Families meet, greet Hope Academy founders at Everett Park

Interest is at a high level for a charter school in Blount County in advance of a school board meeting Thursday, Aug. 4, at which the application of the Hope Academy will be voted up or down, according to organizers.

The school, the first charter school in Tennessee outside of a major urban setting, is drawing boxcar loads of attention from parents and prospective teachers throughout the county.

Hope is an acronym for Hands-On Progressive Education, and Executive Director Pat Bradley said approval of her organization’s 450-page application for the school is all that remains before concrete plans can begin to jell.

The application will come before the Blount County School Board next week, and the board’s approval is all that is required to set the formative wheels in motion, Bradley said Tuesday at a meet-and-greet session at the Everett Park Barn Pavilion where 62 families were represented to get information about the school and meet leaders of the movement to establish it.

The group was a cross-section of parents from Blount County, Maryville and a few from Alcoa and Knox County.

Charter schools typically have a greater degree of administrative and curriculum autonomy and can make decisions pretty unilaterally on how funding is spent.

Financial support for the school would come from the school boards that would have served the students who enroll at the charter school on a per-pupil basis, according to County Commissioner Tab Burkhalter, one of the charter team members behind the school, which is the focus of the nonprofit Innovative Education Partnership.

Mary Bogert serves as chairwoman of the organization.

Bogert said the school would focus on a STEM curriculum, meaning science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She said Blount County is perfectly positioned to establish and support such a school because of its location in the technology corridor anchored by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Bradley, retired principal of Woodland Elementary School in Oak Ridge, will serve as the school’s principal if it is established and said the emphasis on science and technology will be balanced by instruction in the arts and humanities by relating them to the STEM curriculum.

The school initially would have 180 students and comprise kindergarten through grade 5. Bradley said the school already has enrollment applications from more than that number. An open lottery system will be used to fill the school if applications in each grade exceed the number of spots available.

The possibility of a charter school also has generated a large number of application from prospective teachers, she said.

If the charter school application is approved, the IEP can begin to negotiate for the use of one of four sites under consideration. Bogert declined to identify any of them but said all are “available.”

Burkhalter said negotiations could also begin with the Blount County School Board over the per-pupil transfer of funds that would occur. In Tennessee, the portion of the money allocated per-pupil follows the pupil. If any Maryville or Alcoa students enroll, those cities’ school boards would execute the same type of transfer.

He said any variations in the per-pupil rate that are based on federal funding would be passed along to the charter school, but that local financial issues affecting that rate would be disregarded. For instance, he said, if power usage costs change the county’s per-pupil expenditures, that would not affect the charter school pass-along.

Burkhalter said the IEP will be seeking a three-year contract with the county, and he noted other contractual issues that must be considered, such as personal injury liability.

The school also will derive financial support from philanthropy and other funding initiatives, Bogert said, but no activity on that front will begin until after the application is approved by the school board.

Plans are for the school to grow yearly by one grade level, representing 40 students, ultimately becoming a K-12 institution, Bradley said.

No transportation system is planned for the charter school, Burkhalter said.

The Hope Academy project -- its vision and mission -- will be discussed at a public information session tonight at 7 at Maryville Vineyard Church, 713 William Blount Dr.

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