Thursday, January 21, 2010

The demise of a charter school

Looks like Sisters Charter Academy of Fine Arts (SCAFA) is winding down its days.

The school will be able to stay open while it appeals to the Oregon Department of Education the Sisters School District’s decision to terminate its contract, so it’ll probably hold on through most of the rest of the school year.

The charter school board has already decided they won’t attempt to renew the charter when it expires this summer.

It’s hard to see how things could have played out another way. The charter school never had enough students to meet minimum state requirements and never showed the sponsoring Sisters School District that it could be financially viable.

Frankly, the proposals the charter school offered to demonstrate the potential for financial viability were rudimentary at best. They offered vague ideas, not a concrete course of action.

Under those circumstances, the Sisters School Board really didn’t have a choice but to terminate. They would not have been doing their duty to let things continue as they were.

But the outcome is terribly unfortunate for the families who used the school. SCAFA turned out to be a kind of alternative learning environment for many kids who didn’t — and won’t — thrive in the standard public school setting. Several parents have told me how much better things are for their child at SCAFA; they don’t know what they’ll do with it gone.

How can you not sympathize with their plight?

SCAFA got off to a rocky start. There were serious problems there, beyond the financial viability question. But after two years of floundering, SCAFA seemed to have righted the ship educationally, if not economically. As one parent put it, it was creating square holes to accommodate the square pegs — and that means everything to the parent of a square peg.

It’s too bad that it took too long and that it appears that it’s too late.
Real educational choice is important in every community, large or small. Sisters Christian Academy has provided that for some parents; homeschooling works for some families.

It’s not easy to provide. Charter schools and private academies alike have a tough row to hoe and they really need a solid business and educational plan going in to have a hope of success.

The school board did the right thing in terminating SCAFA — from an institutional standpoint, it was the only thing they could responsibly do. I know that board members regret the impact it will have on the children and teachers involved.

Sisters is poorer for the loss of the charter school, especially that small group of families whose children were thriving and now have no place to go. Nobody is better off here.

We like to think that we can make something work for everybody and sometimes we can’t. The pencil is tough and sometimes it leaves everybody whipped.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Dear Sirs (and "ladies") of Sisters,

    I'm confused. Why don't they just funnel some money to the charter school using tried and true creative financing? They did it for the Christians. Sure, they got a slap on the wrist, but The Christian Academy lived on. God bless them!

    We do a bit of that sort of thing, just to get by mind you, out here on the hog farm. We're good God fearing Republicans, naturally, but there are some programs that we might not qualify for exactly, all the time, but which can provide funds when needed. Don't ask, don't tell, that's what I say! I say that to my Nephew in Portland a lot. But I digress.

    Is it possible the community doesn't support square pegs? I'd be surprised! There's a sign on the Elementary School that says "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" - or it was meant to say that but they dialed it down a bit so as not to scare the little tykes all at once. Good call! Anyhoo...Christians love all pegs, square, round and even six sided. So they must be behind it, the charter school I mean, and therefore the town must too!

    I'm at a loss! I am off to Vegas shortly but when I return I hope to see this all sorted out for the better.

    Your good friend,

    Mr. Papageorgio, ESQ

  2. To see the school board point fingers questioning fiscal mangement and ethics is pathetically sad..for all the kids who need options in education..Sisters schools will lose approx. $300,000 a year when the on-line All-Prep and charter web move to Bend.I am so grateful to have my child out of the union driven public schools and learning on-line.The public needs to be aware that there is a reason we have so many superintendents that move thru..hmmm maybe it has something to do with our school board..We need to clean house!