Local charter school Pace Academy fights for renewal

Raleigh News & ObserverJanuary 10, 2014 

— As the state Board of Education is encouraging and approving the opening of new charter schools, PACE Academy, a charter school in Carrboro, is fighting for its life.

“It’s not an insurmountable challenge, and it’s certainly one that we’re up for,” said Vice Principal Jane Miller after a meeting of the state board Wednesday. “We believe that the facts speak for themselves.”

The charter school, which opened in 2004, is under scrutiny by the state board, which will decide next month whether to renew its charter.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board approved 26 new charter schools to open this fall, but in a very short presentation moments later about whether to renew 12 existing charters, Helen Nance of the Charter School Advisory Board recommended that two schools not have their charters renewed. PACE was one of those schools.

Although the agenda stated it was a discussion period, board members did not discuss PACE or the other school, Coastal Academy for Technology and Science, and quickly moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Coastal Academy had brought staff members and about 20 students from Morehead City to attend the meeting, and PACE had several representatives there as well.

PACE, which serves about 160 students in grades 9 through 12, had noncompliance issues, low academic performance and serious financial problems, according to a presentation from the Office of Charter Schools to the advisory board on Dec. 10, 2013.

That presentation and a written report, claimed PACE violated the 95 percent testing rule, had financial problems, low graduation rates, tested poorly compared to students attending Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and that there was a discrepancy in PACE’s head count.

That is unfair not fair and inaccurate, PACE claims.

PACE serves many students with disabilities, including students with mental illnesses, learning and physical disabilities, students who have had problems at other schools, students who have been bullied in other schools, students who do better in a more supportive environment, students with children and students who must work to support themselves or their families.

Its mission is to support their academic growth, emotional development and professional readiness to go out in the world. More than 50 percent of its students are considered exceptional children, meaning each has one or more disabilities.

To compare the performance of PACE’s students to the performance of students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School district, one of the highest-performing systems in the state, is unfair, Miller said. Most schools in the state compare unfavorably to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system, Miller said.

In an attempt to win charter renewal, grandparents, representatives of organizations and groups that support young people with various challenges, have been signing an online petition at Change.org claiming PACE is a valuable community asset.

A number of parents wrote that PACE saved their children, who were failing in other schools, through its accepting and supportive philosophy.

Tom Forcella, superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, has written a letter to the N.C. Board of Education in support of PACE, indicating PACE staff has expertise in working with students who have been unable to succeed because of behavioral problems.

“Please consider continuing the Charter of PACE Academy so that the students will be able to continue to have access to an alternative setting that will meet their unique needs,” Forcella wrote.

The letter, as well as other documentation, which PACE contends supports its position, have been posted on a new website, pace2014renewal.com.

Velliquette: bavelliquette@gmail.com

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