The question is bound to arise: Why did the Observer dedicate so much time and space to a story about problems at StudentFirst Academy, a new charter school serving just over 300 students?
The answer: Access and timing.
Certainly other public and private schools in our area have faced financial, academic and management problems. But in this case, there was extraordinary public documentation of StudentFirst's high hopes and quick fall.
Recent charter applications are online at the N.C. Office of Charter Schools site, and they provide a wealth of information about what founding boards say they'll do. The application for StudentFirst was especially rich because it was a private-school conversion. Testimonials from the likes of then-Mayor Pat McCrory and then-Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon were among the documents submitted with the application. You can also find the applications for Miracle Academy East and West, an attempt to reproduce the StudentFirst plan even as the original charter was trying to get started.
A public records request produced a November letter from the state charter-school office detailing complaints about the school and a redacted copy of the StudentFirst board response. The blacked-out paragraph presumably involves personnel matters that are confidential under state law.
Personnel privacy often becomes a brick wall in the quest to find out what went wrong at a school. But in this case, former head of school Phyllis Handford and deputy head Sandra Moss have sued the board. That suit detailed allegations of illegal board meetings and made it clear the two women were being paid significantly more than the charter application had called for.
Documents filed with the board's response provided further accounts of the problems, including a summary written by Prestige Preparatory School Network, an affidavit from StudentFirst vice chair Jennifer Winstel and an affidavit by Prestige executive Mark Cramer.
Finally, Observer researcher Maria David found archived video of an hour-long presentation by Handford, Moss and several supporters outlining the charter plan for the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum. That offered a more personal glimpse of the plan and the people pitching it.
|Moss (second from left) and Handford (right) at breakfast forum|
If you're still up for more reading, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers offers a lot of information, including a state-by-state comparison of systems and a list of 10 questions to ask. Public Impact, a Chapel Hill consulting firm, also offers a number of publications examining charter quality.