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State denies new charter to Ivy Prep's intown boys school

The closing of its all-boys school at the end of this school year represents another blow for the Ivy Prep charter schools franchise, which has not been able to extend the success of its original all-girl concept to other ventures. The success of the Gwinnett Ivy Prep girls school was often touted by legislators, one of whom now leads the network, former Cobb lawmaker Alisha Thomas Morgan.

Ivy Prep closed its first charter high school in October, upsetting parents who wanted the school, despite dwindling attendance and financial challenges, to soldier on through the rest of the school year.

Now, the state Charter Schools Commission has declined to renew the charter of the Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy on Memorial Drive in DeKalb County, which serves Atlanta and DeKalb students. Ivy Prep still operates its original Gwinnett girls school and the intown Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood for Girls.

In its March review of the charter renewal for the boys school, an adviser to the Charter Schools Commission said "the school’s academic data revealed that the school did not provide students a better educational opportunity than that which is provided by DeKalb County, the school’s comparison district." Staff also cited the failure of the franchise to submit its required financial audits to the commission.

I am waiting for a statement from Ivy Prep.

Here is a response from DeKalb, which will enroll some of the boys who were at the Ivy Prep school:

According to DeKalb spokesman: Quinn Hudson

The State Charter School Commission voted in March to not renew the Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy due to poor financial management and weak academic performance.  The school will cease operations on June 30, 2016.

You will recall the charter school ceased offering high school classes in October 2015.  The District successfully accepted 48 high school students back into their home schools at the time.  We will, of course, welcome back the remaining students from the Young Men’s Leadership Academy into DeKalb County schools.

Most of our traditional DCSD schools perform better than this charter school, which was on the OSD list. However, for those families who believe that their home school might not be the best option for their student, the timing of the decision is unfortunate. Our Open Enrollment ended February 19. We are accepting late applications for choice schools as well as at our nine District authorized start-up charter schools, but the parents will more than likely be assigned to wait lists.

Here is a summary of the discussion about the financial issues and the vote to reject the charter renewal by the state Charter Schools Commission from the official minutes of the meeting:

Chairman Rippner then asked Mr. Terence Washington for an update on the receipt of annual audits from state charter schools. Mr. Washington stated that the contractual deadline for submitting audits to the SCSC was October 1st, but there are four schools that did not meet that deadline. Utopian Academy for the Arts completed its audit on March 15th, but the audits for Ivy Preparatory Academy at Gwinnett, Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood, and Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy remain outstanding. Chairman Rippner invited Alisha Morgan, Executive Director for the Ivy Preparatory Academies, to discuss the status of the schools’ audits. Ms. Morgan stated that she and the schools are working diligently to correct the accounting errors that have caused the delay in completing the audits. Ms. Morgan stated that the schools hired two vendors to assist in that process, and the work to do so will soon be complete.

Ms. Morgan noted that the financial state causing delayed audits predated her tenure as Executive Director as well as the service of the majority of the current membership of the schools’ governing board. Vice Chairman Williams responded that he respects the work Ms. Morgan and the new governing board are doing as well as the progress they have made, but that the schools, as institutions, need to demonstrate compliance and financial viability.

Commissioner Lewis emphasized that the audit process is important to fully understanding the position of a charter school and voiced his belief in Ms. Morgan and the new governing board to establish sound financial practices in the future.

Chairman Rippner requested that Ms. Felts present the SCSC staff recommendation regarding the renewal application for Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy (IPYMLA). Ms. Felts noted that IPYMLA failed to meet academic, financial or operational expectations in accordance with its charter contract or the comprehensive Performance Framework. Evaluation of the school’s academic data revealed that the school did not provide students a better educational opportunity than that which is provided by DeKalb County, the school’s comparison district.

Accordingly, SCSC staff recommended that the renewal application for IPYMLA be denied so as to nonrenew the charter contract for the state charter school. Chairman Rippner called for a motion to approve the SCSC staff recommendation and noted that there were no individuals signed up for public comment. Commissioner Williams made the motion and Commissioner Perez provided a second. There was no discussion, and the recommendation was unanimously approved by those present.

