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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon’s Cirrus Academy survives state charter board vote following year of turmoil

State charter school granted a three-year charter contract renewal
Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom
Cirrus Academy Superintendent Gail Fowler tells the State Charter Schools Commission, “we stand to pledge that we’re going to continue this work of what success is as we continue to grow and provide an opportunity – a choice – for students in Macon-Bibb County.”

ATLANTA – Cirrus Academy charter school leaders sat front row at the State Charter Schools Commission meeting Wednesday, watching and listening as the commission closed two metro Atlanta charter schools – a fate Cirrus narrowly escaped twice in recent years.

Emotions ran high as the death knell sounded for Fulton Leadership Academy and Cherokee Charter Academy. Students and school leaders hugged each other and cried. A couple of state employees shed tears too.

Though it placed Cirrus Academy on probation late last year following months of extraordinary tumult – infighting between the board and school leaders plus a catalog of charter contract violations – the State Charter School Commission voted to extend the school’s charter contract for three more years.

Improved standardized test scores helped pry Cirrus off the Georgia Department of Education’s list of the bottom 5% of low performing public schools in the state in January. The school met the state commission’s academic standards this year for the second time in its eight-year history.

“Those of you who are familiar with Cirrus know it has been a struggle, but we can stand here today to say that we have offered a great choice to the scholars in Bibb County – almost 500 scholars – who ordinarily would not have had the support at their home school,” Fowler said to the state commission before it voted on the renewal.

Fowler, donning a navy blue blazer in school spirit, said she was delighted by the commission’s decision but it came as no surprise.

“We’ve done the work and today just solidifies the hard work,” Fowler said after the board’s vote to renew the charter. “We are staying the course and we are doing the work because we knew victory was going to be ours.”

Charter contracts are typically renewed for five years, but the recent contract marks the third abbreviated charter term the state commission has approved for Cirrus. The school is currently operating on a two-year probationary charter term set to end in June, but the new charter contract allows the school to operate until June 2027.

State Charter Schools Commission officials were unable to say whether Cirrus was still on probation at the renewal meeting.

The school’s success is particularly important for the State Charter Schools Commission as Macon was identified as a target area for opening and expanding charter schools with a $38.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Cirrus Academy’s governing board purchased property around its campus near Pio Nono Avenue and Mercer University Drive a year ago with plans to expand to higher grades but the commission rejected plans for the proposed expansion.

State Charter Schools Commissioner Tony Lowden, center, abstained from voting on Cirrus’s charter contract renewal, likely because of his personal connections to the school, its founder and board members.

State Charter School Commissioner Tony Lowden abstained from the vote, likely because he helped Albert Rogers, late founder of Cirrus, create the school and once worked at after school programs alongside two of its current board members. His wife served on the school’s governing board years ago.

“I’ve watched from afar without voting or without even taking a position on Cirrus Academy because my friend, a man that I love with all my heart – Albert Rogers – this was his baby,” Lowden said, adding that school leadership fell into turmoil after Rogers’ death last summer. “I remember when we went down to visit and we walked up out the room and we said, ‘We don’t think they’re going to make it.’ … Some of those areas of schools have been failing for 12, and 15, and 19 years. It happens around the state and clusters, but they’re failing in elementary, failing in the middle and failing into high school.”

Lowden was among the first appointees to the State Charter Schools Commission upon its creation more than a decade ago. He said he worked with former Gov. Nathan Deal on the plan to create “opportunity school districts” that would have permitted the state to assume control of chronically failing county schools and convert them into charter schools or close them permanently. The constitutional amendment was rejected by voters in 2016.

“I watched when you was on probation and now you have another three years,” Lowden said. “And I’m begging you, the Bible says, ‘I beseech you,’ I’m begging you to lead as servant leaders who is trying to serve well for babies in our state.”

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

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