Politics & Government

NC virtual charter school can stay open. But it will face more state scrutiny.

Student dancer uses online charter to help balance school and ballet

Clark Eselgroth dances in an advanced program at the International Ballet Academy in Cary when most others his age are in classrooms. Eselgroth, a sophomore, moved from Asheville to Cary three years ago and was soon confronted with how to balance
Up Next
Clark Eselgroth dances in an advanced program at the International Ballet Academy in Cary when most others his age are in classrooms. Eselgroth, a sophomore, moved from Asheville to Cary three years ago and was soon confronted with how to balance

One of North Carolina’s two virtual charter schools will be allowed to break away from a for-profit management company, but it will be placed under sharp state scrutiny as it transitions to becoming a locally operated online school.

The State Board of Education voted Monday to allow N.C. Connections Academy to no longer be managed by Pearson Online and Blended Learning, part of the international company Pearson that publishes textbooks and sells a wide range of education products. The state board opted not to reject the request, which could have forced Connections to close.

Connections’ board of directors will hire four different vendors to provide the services that Pearson offered. The state Office of Charter Schools and N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board will increase how often it monitors the virtual school to ease concerns about whether the school can survive without Pearson.

“In the short term, it’s imperative that they account for their actions and their plan and that we also are educating ourselves because again this is a brand new management company in a very unique type of charter school situation obviously with 2,500 students,” Alex Quigley, chairman of the Charter Schools Advisory Board, said Monday.

As part of the split, the school will now be renamed N.C. Cyber Academy.

“The board members are pleased to have this matter behind them and are anxious to get ready for the 2019- 2020 school year,” Bridget Phifer, board chairwoman of the renamed N.C. Cyber Academy, said in a news release Monday. “The board has been working hard to make this a reality. And, now that the State Board of Education has given us permission to proceed, I want to thank parents and students, teachers and staff for their support during this process.”

Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy, which is managed by K12 Inc., both opened in 2015 in what was originally supposed to be a four-year pilot program ordered by state lawmakers.

Both online schools have received D grades for their academic performance for the past three years and are on the state’s list of “continually low-performing schools.”

Despite the poor academic results, state lawmakers showed their support for the two schools last summer by extending the pilot program to 2023. State lawmakers are also considering now a bill that would lift the enrollment cap on both schools to allow them to grow by 20 percent a year.

The board of Connections says it can save $3 million on the $10 million a year it now pays to Pearson to invest in things such as higher teacher salaries, reducing class sizes and giving a laptop computer to every student.

Connections’ board and Pearson have traded hostile words with each other and are in a lawsuit over the management contract. Members of the Charter Schools Advisory Board have likened the fight to a divorce.

Members of both the state board and the Charter Schools Advisory Board have expressed concern that Connections can survive on its own. So the state board placed three conditions Monday on Connections’ board:

The school must provide any information requested by the Office of Charter Schools.

A representative from the school must attend all meetings of the Charter Schools Advisory Board to give updates until further notice.

The Charter Schools Advisory Board will provide quarterly updates on the school to the state board.

“This is a huge undertaking on the part of the board and the school’s leadership,” Quigley told the state board. “We are going to be able to test their capacity over time.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.


  Comments