Saquienthia Davis said she sees Lewis Academy of Excellence as more than a charter school that children attend to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. “It’s our village,” Davis said. “It’s our foundation. It’s our safety net.”
That village is in danger of being shut down, because the school may not have a new charter for the 2010-2011 school year. Davis was one of 300 Lewis Academy parents, students, teachers and administrators who met with Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley on Tuesday, to ask for his help to keep their school open.
State law requires charter schools to have a charter to operate. The school’s original five-year charter, which began in 2005, expired at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. The school applied for an extension, last year, and the county school board approved a conditional, one-year charter.
Shortly after a conditional charter was approved, Lewis Academy leaders applied to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, which acts separately from local school systems, for a 10-year charter. The commission denied the request. Lewis school officials went back to the local school district earlier this year to work on that one-year extension. The application was sent off to the Georgia Department of Education for approval in April…
Meanwhile, state concerns about Lewis Academy have not been resolved. Those issues, as outlined in a May 21 letter to Executive Officer Lewis, include: Missing information about concerns the Clayton County School System had about the school; the length of the new charter was not consistent throughout the application; “vague references” of financial concerns which the state wants explained, and whether the school met the goals outlined in its original charter was not “accurately” addressed.
Other concerns include a lack of clarity about “undefined ‘facility expenses,’” and financial documents that do not comply with the Charter Schools Rule established by the State Board of Education.
State officials also raised concerns about $7,500 that the school paid to Lewis Academy Assistant Chief Executive Officer Dionne Thompson, in June 2008, for an unexplained summer camp, and “real estate services.” Lewis said Thompson is a licensed Realtor, and the money she received for the “real estate services” was for helping the school get its current location.
Another concern expressed by the state is that Lewis is the “sole manager” of Lewis Academy Property Holdings, LLC, which leases the school’s property to the school, as well as a member of the school’s governing board. The CEO said she did not know much about the issue of her being the manager of the holding group. “My attorney is looking into that,” she said. When asked if she would sell the school building to the school, she said, “That would be up to our governing board to decide.”
The school’s leaders have often fought criticisms of how the school is run by arguing that it consistently makes Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). That argument is being called into question, in light of concerns about high numbers of eraser marks on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) that are administered at the school. Earlier this year, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement placed Lewis Academy on its list of “Severe Concern” schools that showed significantly higher than average numbers of CRCT answers that had been changed from wrong, to right…
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LEWIS ACADEMY COULD BE FACING CLOSURE, January 21, 2010, Clayton News Daily (Jonesboro, GA)
Clayton County’s first charter school could be facing closure — at least as a publicly funded institution — unless the Georgia Board of Education overturns a decision made by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission on Dec. 14, to deny the Riverdale-based school a 10-year charter.
The commission’s decision is based on an interview panel’s report on Lewis Academy, which raised concerns over the 675-student school’s curriculum, student performance goals, fiscal feasibility, and a lack of details on how “exceptional students” would be educated.
If a charter is not granted by the Georgia Board of Education at its meeting next month, then Lewis Academy’s days as a taxpayer-funded charter school will be over, according to Georgia Charter Schools Commission Chairman Ben Scafidi…
The school’s 175-page charter petition, filed with the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, shows that the school intended to expand, but it is not clear to what grade levels. One part of the petition’s executive summary shows that the school would expand to be a pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade institution. But, an enrollment projection shown underneath that statement gives projections for kindergarten, through the ninth-grade.
Lewis Academy of Excellence Founder and Chief Executive Officer Patricia Lewis could not be reached for comment on Wednesday…
The commission’s interview panel expressed concerns over what curriculum Lewis Academy would use to teach students in the upper grades, if it was expanded beyond the fifth-grade. The petition calls for the establishment of a “Junior Academy” that would include students in grades six through eight.
The curriculum used for these grades levels is described as being one that follows “researched best practices that align with Georgia Professional Standards, but utilize additional innovative resources, strategies and materials.” The petition does not specify what topics students will be studying, at what grade levels, however…
The panel also recommended further financial review of Lewis Academy, because of an undated “recent” audit by Clayton County Public Schools, which revealed a lack of a fixed-asset system; the existence of multiple bank accounts “that are not designated for specific expenses;” late remittances of payroll taxes and payments to the Teachers Retirement System; multiple late charges and overdraft fees, “unresolved payroll concerns,” and “untimely bank reconciliations.”
The panel also cited a certified audit for the 2008-2009 school that Lewis Academy did not submit to the Georgia Department of Education until Dec. 9, 2009. “Under the circumstances, a recommendation to approve a charter for Lewis Academy of Excellence is not prudent until the current authorizers undertake, and complete, a thorough review of the charter school’s financial statements,” the panel wrote in its report…
Lewis Academy’s history has been a roller coaster ride since the school opened in 2005. It has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) during each of its first four years of operation, a point which school officials have touted as a sign that they are doing well. Officials also just opened a new classroom building to ease crowding at the school.
Past struggles, however, include accusations by Clayton County Public Schools officials that the school wasn’t able to prove it was doing background checks on teachers; that minutes for meetings of it governing board were missing, and that it had failed to make some payments to the Teacher Retirement System.
A 2006 audit of the school’s financial information alleged that its financial records were in disarray, including a lack of financial statements, no income controls and no purchasing policy, insufficient expenditure documentation, and poor accounting procedures.
In the summer of 2006, the school’s then-location, Riverdale First United Methodist Church, filed a civil suit against the school for unpaid rent and utility bills. In May 2007, church officials notified the school’s officials that Lewis Academy’s lease would not be renewed.
At that point, Clayton County school officials informed members of the Clayton County Board of Education that they were ready to seek the revocation of Lewis Academy’s charter.
Lewis Academy officials were able to avoid closure at the time, however, by buying the old Woodward Academy Busey Campus in Riverdale, where the school has been located since August 2007.