Charter school plan in limbo

brobinson@thestate.com July 3, 2008 

A group of Columbia-area residents — backed financially by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization formed to nurture charter schools — is in limbo over its plans to offer a public school choice option in North Columbia.

The Richland 1 school board and the state Board of Education this spring both rejected a proposal to open a K-5 elementary charter school in the heart of Eau Claire.

Glenn Jones, chairman of the Imagine North Main Academy organizing committee, said the panel has shelved ambitions to open the school this fall but is appealing the local and state decisions before an administrative law judge.

The goal now is to open for the 2009-2010 academic year. But it stands to be a difficult challenge to overcome.

The Imagine North Main committee also has a lawsuit pending in circuit court, where it claims Richland 1 failed to issue its decision in a timely manner and thereby forfeited its right to pass judgment on the charter school application.

The charter school application called for serving 347 students across six grades in a building that once housed South University. The Imagine Schools national organization bought the building and has been renovating it for use as an elementary school.

Jones, who was director for 10 years of a public alternative school in Florence, spoke to The State recently about the status of the charter school proposal.

Q: What inspired you to lend your name to the Imagine North Main Academy effort?

A: As I was coming off the (S.C. State University) board of trustees, I started thinking what else could I do in education because I was about to go back into the business community. I was watching what was going on with the Imagine Schools movement and I liked what I saw.

I do see this disenfranchised community that doesn’t have anybody to speak for (it).

They have to have a representative that understands their needs and include them in the decision-making process.

Q: What was your reaction to the local and state decisions to reject your application?

A: I felt they were not as informed and did not offer us a fair chance to weigh the balances of how to take advantage of charter schools — especially with the approach that Imagine Schools takes and the successes it has had.

We’re weren’t a mom and pop operation. We were prepared to open up and look as good as any school in the school district. We weren’t going to be hampered by funds. We had the ability to do the job. They weren’t prepared for it to be professionally managed.

Q: There are three (Richland 1) public schools in the general vicinity of your proposed charter school that have been cited by the Education Department for persistently poor performances. How would the Imagine North Main Academy be a benefit to the North Columbia community?

A: One of the first things that we would have helped with is lower classroom size in that area. That was a problem we heard the (Richland 1) board had with the administration.

We would have empowered the parents. It would have been their choice to put their child in this school. I call it empowering that parent in a more responsible way. We would not have been just growing children but growing parents in understanding the educational system that their kids have to attend.

Q: What have you told those who were hopeful of sending their children to the Imagine North Main Academy this August?

A: We told them what process we’re going to follow and we would not stop trying to obtain a charter.

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