By JEROD CLAPP
In spite of a complete overhaul, the board for a proposed charter school in Clark County has a lot of familiar faces.
The York Academy of Discovery has made its fourth application to the Indiana Charter School Board. Among the names of those involved are two former administrators and a former board member for Greater Clark County Schools.
Stephen Daeschner, who was ousted as the district’s superintendent in 2012 and Jim Sexton, former principal at Jeffersonville High School, have provided consultation for this charter and may remain involved if it’s approved in the next two months.
With a new board president, board members and concept, the academy’s board President Eric Schansberg said he’s hopeful the York Academy has another chance at becoming a reality.
“The proposals were mostly the same until this one,” Schansberg said. “We were trying to address weaknesses. The early proposals were basically taking the same model and trying to show something that made more sense in terms of budget and everything else.”
Becka Christensen, a former board member for Greater Clark, also appears as board member on the charter proposal.
“People will see a lot of names from the past,” Sexton said. “But we’re not the past, we’re the future.”
Schansberg, professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast, said he’s the only board member left from the school’s second charter application in 2012.
Becky Kischnick originally spearheaded the school and served as board president. After three failed applications, Schansberg said she dropped out of the project altogether.
The school originally had a kindergarten through fifth grade structure and employed Paideia — a concept of education that focuses on less formal teaching to meet the needs of every student. The new proposal is for a middle school.
“When you get rejected, it’s very discouraging,” Schansberg said. “She put a ton of energy in it and I don’t think she was at all confident that we’d be successful [after the third try]. Even if the evaluators are doing the best they can, there’s imprecision and you never quite know why you’re being rejected.”
He said whether the state charter board or Ball State University’s Office of Charter Schools rejected a proposal, they never specified whether the problem was with budgets, leaders or otherwise.
But along with a new board, he said the whole idea for York has changed. The only remaining piece from the original proposal is the school’s name, which comes from a slave who helped the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
When Daeschner was brought on in an advisory role about six months ago, he said elementary schools were already strong in the region. Middle schools were the ones that needed work.
“They’re approximately 15 percent below elementaries [on ISTEP+ scores] and they’re the same students,” Daeschner said.
He said as students are getting ready to enter high school, a charter with a focus on preparing them for their freshman year and beyond made more sense.
“I think students deserve far more rigor,” Daeschner said. “We know how to teach that to our students. I think the teachers have to be a facilitator of learning, not necessarily an imparter. The work should be done by the kids, not by the teachers.”
Daeschner outlined how to deliver curriculum for the charter application. The ideas — including goal clarity windows and others — closely mirror what he employed at Greater Clark from 2009 to 2012. He said the reasoning behind that was how much better students performed in the three years he was there.
“We had some of the largest gains of any district in the state of Indiana,” Daeschner said. “Every school got gains, every school. We had something like a 30 percent increase in our math at 26 percent in English.”
But a focus on intervention for students who need to catch up to their peers is another major component of the school’s curriculum.
The proposal lists Sexton as a potential principal for the middle school. After Greater Clark removed Sexton from his position as principal at JHS, he became a teacher at New Washington High School. Now, he’s on a leave of absence from the district.
The application also includes a focus on a safe learning environment. Sexton said he’d like to have a full-time security position on campus as well as a full-time nurse.
Schansberg said he’s not sure how much of an issue security is in local schools, but parents have expressed a desire for that in their public meetings.
Though the concept behind the school isn’t so different from that of traditional public schools, Schansberg said starting with something new brings possibilities for real change in culture and effectiveness.
“It’s got to be immensely difficult to turn around the culture of existing schools or systems,” Schansberg said. “I think that’s a tremendous advantage that we have, to start anew and shape things how we want.”
FUNDING AND FACILITIES
The school has a proposed starting budget of about $2.5 million. Most of the spending goes toward teacher salaries, which are projected to average about $60,000 annually per position.
Schansberg said administrators would make about the same amount of money as teachers and spend part of their time as instructors in classrooms. The idea, he said, is to level the playing field between teachers and administrators to help encourage a positive culture and make it easier for teachers to buy into any changes.
Community groups have already pledged some resources to the school. The Boys and Girls Club of Kentuckiana has agreed to provide after-school care for students until 7 p.m. They may offer more services, but won’t agree to more until a charter is approved, according to the application.
Brandon’s House, a counseling center in New Albany, has agreed to write a grant for a full-time counselor for the school.
But a location hasn’t been selected yet.
Schansberg said he hopes they can work with Greater Clark County Schools on any vacant buildings they have available. If not, they’ll look for warehouse or other space they can renovate for their needs.
State law now requires districts to allow charter schools to use unused district buildings, but some districts have leased buildings to their internal building corporations to hold onto their assets.
“That’s the first choice,” Schansberg said. “That’s the letter of the law. The public has already paid for the buildings and charter schools are public schools. Hopefully, they’ll cooperate.”
In the first year, they expect to bring in 360 students, most of which they expect in the sixth grade. By their third year of operation, they project topping out at 630 students.
Schansberg said there’s a possibility that as the school continues to operate, they could expand to fifth grade or even lower levels, but the board doesn’t have concrete plans on the issue.
As the school prepares for the charter review next month, Sexton said he’s excited about the opportunity to start something new in the region.
“Obviously, if the proposal is given the go-ahead, it’s going to be a very involved school,” Sexton said. “I believe the charter school in Southern Indiana is the future. It’s an opportunity for parents and students to have choice.”