Azleway school could lose charter; effective June

Published on Friday, 20 December 2013 00:40 - Written by By Emily Guevara

About 150 students could be changing schools after the state announced its intention to close an East Texas charter school.

Azleway Charter School is among six Texas schools slated to have its charter revoked after they failed to meet certain academic and financial standards set by the state.

The Texas commissioner of education notified the campus through a letter dated Wednesday. In the letter, the commissioner states that the decision is effective June 30, 2014 and that the school does have the option to request an informal review regarding the decision.

Gary Duke, CEO of Azleway Inc., the charter holder for the school, said they will request this.

The decision to revoke these charters comes in light of new state legislation passed during this year’s session that calls for the commissioner to revoke charters that “fail to meet academic or financial accountability performance ratings for the three preceding school years, or any combination thereof.”

Azleway Charter School, which has three campuses, received an “Academically Unacceptable” rating during the 2010-11 school year and a financial accountability performance rating of “Substandard Achievement” during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, according to the letter.

As part of the decision, the commissioner has assigned Eddie Milham to serve as Texas Education Agency conservator for the school.

The conservator role will include the following: overseeing the financial management and governance of the charter school to ensure it complies with state and federal law; attending board meetings, including executive session, and directing the board as necessary to address the findings in the final report; and overseeing all close-out activities at the school, according to TEA information.

TEA staff will be present at the next meeting of the school’s board of trustees to introduce the conservator to the board.


What is Azleway?

Azleway spans two separate entities. There are the boys homes and the charter school. Though they operate side-by-side, in a sense, they are officially two separate entities, and the commissioner’s decision deals solely with the charter school.

Azleway Charter School operates three campuses: Chapel Hill, Big Sandy and Willow Bend. The commissioner’s decision affects the school as a whole, which means all three campuses.

Gary Duke, CEO of Azleway Inc., the charter holder for the school, said Thursday that 152 students from elementary school through high school attend the school.

These students can range in age from 6 to 23. The vast majority of them are in the managing conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This means they were removed from the care of a parent or other guardian and the state now acts as their guardian.

Many of these children have been abused, neglected, abandoned or otherwise traumatized, Duke said.

A lot of them have learning disabilities or emotional disturbances, and they have had a difficult time functioning in the traditional public school system. Therefore, they attend school at Azleway.

About two-thirds of the school’s students are classified as special education and that is part of the challenge, Duke said.

As an example, they might have a student who, based on their age should be in high school, but based on their academic ability in a particular subject is a third-grader.

Duke said it is virtually impossible to get that student to meet the state’s academic standards, at least in a year’s time.

That being said, the campus does make great progress with its students, sometimes advancing them by two grade levels in one school year, Duke said. However, that’s not enough if the student is behind by several more grade levels.

Duke said all of the teachers are certified and described them as competent.

“The kids are also getting a very wonderful education,” he said.


Addressing the challenges

Although the decision to revoke the charter came as a surprise to the school administration, the campus was addressing some of the challenges that are cited among the reasons for its potential closure.

Regarding the school’s poor financial ratings, Duke said the school got into problems under former administrators.

Several years ago, the school received a large grant to provide additional services for the students.

With those funds, the school’s administration hired additional staff, but didn’t monitor the funding as well as they should have, Duke said.

When the money ran out, the school continued to pay the additional staff resulting in it reaching financial insolvency.

In cooperation with the Texas Education Agency, the school developed a plan to address its financial situation and met and continues to meet the requirements of that plan, Duke said.

In order to be considered “financially solvent,” the school needs to have at least 90 days worth of operating capital on hand, Duke said. Although they don’t yet have that, they are working toward it.

Duke said there has been a change in the school’s administration and the school’s administrators are working to resolve the issues.

Duke said regardless of the TEA’s decision, they’re “going to ensure that (the) kids receive an appropriate education.”

If the charter ultimately is revoked, the students likely would be placed in the public school system, he said. They must attend school at an accredited educational institution.

Despite what people might think about the school because of the state’s decision, Duke said it’s a good place.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation for the kids because we want to provide them with the best educational system that we can,” he said.


Staff Writer Faith Harper contributed to this report.