Franklin: numbers do not tell charter school storyWritten by Miranda Everitt | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eagle Academy school leader Terrence Franklin said he is fighting an uphill battle. Charter schools like the one he leads have been under fire from teachers’ unions, parents and public school administrators for their low test scores. Franklin said there is a long way to go but defends the charter school philosophy.
Eagle Academy is a school chartered by the Ohio Council of Community Schools and managed by the Leona Group of East Lansing, Mich. It spent four years on Monroe Street in Downtown Toledo before this year.
Franklin said they made the move from Downtown Toledo to the former St. Stephen Elementary School on Consaul Street to offer students a community environment, where children could walk to school.
”We had problems with the local school district not wanting competition,” Franklin said.
Some Birmingham Elementary school teachers handed out fliers comparing their public School to Eagle Academy at the school’s August open house.
”That slowed up enrollment,” Franklin said. ”Some parents were influenced to send their children back to Birmingham.”
Birmingham Principal Barbara Guthrie said she, her assistant and teachers at the school have talked with parents of children who transferred to Eagle Academy.
Franklin emphasized the importance of cooperation between the neighboring schools.
”What we should really be talking about is what we can do as educators to educate students, period,” Franklin said.
Guthrie said she does not feel threatened by Eagle Academy.
”They haven’t had a major impact on this school,” she said.
Guthrie said she has never been contacted personally by Franklin about meeting with the charter school leader, but she is always open to ideas.
”We’re very neighborhood-oriented,” she said.
In September, Toledo Public Schools superintendent Eugene Sanders told Toledo Free Press the emergence of charter schools is ”one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in education I’ve ever seen.”
”To me, one of the biggest miscarriages of justice has been the thought that there has to be a line drawn in the sand” between traditional and charter schools, Franklin said.
Franklin said Sanders interviewed for a position heading charter schools in Detroit after his statement.
The State of Ohio has declared Eagle Academy an academic emergency school; the lowest category of progress standards set by the state.
Despite 85 to 90 percent attendance rates, achievement test scores showed as little as 2.4 percent proficient or higher in the 2002-03 4th grade math test. Those scores are creeping up around five percent each year, but Franklin said numbers don’t tell the whole story.
”When we get our children, they are often two to three grade levels behind. When parents choose us, that means something was not going right somewhere else,” Franklin said. ”The problems don’t occur overnight and they can’t be fixed overnight. But we’ve accepted the challenge, despite being expected to do more with less.”
He said the numbers are skewed because Eagle Academy’s student population is so small. With around 20 students in each grade, one or two latecomers or students with difficulties can affect the numbers much more than at a public school with 200 in a grade.
”Students who have been here two or three years, their numbers go up,” Franklin said. ”We see improvement in every grade between the time they enter in the fall until the time they leave in the spring.”
Guthrie said such claims do not stand up.
”He can spin however he wants,” she said. ”All I can speak on is their results. We have the same children. A direct comparison of our schools versus theirs shows we’re in continuous improvement and they’ve been in academic emergency for three years. We’re making significant improvements.”
Franklin said what makes the difference for charter school parents, students and staff is how customizable the school can be.
Eagle Academy uses online assessments to measure the progress of their students before they start classes, once in the middle of the year and at the end of the year. Franklin said these allow teachers to track problem areas and improvements so they can shape their curriculum around the needs of their students.
Curriculum coach Shannon Kane cited several examples of change based on test results and teacher feedback, such as ordering level readers for students who do not read at grade level but need to get the same information as the rest of the class.
”There are no blue-ribbon panels, no jumping through hoops for six months,” he said. ”If a book isn’t working, if kids aren’t learning anything from it, we can invoke change on a dime. That’s pretty powerful.”
First- and second-grade teacher Laurie Schmidt came to Eagle Academy from a private school.
”I was really enticed by the charter school philosophy,” she said. ”I’ve definitely seen our school grow. It’s a lot more adept at zeroing in on learning.”
More direct teacher involvement makes a big difference for Schmidt, who has been there for four of her eight years teaching.
Atmosphere is important to the school leader. His office is the first door to the right for students coming in the doors of the red-brick building every morning. He said he intends to learn all 115 students’ names and something about them.
”They’re not widgets; they’re people, they’re human beings,” he said. He said he knows around 80 of them already.
The hallways are festooned with A+ assignments, poetry, drawings, etiquette, flags and motivational posters. The basement gym, which Franklin said will soon host Jr. NBA, Jr. WNBA and cheer team practices, has a scoreboard that still (erroneously) reads ”St. Stevens.” The library on the top floor is stocked with an eclectic mix of books organized by parent volunteers, who are a big part of the support staff at the school.
April Garner has two children at the school. Her third-grader has been at Eagle Academy for three years and her daughter is in kindergarten. She said around 80 percent of the parents volunteer with tutoring, office work, field trips or library work. Garner recommends the school to other parents.
”I was being called in two or three times a week,” she said. ”They told me he was behind in kindergarten, problems left and right. He didn’t know the alphabet, didn’t know nothing [when he was at Walbridge Elementary]. There wasn’t anything wrong with him. I’ve seen a lot of improvement.”
Franklin said he has challenged opponents to the school to visit and experience the difference, but no one has taken the offer.
”No one can leave without knowing that it’s a different kind of place here,” he said. ”It’s not business as usual