Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Cirrus Academy board and administrators at odds, future of charter school in jeopardy

Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
Cirrus Academy Superintendent Gail Fowler spoke at a news conference in front of the school on Pio Nono Avenue on Aug. 8, 2023. Stakeholders asked the governing board to resign hours before the board met behind closed doors to discuss “personnel” matters.

A growing conflict between the governing board of Cirrus Academy and the school’s superintendent has resulted in the school not meeting state legal requirements in the final year of its two-year probationary charter contract with the State Charter Schools Commission.

The feud appeared to come to a boil Tuesday when Cirrus employees and community leaders asked board members to resign hours before a special closed-door meeting during which the board discussed personnel matters including “compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal, or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee,” according the the agenda.

At a news conference early Tuesday afternoon, Cirrus consultant Renee Bumpus was among pastors and school administrators standing with Superintendent Gail Fowler in front of the state charter school on Pio Nono Avenue. The group called for the school’s four-member governing board to resign.

“I have been embarrassed by the lack of consideration for these students when it comes to these four board members,” Bumpus said. “We’re asking that those board members resign.”

Though the board has four members, bylaws require a minimum of five. Shirlynn Kelly and Nathan Lewis have continued to serve on the board despite the expiration of their term limits in 2019. Tosin Olagunju and Taylor were granted one-year terms in the school’s new bylaws and will be up for reelection next year.

The stakes are high for Cirrus, which faces the possibility of state closure in the final year of a two-year probationary charter contract it has with the State Charter School Commission. The school has struggled with financial and operational compliance since it opened in 2016. Earlier this year, Cirrus met the state commission’s academic standards for the first time in its history.

Operational and financial issues still persist. More than a week into the school year, the governing board had yet to approve the fiscal year’s budget or the official school calendar.

Bumpus said the board violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act when it met without public notice June 30 and approved new nine-year term limits for Kelly and Lewis. Though term limits for Kelly and Lewis expired in 2019, both have remained on the board.

Fowler started working at Cirrus in 2016 and was the school’s fifth principal during the first month it opened. She was promoted to superintendent in 2019.

Fowler told The Macon Newsroom board members violated their own bylaws when they voted in secret to establish new term limits to keep themselves on the board. The board makes operational and financial decisions for the school and Fowler reports to it. She maintains the board’s actions since 2019 are invalid and not binding.

“Anybody who thinks they can get me to break the law with policies and procedures, the answer is no,” Fowler said at the news conference. “Can’t do it, won’t do it. Never have – but I will always stand for the children. …This school will continue to stand in this community.”

At a meeting in July, the board approved a contract with consultant Gregg Stevens, former deputy director of the State Charter Schools Commission that oversees Cirrus. The contract with Stevens’ company, 21 Cobalt, will cost the board $211,700, an amount exceeding the school’s highest-paid employees.

The State Charter School Commission received a few complaints regarding Cirrus Academy’s governing board in the past two months. The complaints, submitted by a school employee and a paid consultant, allege the board violated the Open Meetings Act and has failed to approve basic nuts-and-bolts business items such as the budget, school year calendar and organizational chart.

Allegations of theft, impropriety

Early evening Tuesday, at a special board meeting attended by several dozen people, the four-member governing board met with Stevens for nearly two hours behind closed doors citing “personnel” matters.

Emails obtained by The Macon Newsroom show Stevens and Rob Fortson, the board’s new lawyer, twice demanded that Fowler provide access to the school’s financial records and software systems for Stevens and others authorized by the board.

Consultant Gregg Stevens, who works as executive director for the Cirrus Academy governing board, attempts to explain that Georgia Law does not require a public comment period for called meetings. Emotions ran high as many waited nearly two hours to address the board at its special meeting Aug. 8, 2023. (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

The emails, sent to Fowler in late June and late July, warned that her failure to comply may result in termination of her employment and even “criminal penalties including theft by conversion.”

On Aug. 1, Stevens emailed Fowler that he planned to come to the school the next day and that her continued failure to provide access to him “despite clear board directives is not acceptable.”

Fowler said she did not allow Stevens in the building and informed security he was an “unauthorized visitor.”

Stevens created a new website,, for the school governing board so he is able to post meeting information and notices. Until recently, meeting documents and notices have been posted on the school’s website,

Faced with threats of termination and possible criminal charges, Fowler hired lawyer Deitra Crawley to represent her personally.

Fewer than 10 minutes before the board meeting was set to start, Crawley sent an email to Fortson that said the governing board’s “improprieties” and “string of illegalities dating back to 2019” have created a hostile work environment for Fowler and resulted in damage to her reputation as a respected retired educator.

“My client has maintained that she acts in the best interest of the school, which guided her decision to only release proprietary and confidential information to the Board Members,” Crawley said in the email. “She also maintains that this Board was never denied access to the financials and other proprietary information.”


Dozens who attended the Cirrus Academy governing board meeting on Aug. 8, 2023, waited nearly two hours while the board deliberated a personnel matter behind closed doors. To pass the time, the group sang hymns and songs such as “This Little Light of Mine.” They also danced to the “Cha Cha Slide.” (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

As a crowd waited in the cafenasium, which doubles as a gymnasium and cafeteria, for the board to emerge from its closed-door meeting, many passed the time by singing an assortment of hymns in unison. At some point, the “Cha Cha Slide” played on a loudspeaker. Some people danced.

The room fell quiet when the board returned.

“In our discussion tonight we have made a decision as a board to wait on the final response from the (State Charter Schools Commission) and then we will move forward,” Kelly said, presumably referring to complaints about the school submitted to the state commission.

More than a dozen people had signed up to address the board during public comments, but no public comment was listed on the agenda. Emotions ran high as Stevens told the crowd there would be no opportunity to speak at the podium. Georgia law does not require or prohibit public comment periods during special board meetings.

People began stepping up to the podium to speak over Stevens’ objections. Kelly and Taylor, the only board members who attended the meeting in person, got up from their seats and walked out of the building together.

Kelly declined to answer a reporter’s questions about her board service. She and Taylor left campus in the same car.

Stevens, faced with a crowd of people visibly upset, exited through a side door with help from a Bibb County sheriff’s deputy.

The next Cirrus governing board meeting is set for Tuesday, August 15. Advertisements in The Telegraph state a public hearing on the fiscal year 2024 budget is slated to begin at 6 p.m. as is a meeting “to discuss the management and operation” of the school.

Cirrus Academy staff

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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