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St. Johns County School District Pokes Holes In Charter School Application

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Jake Martin

St. Johns County School District officials spent time Wednesday poking holes in New World Academy's charter application.

"I think we identified a number of errors in the application because it was a generic application that was applied to seven different districts," said Tim Egnor, executive director for curriculum services for the district. "The numbers for enrollment didn't make sense, the budget aspects didn't make sense, and so now we see that those projections were probably for larger counties."

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New World said it wants to provide a technology-rich learning environment for students who lack access to digital devices at home. The school would focus on individual and small group instruction, letting students work at their own pace.

District officials said the application contained information that was not relevant to the St. Johns County. Additionally, the academy submitted a budget that did not correspond with its application, nor was the person responsible for the budget at the interview to answer questions.

Michael Degutis, chief financial officer for the school district, said the budget was not made for the 605 students the application projected for its first year and asked representatives to explain how its budget worked. The question was met with silence.

"I don't think they did their due diligence in making sure that what they presented to us, in St. Johns [County], was specific to [the county]," Egnor said.

Another issue for district officials was a possible conflict of interest with corporations that were involved in the application process. There was also a lack of clear answers about who is behind the academy.

Who is backing the application?

Stephanie Velez, manager of operations for InterVisual Technology, was recently appointed as a board member of the academy.

InterVisual Technology is the parent company of InterVisual Education, which founded the iGeneration Empowerment Academy in Palm Beach County. The charter opened 11 days after the start of the 2013-2014 academic year and was shut down shortly thereafter.

Representatives for New World said Scholastic Ventures Management Services, a Georgia-based company incorporated in July, would be the executive management office of the charter.

Dana Williams, a board member for the academy, said Scholastic Ventures had gone through a series of different names and that it was finalized with the completion of the application, submitted to the district on Aug. 4.

"We're just really trying to make sure that we've identified who we're contracting with, who we're trusting our kids to, and what their record of success or failure is," Egnor said.

Unlike Heritage Academy, the only other school applying for a charter with the county this year, New World did not submit its application for initial review.

"I think if they had submitted this application for a pre-review, we would have identified every one of these items, sent them a letter and given them a chance to respond to it before they turned in their final application," Egnor said.

Application lacked key information

Statutorily, applicants are not permitted to make significant changes once the final application has been submitted. Even if New World were to come back with a budget that fits what it could realistically achieve in the county, the district would be under no obligation to allow it.

The academy's missing information on facilities, target location and target population were similar to the lack of specificity the district found in Heritage Academy's application last week.

"I think there are issues with identifying who's really in charge and the motivation for the school," Egnor said. "... When an applicant questions its own ability to fulfill its own application, that has to make you take a very serious second look at it."

Aside from a lack of explanation as to where the charter would get sufficient funding for its programs, Egnor said there seemed to be little that was unique in what the academy proposed.

"We already offer virtual classes, and we already have a state-approved digital curriculum available to every student," he said. "I did not find their answer convincing that they're offering a significantly different choice from the choices our students all ready have."

This is New World Academy's first time submitting an application with the district.


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Source : http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2014-09-17/st-johns-county-school-district-pokes-holes-charter-school-application

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