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Oxford's first charter school OKed


Deerfield Academy to open in Sept. 2013



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December 12, 2012 - Oxford is about 10 months away from an historic first.

That's when Deerfield Academy, the community's first charter public school, will begin educating students on the 320-acre campus of Crossroads for Youth, a 61-year-old nonprofit organization that helps troubled children and teenagers learn how to succeed in life.

"I'm really excited," said Dr. Janet McPeek, president of Crossroads for Youth. "It's an opportunity to provide a school that's completely designed for this population."

On Dec. 6, the Central Michigan University (CMU) Board of Trustees voted to authorize the issuance of a charter contract and appoint the new school's board of directors.

Charter schools are independent public schools. Although funded by tax dollars, they operate free from many of the laws and regulations that govern and often restrain traditional public schools.

In exchange for this freedom, these schools are bound to the terms of a contract, or charter, that lays out the institution's mission, academic goals, and how it will be held accountable. There are 232 charter public schools in Michigan with more than 100,000 students in attendance.

State laws set the parameters for charter contracts, which are overseen by a designated charter school authorizer, which can be a local school district, a related agency or a university.

In this case, it's CMU in Mt. Pleasant.

Scheduled to open in September 2013, Deerfield Academy will be completely independent from Crossroads for Youth's control. It will be its own entity governed by its own school board, which will be sworn-in in late January or early February, according to McPeek.

"We'll be a collaborator, but we're not, in any way, a decision-maker," she said.

Serving on Deerfield's board will be Adrienne Cottingham, Mary Sutton, Stephen Hiatt and Amy Moore. CMU is in the process of appointing a fifth board member. The board can have up to nine members.

Cottingham is a homemaker and resident of Bruce Township. Sutton is a retired social worker who resides in Huntington Woods. Hiatt is an Oxford resident and president of Quality Fastener and Supply. Moore, of Oxford, is a therapist who works for Lapeer County Community Mental Health.

They will work hand-in-hand with the Brighton-based CS Partners, an education service provider that specializes in comprehensive school management services including fiscal support, human resources, curriculum, compliance, board support facilities, grants, marketing and more.

"(CS Partners) will interview and hire (Deerfield's) school leader and the teachers, and they will carry them on their payroll," said McPeek, who noted the "school leader" will act as both superintendent and principal.

CS Partners currently provides full management services to 12 charter schools and two day care centers in Michigan.

"The board will continue to work with CS Partners to run the school," McPeek said.

Deerfield is not going to be a typical charter school. It's going to be what's called a Strict Discipline Academy (SDA).

Created under state law in 1999, SDAs function like other charter schools in most regards, however, they only enroll students who've been expelled or are on long-term suspension from other schools, and youth placed there by a court, county juvenile agency or the Department of Human Services.

"We're already getting calls from parents whose kids have been suspended or expelled and they're just desperate – they don't know where to go," McPeek said.

Deerfield Academy would be specially designed to serve this type of unique student population.

"I really believe this will offer an opportunity for students who are not a good fit for the traditional school setting," McPeek said. "They will have (a school) where every piece of it has been thought out and designed to accommodate them and provide the best education possible for that group of kids."

Deerfield Academy will primarily serve students in grades 6-12, but it will be prepared to accommodate fifth-graders if necessary.

The new charter school will take over the educational services that have been provided to Crossroads for Youth by the Oxford school district for many years.

"I still have mixed feelings (about the charter school) because we have some fantastic (Oxford) teachers on campus," McPeek noted. "I'm going to be really sorry to lose them."

Right now, the Oxford school district provides supplies and equipment for Crossroads' school as well as staffing, which consists of a principal, five-and-a-half teachers, five tutorial assistants, a secretary and a social worker.

In addition to this being good move for its student population, Crossroads chose to go the charter route in order to avoid having any further negative impact on the school district.

For example, the Crossroads for Youth school did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) – an annual measurement of student achievement based standardized testing and other factors – for the 2011-12 school year and that had to be published as part of the district's annual report, which hurts Oxford Schools from a public relations standpoint, according to McPeek.

Running the school at Crossroads for Youth was also proving to have a negative financial impact on the district.

Figures supplied by the district showed the Crossroads school is operating at a loss.

During the 2011-12 year, the school had $1.285 million in revenue, yet its expenditures were $1.323 million. For the 2012-13 year, the school is projected to have $1.055 million in revenue, yet spend $1.07 million on its operations.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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