A Q&A with Hope Academy

With interest high in the proposal for a charter school in Blount County, there are also many questions that Blount Today readers and the community have expressed. Blount Today offered to give the members of the Hope Academy organizing team space to address some of those questions. The following Q&A are provided by Hope Academy.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a public school that operates independently of the district board of education. The charter school operates under an agreement between the chartering authority and the school: increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.

How would a charter school model work in the case of HOPE Academy?

In Tennessee, the chartering authority is the school district in which the school resides. For HOPE Academy, that would be Blount County Schools.

Charter schools operate from 3 basic principles: accountability, choice, autonomy.

Accountability at HOPE: The school and each sub-group of students will make Adequate Yearly Progress as measured by TCAP Assessments. Each year the school will provide annual balanced budgets with consistent cash reserves. The school will have an annual audit conducted and will provide a copy of the report to the Blount County Board of Education, the Parent Advisory Board, the Commissioner of Education and the Comptroller of the Treasury. HOPE Academy’s budget supports the operating costs provided by U.S. Department of Education start-up and per-pupil public funds.

Fundraising? HOPE Academy’s sponsoring entity, Innovative Education Partnership, Inc., will evolve into a supportive board committed to developing partnerships and raising funds to increase liquid assets and provide resources to enhance student learning. We will engage businesses, community members and various entities as active participants in students’ learning and in partnership with educators.

Choice at HOPE: HOPE Academy will ensure parent satisfaction. The school will offer parents a powerful option for their students to succeed academically and socially. A school of choice also prompts parents to feel a sense of accountability and ownership. Parents and/or family members will be required to complete a minimum of 9 hours of service to the school each year.

Leadership at HOPE: The founding team is comprised of 10 people from Louisville, Maryville and Alcoa. Parents, educators, professional leaders and community volunteers are working with proposed Executive Director Pat Bradley, an experienced educator with over 30 years in education. Bradley taught at John Sevier Elementary; was part of the team that developed Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning and was principal of Mary Blount Elementary School and Woodland Elementary in Oak Ridge. Based on Bradley’s years of proven successes in elevating student achievement, we are designing our school around her unique educational philosophies and her continued commitment to the latest research on effective, visionary teaching. The founding team plans to expand the HOPE board following approval.

Who provides the school facility?

Charter Schools are responsible for obtaining and maintaining their own facility. HOPE Academy is in negotiations for a property that will need some renovation. We will be seeking private donations for the remodel, but money has been set aside in the general operating budget for a monthly lease or loan payment, as well as adequate funding for utilities, maintenance and other applicable costs. If our plans for the intended facility do not carry through, the team has other viable options, and we are confident of a July 2012 opening.

Who is eligible to enroll?

HOPE Academy’s enrollment policy prohibits discriminations on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services. Every aspect of HOPE Academy’s enrollment and recruitment practices will comply with Blount County, Alcoa and Maryville City Schools, Tennessee State and federal standards. HOPE Academy will open in July of 2012 with 180 students in Grades K-5. HOPE shall enroll an eligible pupil who submits a timely application, unless the number of applications exceeds the capacity.

Lottery?

If more applicants apply than there are open seats for a particular grade(s), then a random selection drawing, or lottery, will be held by a credible, neutral third-party to determine who will be enrolled.

In the case of a lottery, priority is as follows:

1. First priority is given to the children of the school founders. By law, the number of founders cannot exceed 10% of the total enrollment of the school.

2. Second priority is given to the siblings of the students who are selected through the lottery.

3. Third priority is given to any students living within the Blount County boundary

4. Fourth priority is given to any out of boundary students

What about future enrollment beyond Fall 2011?

Classes and grades will be added each year. In five years, HOPE Academy will be K-8 with a long-term goal to expand to grade 12. The school will grow internally. This means, each year, 40 Kindergarters will be enrolled and any spaces made available from students who transferred will be filled.

What does HOPE stand for?

HOPE = Hands-On Progressive Education

What is unique about HOPE Academy?

