State Board of Education unanimously votes not to renew PACE Acdemy charter

jalexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

PACE1-CHN-010914-HLL

PACE Academy EC (exceptional children) teacher Caleb Smith hands out play money cash and coins to freshman Meagan Fletcher, left, along with other members of the class as they study restaurant menus and the use of money in transactions. PACE Academy, a charter school at 308 W. NC 54 in Carrboro with169 students grades 9-12,will not have its charter renewed.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The State Board of Education unanimously voted not to renew PACE Academy’s charter Thursday, based on the recommendation of the state’s charter school advisory board.

The school, currently serving about 160 students in grades 9-12 at 308 W. N.C. 54 in Carrboro, will have 60 days to appeal the decision to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

PACE had financial problems, low graduation rates and tested poorly compared to students attending the surrounding Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, according to the state Office of Charter Schools. The office has also questioned the school’s relationship with a basketball academy that sends most of its high school players to the school.

State board member John Tate told students who attended Thursday’s meeting that the decision does not reflect on anything they had done but that “regrettably it has been a case of non-performance by the administrators” of the school.

“It’s a tough decision, but it’s the right decision,” Tate said.

“We want to see highest-of-quality charter schools in North Carolina, legal compliance, board performance, financial integrity and academy,” said Joel Medley, director of the Office of Charter Schools. “These are not easy decisions and not taken lightly. But a unanimous decision of the advisory board says a lot.”

Efforts to reach school officials after Thursday’s vote were unsuccessful.

PACE, whose mission is to support students’ academic growth, emotional development and professional readiness, had previously said comparing its test scores to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is unfair because more than half of its students are considered exceptional children, meaning each has one or more disabilities.

Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella wrote a letter to the state Board of Education supporting PACE because it provided students with behavioral problems an alternative. Currently, CHCCS has only one alternative school, Phoenix Academy.

“Phoenix is full,” Forcella said in an interview. “We'll have to think about working with our three comprehensive high schools if those parents do decide to bring their kids back.”

Basketball questions

The Office of Charter Schools had also questioned PACE’s involvement with Bull City Prep Academy, a for-profit club basketball team. Nine of club’s high school team’s 11 players attend PACE.

Medley sent a letter to PACE principal Rhonda Franklin and Board of Directors Chairwoman Sylvia Mason, noting that the club was listing the charter school as a sponsor and also as staff on its team website.

PACE responded, saying they contacted coach Darryl Harris after getting the state’s inquiry and that he explained he had used a template from a website provider in order to publish statistics for his players.

“He further explained that there was no other place on the website to list what school the player attended,” the PACE response said. “Mr. Harris immediately contacted the website host/provider who has since removed the term ‘sponsor’ and ‘staff school’ from the Bull City Prep Website.”

PACE officials say they have no relationship with Bull City Prep Academy and that the players who attend the school are there for academics only.

Staff writer Keung Hui contributed to this story

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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