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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Cirrus Academy faces new scrutiny from State Charter Schools Commission

State charter school given deadline of Oct. 15 to address issues
Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
Staff and board members of the State Charter Schools Commission visited Cirrus Academy on Aug. 23, 2023, to discuss the school’s eligibility for renewal of its charter contract. The current two-year probationary charter expires in June 2024.

Cirrus Academy, a state charter school operating on an abbreviated charter contract set to end in June, was recently notified by the State Charter Schools Commission that it has been placed on a “probationary status.”

The school’s governing board chairperson Shirlynn Kelly was notified of the school’s standing in a letter from the State Charter Schools Commission’s new executive director Friday.

In an emailed statement to The Macon Newsroom on behalf of the board and superintendent Tuesday, Gregg Stevens, who was contracted in August as the executive director for the Cirrus governing board, said the school would immediately begin to implement corrective actions required by the state.

“Though conflict in the school’s leadership impacted school operations, the Governing Board, Superintendent, and the entire Cirrus community understand and appreciate the critical importance of collaboration and cooperation for effective leadership,” Stevens said. “We are confident that our progress will continue and that our efforts to provide effective leadership will improve the school’s operational compliance and increase student achievement.”

Stevens, former deputy counsel of the State Charter Schools Commission turned consultant, was contracted by the Cirrus governing board in August during a time of intense conflict between the board and school administration. Stevens resigned as vice president of new school development for the Georgia Charter Schools Association to act as the board’s executive director.

Chronically poor academic performance, a yearslong track record of failing to meet state financial and operational standards and the governing board’s demonstrated inability to effectively lead are among reasons for probation cited in the letter.

The school is required to submit a corrective action plan showing how it is addressing noncompliance and charter violations to the State Charter Schools Commission by Oct. 15. It also will be required to submit interim reports until the end of its probation, which will be in effect until Jan. 5, 2024 or until the State Charter Schools Commission decides to lift it, according to the letter.

The probationary status comes at a critical time for Cirrus, which is already operating on a rare, two-year probationary charter contract the State Charter Schools Commission has only ever granted to one other school. Charter contracts are typically five or three years.

The current charter contract for Cirrus is set to end in June and the school is preparing to apply for a charter contract renewal when applications open in November.

The notice to Cirrus about its probationary status comes about a month after the State Charter Schools Commission’s letter notifying the Cirrus of its findings of noncompliance and charter contract violations. The findings stemmed from a growing number of formal complaints about the school submitted to the state commission since March.

Cirrus was required to submit a plan to the state commission by Sept. 15 detailing how the school is coming into compliance. The governing board submitted the plan on time but still has not remedied some of the state commission’s findings, such as the immediate need for it to increase board capacity to meet the minimum required by its bylaws and hold public hearings on the budget it approved in July.

In an emailed statement to The Macon Newsroom, the State Charter Schools Commission said it will continue to “monitor the situation” at Cirrus and will “continue to support state charter schools as they aim to provide better educational outcomes for their communities and to hold schools accountable for meeting the SCSC’s rigorous performance standards.”

Future Uncertain

State charter schools are operated by nonprofit boards and funded with state tax dollars.The deal is this: charter schools agree to outperform traditional public schools students would otherwise attend and, in exchange, the state waives certain state rules such as class size and teaching certification requirements.

Cirrus Academy has not fully held up its end of the bargain in any single year since it opened. The school met academic standards for the first time in its history earlier this year but is still among the lowest-performing schools in the state, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Even if Cirrus Academy meets all of the state commission’s financial, operational and academic standards this year, it won’t technically be eligible for a charter renewal because of its long track record of not meeting performance standards, State Charter Schools Commission director of research and evaluation Katie Manthey said during a visit to the school in August to discuss Cirrus’s eligibility for charter renewal.

In the past, political appointees serving on the State Charter Schools Commission have considered other factors in deciding to approve charter renewals for Cirrus.

The school braced for potential state-closure at end of its first charter term in 2021 but was granted a one-year extension amid Covid, former board member Sheldon Hart said earlier this year. State Charter Schools Commissioners considered the fact that Cirrus was “approaching” academic goals in 2019, before the global pandemic interrupted student education, according to records related to the commission’s renewal decision.

The school braced again for potential closure in 2022 and Hart said then he was surprised the commission granted Cirrus a two-year probationary charter extension. The State Charter Schools Commission’s rationale was that “students at Cirrus would return to persistently low-performing schools” and middle school grades performed similarly to those enrolled in Bibb public schools, according to the state commission’s records.

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

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