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Struggling West Valley City charter school for teen moms shut down by Utah board

Published June 20, 2017 10:00 pm

Education • Poor academic performance, low graduation rates are cited.
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A charter school geared toward young mothers was forced to shut down Tuesday, pending appeal, after years of stagnant enrollment, financial pressures and low academic performance.

Members of the Charter School Board voted unanimously to terminate the charter of Kairos Academy in West Valley City, which opened in 2014 and has held a probationary status since March 2015.

Board member Michelle Smith said Kairos has shown a "dramatic inability" to meet the terms of its contract with the state and has "actively resisted making changes" that would improve school and student performance.



And the students who enroll at Kairos, Smith said, tend to perform worse than they would in comparable, alternative education programs.

"I don't feel like this school, this particular charter, is salvageable," Smith said. "If they had done anything in three years to improve themselves, I would not feel this way."

Kairos Academy is a high school for girls, with an emphasis on leadership development for pregnant and parenting teens. The model incorporates daycare services and flexible schedules and currently enrolls roughly 90 students.

But the charter was projected to serve as many as 200 students, and the low enrollment numbers have put a strain on school budgets, which are based on per-pupil funding. Charter board members were also concerned about the professional qualifications of Kairos Academy's teaching faculty, which relies on adjunct and part-time instructors.

Fewer than 10 percent of Kairos students score proficiently on statewide tests, according to Utah Board of Education data, and the school's graduation rate is also in the single-digit percentage range.

"You have done a really great job with the social programs piece," charter board vice-chairwoman DeLaina Tonks told school representatives. "The piece that I see that is missing, however, is the academic piece."

Before the vote to terminate the school, Utah Charter Network executive director Kim Frank spoke on behalf of Kairos Academy, offering her organization's services for mentoring and school coaching.

She said the school's demographics are particularly challenging, and the modest academic gains made by students are preferable to what would occur outside the school.

"At least they're not in the streets," Frank said. "They're not drop-outs."

Frank said Kairos Academy offers a different but necessary model for an undeserved group of young mothers and other academically-challenged girls.

"Walking into that school and seeing those teen moms with their babies is about as heartwarming as it gets," she said. "They're in a safe, clean environment and they're happy there."

But charter board member Greg Haws questioned why Kairos Academy was considering school mentoring so late in the probation process, and only after a mentor had independently offered its services to the school.

"I'm not here to judge the Franks' ability to assist the school," he said, "but the school's inability, or indifference, to the offer to help."

Charter board member Dean Brockbank said he had hoped the school would be able to "right the ship," but school administrators showed no urgency responding to warnings and concerns.

"This is probably the most difficult vote that I have made so far as a member of this board," Brockbank said.

Kairos Academy now has 15 days to request an informal hearing and plead its case before the Charter School Board. If that request is denied, or if the Charter School Board does not reverse its decision, the vote to revoke the school's charter will be formalized.

The school will then have an opportunity to appeal its termination to the Utah Board of Education.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

 

 

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