Studio Academy working hard to survive (video)
Since receiving the equivalent of a death sentence last month, Studio Academy is like a condemned man in hopes of a reprieve.
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.
Since then, the academy has been in all-hands-on-deck mode, hosting an open house, engaging political leaders and even beginning talks with an organization that could serve as a potential new sponsor.
"We believe — and our attorney believes — we have a very good story to tell about our school," said Studio Academy executive director Jody Allen Crowe. His message to VOA: let us part ways; you go your way and we'll go ours.
But for that to happen, VOA would have to agree. And so far, VOA has given no sign that it is willing to change its mind.
Katie Piehl, director of VOA's charter school authorization program, said such an action would be inconsistent with its role as authorizer as defined by state law.
"Our role is to evaluate the school's performance against the established expectations of the contract," Piehl said. "The school simply did not meet those expectations, and they did not meet those expectations over a period of time."
The academy is not the only Minnesota charter school to find itself in this predicament. The Minneapolis School Board recently pulled its sponsorship from Success Academy and Friendship Academy of Fine Arts because students there weren't succeeding academically. Both are slated for closure.
During the course of the state's charter school history, there have been 41 school closures, education officials say.
Charlene Briner, a Minnesota Department of Education spokesman, said the statute is clear when a charter school's contract is not renewed "for cause," as was the case with Studio Academy. They are not permitted to seek another authorizer and a "charter school cannot operate without an authorizer."
Yet Cindy Lavorato, Studio Academy's attorney, disputed the idea that the situation was as open-and-shut as some are saying.
"I don't think the law is very clear on any of this stuff when it comes to charter schools and authorizers," Lavorato said.
In truth, the process that could lead to Studio Academy's closure hasn't yet run its course. Studio Academy officials have requested a hearing before VOA officials. A date has yet to be set. VOA's decision isn't yet considered final, but it can come no later than 20 business days before June 30, which is the end of the academy's contract with VOA.
VOA cited the academy for falling short of several benchmarks, including "incomplete" and "inaccurate" financial statements and a lack of strategic direction. But its biggest criticism was what it described as the school's "lack of academic rigor" and persistently low academic performance.