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A shake-up of school leadership and impassioned testimony by current and former students have failed to stave off closure of a West Valley charter school for pregnant and mothering teens.
Members of the Utah State Charter School Board voted 4-2 on Thursday to formally shut down Kairos Academy, effective immediately.
The vote came one month after the charter board unanimously began closure proceedings for the school, and following a three-hour hearing that saw students, alumni, parents and administrators urge the board to reconsider.
"I'm here for these girls and their children," said Amy Trombetti, recently named Kairos' interim director. "I think that we can steer the ship in a different direction."
Two charter board members said the additions of Trombetti and new Kairos governing board members including chairwoman Julie Adamic could improve the school's finances and academic performance.
But others questioned why the change came only after the school faced forced closure and not during the two years prior that Kairos has been in probationary status.
"The timing of it, for me, is extremely concerning," said Kristin Elinkowski, state charter school board chairwoman. "This team could have been put together on many different occasions prior to now."
Adamic said Kairos will appeal its closure to the Utah Board of Education. But the school's public funding will be cut off in the meantime and the state school board is not obligated to consider Kairos' request.
Kairos opened in the fall of 2014 and has been on probation since March 2015. The school has struggled with low enrollment roughly 90 students attended last year translating into depressed budgets further strained by free, on-site daycare services.
Academically, Kairos fails to meet traditional education metrics, with a graduation rate below 10 percent and few students scoring proficiently on standardized tests. Jennifer Lambert, the charter school board's executive director, said Kairos has also not met the terms of its probation.
"The same students performed worse at Kairos Academy than they did at prior enrollments," Lambert said. "While some students found success at Kairos in terms of getting a diploma, the vast majority did not."
Adamic argued it was flawed to compare a student's performance at Kairos to the school they attended before their education was disrupted.
"Those are life-changing events," Adamic said. "Of course they're going to struggle after finding out they're pregnant and then having a child."
Several current and former Kairos students described their positive experiences at the school, in hopes of reversing its closure.
Nichole Rodgers said she was an honor student before getting pregnant at 15 and being kicked off the drill team and urged not to return to campus.
"They didn't want me to be an example to other girls to become pregnant," Rodgers said of school administrators.
Rodgers said she now expects to graduate in January, but relies on Kairos' flexible scheduling and child care.
"I don't have anywhere to put my son," Rodgers said. "Until he's in school, I won't be able to finish my high school education if [Kairos] closes."
Other students related similar stories of being shunned at their previous campuses during or after their pregnancy.
"I was told to keep [it] a secret," said Destiny Martinez. "I was told I was going to get kicked out of school."
Public schools are not allowed to discriminate based on pregnancy or childbirth, but educators might steer such students toward alternatives that include child care services or specialized programming for teen parents, according to Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.
Granite previously operated a standalone campus for teen moms with on-site daycare, Horsley said, but the Young Parent Program was modified and absorbed into Connection High School the district's alternative education system in 2014 due to financial and academic pressures similar to those now faced by Kairos Academy.
"No student is forced to participate in Young Parents," Horsley said. "It is simply an additional option to ensure all students can continue their education regardless of their circumstances."
Laura Santos, a Kairos English teacher, said alternative programs like Connection lack the supportive environment of an all-female, majority-parent campus, akin, she said, to a "no-judgment zone."
"They haven't found that safe place anywhere else and a lot of them come to us because of that, because they just couldn't handle the social stigmas any more," said Santos, who added she was optimistic Kairos would improve if allowed to continue operating.
"I think they'll realize what a unique and helpful school Kairos could be for a population that the other schools just aren't reaching," Santos said of the state charter school board.
But at Wednesday's hearing, charter board member Michelle Smith said its supporters' optimism did not make up for Kairos' lack of specific plans.
"Give me the details, because right now I don't see how this could work," Smith said. "It takes a closure hearing for us to find out that you have perhaps made a change."
Trombetti acknowledged the lapses of former administrations and said her team was focused on the future of the school.
"I can only fix it forward," Trombetti said. "That's all I can do and I'm very committed to doing that."