The small school setting will create a close kinship school culture. Character education is integrated throughout the curriculum. “Lifelong Guidelines” and “Lifeskills,” will form the academic and social lexicon of the learning community in forming positive relationships and in making learning joyous and powerful. These principles are incorporated in the home as parents and guardians actively participate in the learning community. Educators and staff will develop strong, on-going relationships with parents rooted in trust, accountability and a shared mission for student achievement. This is cultivated through high levels of participation from parents and multiple uses of consistent communication from administrators and teachers.

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This approach requires learners to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution. STEM programs use highly specialized professional applications; which are introduced at early ages.

How will students learn at HOPE Academy?

We will be involved in project-based learning. They will be looking at real-life problems, analyzing them through the scientific process, drawing conclusions and developing creative solutions. This design allows for both collaborative work and independent thought. We believe that learning should extend beyond the walls of a classroom into the natural environment--outdoor classrooms and frequent field studies throughout the region.

The curriculum will be integrated throughout all subjects, including art, music and P.E. Students will be given learning experiences that are challenging, stimulate reflective thinking and involve real-world application of skills and knowledge. We will be committed to developing strong reading, writing and comprehension skills, as the gateway to all other disciplines. With our commitment to student-centered, integrated learning, students will engage in a variety of literacy activities in the context of other subjects.

How will students use technology?

HOPE Academy plans to utilize groundbreaking Apple products. iPads inspire creativity and allow teachers an opportunity for hands-on teaching. We will continually utilize the latest and best technology for teaching. Then, we will serve as an experimental training ground for utilizing technology in a way that makes a powerful impact on learning. Results and training will be shared with local education school districts.

What are the academic standards?

The learning community will utilize a rigorous, academic program where aligned curriculum, instruction and assessment fulfills National Common Core, State Standards and HOPE Academy’s mission and goals. Frequent professional development will be a practical and enriching vehicle for establishing and maintaining high standards.

When will you hire teachers?

Teachers are welcome to send resumes to info@hopeacademyTN.org. We will review those as soon as we are approved. The Executive Director will first hire two key teachers and the Education/Financial Director. They will form the planning team, review applicants and make hiring decisions for core teachers. We intend to make offers to core teachers in January, beginning in July 2012. Core teachers are the major priority and the budget reflects that. HOPE Academy will pay a competitive salary to experienced classroom teachers with a proven success record and a sincere love of children.

Sports?

The law is silent on this issue, and Charter schools do not typically offer athletics. At HOPE Academy, a student’s ability to compete in sports will be an agreement with the child’s Local Education Authority (School Board) in their residing district.

Special Needs?

All of our students, including those identified as disabled under Tennessee State Law and Federal IDEA law, will achieve the school’s mission of reaching their highest potential because we have instituted a thorough support system into our overall school design and model to support the academic needs of all students. To the greatest extent possible, HOPE Academy will educate disabled students alongside their non-disabled peers in the regular education classroom and only remove them from the classroom if the severity of their disability requires. Hope Academy and the student’s zoned school system will work together for the best interest of our students. HOPE Academy will hire at least one full-time special education certified professional to serve as our Special Education Coordinator (SEC) in our first year of operation.

Why does Blount County need a charter school?

We make a strong case for the need to close the achievement gap in Blount County in our application. HOPE Academy will also be a hub for STEM education. Charter schools offer opportunities to try new ideas without requiring the entire public education system to adopt them all at once. A charter STEM school will also benefit our community as a whole. Blount County is an industrialized community dependent on continuous growth, and therefore would benefit from an innovative school of choice that will attract further economic development.

Where are you now in the process?

The Blount County Schools Board of Education has set a work session to review our application on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6:30 p.m., and the board is expected to vote on our application at their meeting on Thursday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.

We are also holding two events next week:

Family Meet & Greet --Tuesday, July 26 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Everett Park Barn Pavilion and Playground

Families with children who will be in grades K-5 in July 2012 are invited to meet with the HOPE Academy founding team and Pat Bradley, executive director.

HOPE Academy Public Information Meeting --Thursday, July 28 7 to 8 p.m. at The Vineyard in Maryville, 713 William Blount Dr.

A presentation will be given by Executive Director of Tennessee Charter Schools Association, Matt Throckmorton, members of the founding team and Pat Bradley.

Parents can place their prospective students on the group’s contact list via website: www.hopeacademyTN.org. For more information, email info@hopeacademyTN.org.

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