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Studio Academy teachers, students have mixed feelings about the school

Logan Daniels, a junior at Studio Academy, said he was "really upset" when he heard the news that the school might be forced to close.

Daniels transferred to Studio Academy from Willow Creek Middle School, where, he said, he struggled in large classes.

"I feel like I didn't get enough time from the teachers," Daniels said. "That's what I really like about here. That it's got small class sizes."

The school's sponsor, Volunteers of America, sent shock waves through the arts-based high school last month when it announced that it was terminating its contract with the school — in effect, closing it. VOA cited the school's poor academic performance.

VOA conducted several site visits during the year. In its evaluation, VOA faulted the school for an environment in which few students appeared to follow the instructor's lessons. Few took notes or asked questions, the evaluation said. And VOA cited multiple instances where students were distracted from their school work by cellphones, iPods and socializing.


Recently, a Post-Bulletin reporter and photographer were allowed to visit and tour the 114-student school. In one classroom, one boy had his head buried in his arms, resting. A girl, tipping back in her chair, occasionally blurted out answers. But others appeared to be following the lesson on the Crusades. It was difficult to confirm the validity of VOA's classroom assessment given the brevity of the visit.

Studio Academy has been in an unflattering spotlight at times. In late March, school leaders learned that a student who had been trying to leave a gang had been the target of a supposed "hit," although no one was hurt in the incident. The school has twice undergone sweeps for drugs. No drugs were found.

Teachers and students say the culture of the school has changed over the years.

The school struggled financially for many years, largely due to low enrollment. This year, enrollment surged from 77 to 117 under new executive director Jody Allen Crowe, who enlisted students to help find more students. The school became stronger financially as a result. Salaries, once slashed, were restored. More teachers were hired. But the culture of the school paid a price, some students said.

"The people, they just kind of stopped caring," said sophomore Natalya Gonzalez. "The new students, they just kind of came to find a different school that they could slack off in."

Crowe is unapologetic about accepting students who have no interest in the arts. He says that as a public school, the academy must provide a free, appropriate education to any child who "walks through the door."

Of the students who enrolled at Studio Academy this year, more than 60 percent had a D or failing grade in math or English in their previous school.

"We have kids who come here as last resorts. Guess what? They help the mission of our school because they help keep the doors of our school open," Crowe said.


Some teachers admit to having complex feelings about the school. They say they recognize the role it serves by offering an educational option to students who have struggled in other settings. But they don't necessarily disagree with all of VOA's conclusions.

"There are a lot of kids who do come here and thrive," said Mary Tigner-Rasanen, an English teacher. "I have very high standards for myself for education, so I'm totally frustrated all the time in some ways."

Tigner-Rasanen said this was the first year she has dealt with students who refused to work or follow her instructions. Another teacher called the school an emotionally taxing place where tears are common.

Bri Schumacher, another academy teacher, said she taught science last year even though she had no textbooks, no lab equipment and no budget. She was able to obtain some textbooks, but "I'm trying to teach science with zero hands-on equipment," Schumacher said.

A student said the problems are no different from the challenges other public schools face.

"Every school, there's always kids going to be goofing off," said freshman Stephanie Peterson.

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