Chapel Hill ISD: District OKs tentative plan to assimilate Azleway, Willow Bend

Published on Friday, 29 August 2014 00:17 - Written by Faith Harper fharper@tylerpaper.com

Chapel Hill ISD approved a tentative plan to take over the operations of Azleway Charter School and Willow Bend if the Texas commissioner of education does not approve a Hill Country-based charter school’s request to take over the school.

In December, the Texas Education Agency notified Azleway of the Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ decision to revoke its charter.

Azleway fought the decision, but state administrative law Judge William G. Newchurch upheld it in late August.

Chapel Hill Superintendent Dr. Donni Cook said the school would be officially closed Sunday.

Azleway operates three East Texas campuses at Chapel Hill, Big Sandy and Willow Bend. The majority of the students who attend the campuses are under the managing conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, meaning the children were removed from the care of a parent or guardian and the state acts as their guardian.

Trinity Charter School, which operates three facilities in Central Texas for at-risk youth approved taking over Azleway and Willow Bend at their board meeting Wednesday night, Dr. Cook said in Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

Trinity operates a residential treatment program in Lockhart, serving 175 neglected and abused boys, its website reads. A second residential facility in Katy serves at-risk youth. Trinity also runs a school in Canyon Lake for girls who are at risk of dropping out, the website reads.

“We have learned as of yesterday the Trinity Charter School had an emergency called meeting, (and) their board of trustees did approve the amendment to their charter school to include Azleway Boys Ranch as well as the Willow Bend residential treatment facility,” Dr. Cook said. “That approval was sent to the commissioner of education. … As of this meeting time, that has not been approved.”

Dr. Cook said if the commissioner approved the measure, then Chapel Hill would not take over operations, but the board approved a plan in case all or part of the request was denied.

“If the commissioner doesn’t agree, we have to run the school,” Dr. Cook said. “They are our kids. They are within our boundaries, and we will serve them.”

Chapel Hill approved creating a separate charter for Azleway and operating it as an alternative education campus.

“The advantage of a charter is that gives some flexibility and unique programs,” Dr. Cook said. “Some of the requirements of a traditional school are loosened a little bit on the hiring practices, and it also allows us to apply for money for a startup charter. We could add additional technology or upgrade their facilities. It would allow some funding potential that one time.”

The state allows charter schools first dibs on facilities, so the charter would give the district a better chance of acquiring all the facilities at the campuses. If acquired, the district would educate the students on their existing campuses.

Even with a new charter, the district potentially acquiring the Azleway and Willow Bend would still be a challenge.

Dr. Cook said the district would receive about $5,200 per student, down roughly $600 from what the school was receiving as a stand-alone charter school. Keeping the quality of education up would require changes to the Azleway’s structure and giving its staff additional training.

“We need to do a good job, but we …. would be doing it on less funding,” Dr. Cook said.

Staff writer Emily Guevara contributed to this report.