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Charter application denied for advanced learning high school

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At the April 24, 2018 workshop, the Hernando County School Board (HCSB) discussed the charter school application review of the proposed Chehuntamo (chay-hun-TAH-mo) Advanced Performance High School, which was denied unanimously at the regular board meeting later that day.

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The school had planned to serve Hernando and Pasco County students beginning with the 2019-2020 school year if the application had been approved.  

During a February workshop, board member’s cited several deficiencies in the charter school’s application, causing the charter school’s organizer Michael Maynard to pull the application in order to regroup.  However, school board members found many of the same deficiencies this time around.

Maynard is an award-winning Pasco County high school Language Arts teacher who was placed on a 3-day suspension and faced a mandatory transfer in 2016 due to his teaching techniques being perceived as too abrasive by several of his students and their parents.  

On this subject Maynard commented, “There’s always two sides of a story.  I am going to say… while I have been a controversial teacher at times, I was the most effective AP English Language for 16 years in a row in Pasco County.  And until some changes in administration there, I was one of the most revered teachers in Pasco County.”

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Angela Kennedy, who is the district’s supervisor for school choice, presented the review process and a committee’s findings to the board members at the April 24 workshop. After the application was submitted on Jan. 31, 2018, a committee reviewed it, returning it with questions and ratings. The committee held an interview with the intended directors of the school on March 20, 2018, giving them an opportunity to respond to the questions.

The review has 22 sections, and applicants are judged on whether they meet the Florida Statute standard fully, partially, or not at all. In the application for Chehuntamo, only seven sections were determined to meet the state standards fully. There were nine sections with partial compliance with the standards, and three did not meet the standards at all. According to Kennedy, there is no set number of sections which lead to an approval or denial of the application.

The committee’s rubric shows that the Chehuntamo application only partially met the state standards in these areas:

  • ESE (Exceptional Student Education) and IEP/504 plan compliance

  • Addressing the needs of English Language Learners (ELL)

  • District student code of conduct – particularly discipline

  • Student recruitment and enrollment

  • Facilities – concern that the school would not have adequate funding to be constructed on time

  • Food service – additional cost for a vendor to deliver meals to the school

  • School finances – oversight and auditing

  • Start-up plan

The committee found that the Chehuntamo application did not meet the standard in these three areas:

  • Staffing – recruitment, qualifications, certifications

  • Human Resources – employment compensation, medical benefits

  • Budget – overall revenue shortfalls and inconsistencies

The members of the committee recommended a denial of the application by a vote of 14-1. The HCSB can agree with that denial or accept the application knowing that there are many areas where the applicant does not meet the state’s standards.

Michael Maynard, the chairman of the non-profit Chehuntamo, Inc., appeared before the HCSB at the workshop to address some of the concerns that the committee had, comments he described as “arbitrary and capricious.”

Maynard read a letter from the parent of a previous student who lavished praise on him for his work and his vision for the school.

Maynard compared his plan for Chehuntamo with current International Baccalaureate (I.B.) and other Advanced Placement (A.P.) programs already in Hernando County.  He also criticized the existing program stating it, “cloisters the kids in a very structured curriculum…and doesn’t really allow for…social development.”

“The ‘dirty little secret’ with I.B.,” Maynard continued, “…is that they end up not graduating from college.” Having only 23 graduates from the I.B. program last year demonstrates that there is a shortfall in expectations and a need for something more. Referring to his time at River Ridge High School in Pasco County, Maynard wants to offer a similar “open enrollment” to students willing to work hard and take the opportunity that A.P. programs offer.  He stated that AP participation between 2014 and 2017 has declined in Hernando County by about 4%. “That to me is unconscionable…” He said that when he and Maria Swanson were at River Ridge High School, the participation rate was around 23-24%. “I can’t tell you how much that means to the community.” (Maria Swanson resigned as principal of River Ridge in 2015.)

Maynard described the school district’s behavior towards his application as adversorial, as they neglected to inform him that he was entitled to additional funds through the classroom reduction act, then criticized him for not utilizing his resources to the fullest extent.  

Maynard agreed there were errors in budget calculations due to the FTE (full time equivalent) scores in the Cheuntamo application, but stated they were based on incorrect information provided by the district, twice.  He advised the budget was adjusted to show they would be spending up to $800 per student as each student would have a tablet. Medical coverage for employees and funding for School Resource Officers were added to the budget following the last interview, as well as money to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for deputies to drive by the school for additional safety.

Another issue according to Maynard was on district policies. “Policy isn’t law,” Maynard said, noting that policies are flexible and can be modified if needed. The committee’s refusal to look at his proposed budget was an ethical issue for him and likened it to children putting fingers into their ears, so they could not hear.  

Describing the issues that schools statewide are having in hiring competent teachers, and how Florida’s education system is not serving students, Maynard used this analogy: “All we’re trying to do is take those lemons and make a little lemonade for these kids and give them an opportunity.”

Understanding that the HCSB would vote on the recommendation at the school board meeting later, Maynard stated he believed it would be difficult to change anyone’s mind, and even if presented with facts, he felt that there would be resistance to his application.

Board members spoke directly to Maynard, expressing what they found concerning in the application and in his responses. Linda Prescott stated, “We don’t make up our minds. We allow applicants to present evidence.” While she appreciated the type of school Maynard wants to bring to the County, Prescott compared his application, videotaped interview, and comments to a student who was expected to do well on a project and even when given constructive criticism to improve it, returned the project with less than satisfactory results.

Susan Duval noted that Springstead High School’s I.B. program is open to all students. Springstead principal Carmine Rufa confirmed Duval’s statement that students who approach him may enroll in the I.B. program. Even though they may not be able to finish the rigorous program, they have the opportunity to try, Rufa stated.

Johnson asked how Maynard’s investment in the school would be returned to him. Maynard stated he would make a loan to the school and would receive only the loan amount back.

Duval questioned why Maynard applied for a charter in Hernando County if he was expecting approximately half of the student population for the charter school to come from Pasco County. Maynard stated that he lives in Hernando County and wants to support the area. Since students can cross county lines to attend a school of their choice, and because of closing or poor school performance in Pasco County, Maynard wanted a program that would appeal to them.

Prescott noted that the application originally had a diploma option with a study abroad program, but no longer included that component. Maynard stated that could be an option, but financially, some students may not be able to afford it, or the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship may be more appealing to those who earn it. He also wanted to avoid the “elitist feel” or that colleges in the United States were less desirable.

Using a football reference, Maynard stated he felt he was playing “prevent football,” as he did not want to lose, which would also be a loss to the county. Prescott responded, “How you lose is by not filling out the application correctly, completely, and being honest about everything that you are going to offer and what the school has. That’s how you’re judged – on the application.”

The school board voted to deny the application 5-0 at the board meeting that evening.

Prior to that vote, Maynard spoke during citizen comments, “…We are bringing a solid school with a solid program into Hernando County. If it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow.”

The school’s organizers have the opportunity to appeal the decision through the The Charter School Appeal Commission.

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