Here is the statement from Ivy Prep:

Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy will cease operations in June after five years of educating students. The closure follows the recommendation of the State Charter Schools Commission, which voted in March not to renew the school’s charter contract for another term. YMLA, located at 1807 Memorial Drive, educates nearly 260 scholars.

“I am deeply saddened about the fate of YMLA,” said Alisha T. Morgan, the new executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academies.“Our scholars are bright young men with promising futures.”

Transforming student achievement at YMLA was a top priority at Ivy Preparatory Academies this school year. A turnaround plan was launched in the fall by new school leaders. “I knew coming into this role that YMLA was struggling academically,” Morgan said. “We immediately put a number of supports in place, including a new principal and intense training for teachers. We’ve received positive feedback about our efforts, including from our authorizer, but with YMLA, we just ran out of time.”

The state commission’s decision to reject YMLA’s renewal application was based on a review of three prior years of performance data. Commissioners said that they had confidence in the new leadership of Ivy Prep Academies and the future of Ivy Prep’s single-gender schools for girls.

“We look forward to working with you, Miss Morgan, on really making the other two schools stronger and stronger,” Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the commission, said after the vote in March.

Ivy Prep has two campuses for girls that educate a total of about 750 students. Its flagship campus is located at 3705 Engineering Drive in Gwinnett County. The second campus, Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls, shares a building with YMLA.

YMLA opened in August 2011. The commission rushed the approval process to give students displaced by the closing of Peachtree Hope Charter School, which shut down due to management issues, another educational option. Ivy Prep moved into Peachtree Hope’s building on Memorial Drive and hired some of its key teaching and administrative staff. The school was serving students in less than 30 days after it was approved by commissioners.

Ivy Prep success strategies that produced high academic gains for girls, such as daily double doses of math and language arts classes, were not included in the curriculum for the boys’ school. YMLA developed a separate focus on teaching and learning that included leadership development to help prepare boys for manhood. Administrators at YMLA said scholars typically came to YMLA one-to-two grade levels behind in academic development, which slowed efforts to improve achievement and fueled high turnover. The school was operated by five principals in the past four years, school leaders said.

YMLA’s current principal, Derick Brown, a veteran educator of 17 years was hired in October to turn around student achievement. Brown had opened Brighter Choice Charter Middle School for boys in Albany, N.Y. as its principal before coming to Ivy Prep. In the metro area, Brown was part of the leadership team that helped Grove Park Elementary School earn the nickname “Buckhead on Bankhead” for the quality of the education offered to students.

Brown said he had a “no excuses” policy at Grove Park that he also implemented at YMLA. “Our scholars are very bright,” Brown said of YMLA. “They work hard. We wish we had more time to fulfill the criteria within our charter. We believe if were given more time, we would have met our goals.”

This school year, YMLA purchased new assessment tools to better track student performance and provide data-driven instruction to students. YMLA had also received a literacy grant from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to improve language arts skills development. Despite the improvements, the state denied YMLA's renewal application.

“As a former legislator and one of the creators of the State Charter Schools Commission, I know first-hand that this work is about accountability and doing what’s best for kids,” Morgan said. “If we haven’t been able to consistently provide a high quality education for all of our scholars, as adults we have to face the consequences. This should not reflect on our scholars. This isn’t their fault.”

Ivy Prep Transition Teams are helping families to find quality charter and traditional schools to enroll in for the upcoming school year. Transition support is also being offered to YMLA’s 15 full-time employees, Morgan added.

Some YMLA teachers have interviewed for new positions at Ivy Prep Gwinnett and Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls. Transition Team members also will be sending YMLA teachers information about job fairs hosted by other metro area districts. Resume writing support and letters of recommendation also will be provided.

“This decision, although very difficult to accept, will enable us to return to what we know best, which is educating girls,” Morgan said. “Ivy Prep began as a single-gender public charter for girls. We have had great academic success in this model over the years. We will remain connected with our male scholars and will always consider them a part of the Ivy family.”




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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.