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September 2, 2014

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School Board closing down Team Academy

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Clark County School Board ordered a struggling charter school to shut its doors.

The decision to revoke the charter for Clark County Team Academy, a distance learning program that allows high schoolers to complete credits online came after the school officials were unable to convince board members that the school was in compliance with state education laws.

Team Academy is required to give parents and students written notice 30 days prior to closure. That would likely allow the school to continuing operating through the end of the semester, district officials said.

District staff told the School Board prior to the vote that Team Academy's master student register was incomplete and contained inaccurate records. The charter school had also failed to meet a deadline for hooking up a computer system required by the state, staff members said.

Frank Mitchell, administrator for the charter school, said Thursday he hoped Team Academy would be allowed to continue operating through the end of the semester in December. The school's staff will work to help its 300 students find other educational programs, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he hasn't ruled out an appeal to the state Board of Education. But Craig Kadlub, the district's director of public affairs, said by law the state cannot revive a charter that has been revoked by a local school board. The state board may opt to sponsor a charter school that has been turned down by the local agency, Kadlub said.

"If they (Team Academy) want to go to the state they'll have to start from scratch after the details of the current school are resolved," Kadlub said.

This is the first time the School Board has revoked a charter while a program was still operating. In 2000, the TechWorld Academy abruptly ceased operations after being notified by the district that the revocation process was under way. The charter was later revoked after the school closed.

Dave Morgan, a senior at Team Academy, said if his school is forced to close "there's no way" he would go back to Sierra Vista High School. Instead, Morgan said, he would find another home-schooling program where he would be able to work at his own pace.

"Why put in eight hours at a regular school when you can do the same classes in four hours concentrating at home?" said Morgan, who plans to study business at UNLV. With home schooling, "there's no drama, no fighting -- all you do is focus."

School Board member Ruth Johnson said the decision to revoke the charter wasn't an easy one and that her primary concern was for the students.

"It's going to be difficult for them to get acclimated to a new learning environment," Johnson said. "I certainly feel for them and for their families but this was the right decision."

Several other charter schools have been flagged for failing to comply with state education laws but managed to solve the problems after a first warning. Keystone Academy, a charter high school serving students in rural Sandy Valley, has received notices of revocation at least once for each of its five years of operations.

By law, when a charter school is found to be out of compliance, the district must send a "notice of revocation" giving the school 90 days to correct the problems before the matter is brought to the School Board for a vote.

Team Academy received its revocation letter in June after an audit turned up a list of compliance issues. In August district officials urged the school not to open for a second year as they planned to recommend to the School Board in October that the charter be yanked.

The charter school's governing body split over whether or not to continue operations, with three of the seven members ultimately resigning.

At its Oct. 14 meeting the School Board gave team Academy a one-month reprieve to solve its slew of problems, including insufficient student records and a steep budget deficit.

Mitchell said he has spent the past 30 days frantically bringing the program up to par.

"In my opinion we have completed all the requirements," Mitchell said.

Late per-pupil funding from the state arrived, solving the school's financial problems, Mitchell said.

Parents and students have rallied around the charter school, saying it provides educational opportunities for teens who might otherwise drop out entirely.

"It's a choice for kids who don't make it at a regular school," said Dom Albacena, who withdrew his son from Silverado High School after the tenth grader was beaten up and hassled by gang members. "He's my only son, I want him to get an education but he said he would never go back there."

Ted Smith, whose daughter Melissa is a senior at Team Academy, said her grade point average has gone from a 2.0 to nearly a 4.0.

"She works at her own speed -- all night if she wants to," Smith said.

A school can't be judged a success or failure in its first or even second year, Smith said.

"The way this (the revocation process) is being handled isn't fair," Smith said. "They're putting Team Academy through a wringer no regular public school has to go through. There's no school in this state that would look perfect under this kind of scrutiny."

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