregivers face unique concerns. While Texas benefits from numerous faith-based providers who provide top-notch care, countless other would-be caregivers give in to “preemptive capitulation.” Why? Because they often perceive public agencies as less interested in serving children than in punishing those who don’t succumb to state control. Requirements have crept from health, fire, sanitation, and safety into sensitive areas like personnel, program, funding, etc. Many fear being turned into a quasi-government agency via excessive state regulation, and losing their religious distinctiveness in the bargain.

This view may seem exaggerated to some, but it nonetheless acts to discourage many religious agencies who fear government’s “fatal embrace” and believe they will have to sandpaper down their religious vitality for the pleasure of rendering service.

What's the alternative to sandpapering down one's religious vitality, succumbing to state control, being turned into a quasi-government agency via state regulation and losing your religious distinctiveness?

Opening a charter school, of course. Charters have all the benefits of public school funding, but none of the regulation that comes with being a traditional public school. All you have to do is get approved by the state charter school district -- you don't even have to face scrutiny from the local school board whose funding you'll be taking!

Helpfully, Faith in Action Fort Worth opened a Facebook page in February, where visitors can read such posts for organizers as "We sponsor charter schools and offer women's educational programming. Check out our page as we get things rolling...," "We never know when we may be entertaining angels unaware... God is present everywhere!" and "Our office seems to be a hub of faith-related conversation with many different folks from every walk of life. Everyone has a story... And every story has a lesson to be learned...."

I have nothing against parochial schools. Parochial schools are the best choice for some families, and it's good that church denominations offer that option to devout parents.

What feels a little squirrely about the application for High Point Academy is that it's sponsored by an entity that's clearly church-derived, but to satisfy the South Carolina Charter School District's paper-thin separation from parochial schools, this one claims it will be "nonreligious." Profits from public dollars are just that valuable.

Which makes the next sentence in the Herald-Journal's article somewhat discomfiting:

The school’s motto reads “honor, integrity, service.”

“We want to teach character. To have good citizens,” Manning said. “We want to be the high point of education.”

The submission from High Point Academy is one of 11 applications the CSAC will consider within the next 60 days. If the application is found to be in order, it will go to the sponsoring board — in High Point’s case, the SCPCSD. Local school districts also can act as sponsors for charter schools. Sponsors have 30 days to approve or deny an application.

If approved by the SCPCSD, High Point would become a free, public school open to all students in the state.

Manning said an application for High Point Academy Fort Worth also was filed by FIAFW in Texas. She said the model has the potential to be duplicated in other areas.
Spartanburg Charter School, which opened in 2009, is to date the only charter school in Spartanburg County.

Manning said she hopes High Point will change that and become yet another option for Spartanburg parents.

Manning, a certified teacher and former charter school principal, and the Rev. Katie Stellar, co-executive director, certified teacher and former administrator, are based in Texas. They have about 20 years of combined experience in charter schools.

Here we go again. The co-executive director of a proposed "nonreligious" school is identified as "the Reverend".

Walks like ducks, talks like ducks, swims like ducks, looks like ducks. Clearly, we're not talking about horses and cows, we're talking about ducks, but no one wants to call the duck the duck.

Manning said she wanted to bring their expertise in the charter school field to her hometown. Born in Union and a 1991 graduate of Dorman High School, Manning moved to Texas in 2003 with her husband and has since worked in several capacities with charter schools there.

“I love this city. Always have,” Manning said of Spartanburg. “This is home. It’s coming back to benefit the community I grew up in and love. It’s bringing the knowledge I have home.”

According to High Point’s application filed with the state Department of Education, the school plans to enroll 322 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in its first year, then expand by one grade level each subsequent year through the 12th grade for a total enrollment potential of about 700 students. Leaders also plan to eventually begin a preschool program.

The fine arts focus will provide opportunities for students to participate in piano, dance, theater, art, choir and graphic arts as part of daily electives. Community involvement and a hands-on, applied learning style will further shape the academy’s plan for students.

“The chance for Title 1 students and their families to receive piano, ballet and other fine arts opportunities at no cost to themselves is a tremendous equalizer for students of all races and backgrounds,” the application reads. “High Point is focused on educating and encouraging the leaders of tomorrow.”

Manning said school leaders have a goal of providing secondary students with tablets in lieu of some textbooks and to equip classrooms with the latest technology.

“We’re out there. It’s very cutting edge,” Manning said.

Texas is out there. Spartanburg is nearby.

Speaking of Spartanburg, it's home to seven school districts, each of which has at least one high school. Why not propose to convert at least one high school to a magnet school for arts? Another for sciences? Another for an international baccalaureate program? There's a public school choice bill pending in the Senate that would, for all intents and purposes, allow any student to cross district lines to attend public schools in the next district. Sounds tailor-made to meet the needs of Spartanburg's public schoolchildren.

“Our goal is for all our children to graduate and go on to secondary education.”

The application states that FIAFW has a reserve of $30,000 to contribute to its charter campus in Spartanburg, but additional funding is anticipated from grants and donations.

Once the school is further along in the application process, Manning said organizers — including an 11-member planning committee — will begin searching for a space, somewhere near the intersection of I-85 and I-26.

There's not even a location, but the plan is laid to enroll 322 children next fall, with $30,000 and the promise of grants and donations.

Maybe a church will undertake to sponsor them, too. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

1 comment:

  1. Dig a little deeper. Neither women are certified administrators. Katie Stellar isn't even certified to teach. Both women were fired from the only charter school they have experience with for a very long list of questionable antics and toying with federal dollars. Super shady folks! Call up John Dodd and Honors Academy in Dallas. He'll give you an earful about both of these women. As for religion--both claim to have a lot of it, but actions speak louder than words, folks. These gals are not the real deal...