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The biggest mess I have ever seen

Fulton Science Academy and the Board of Education

January 12, 2012
That mess is the one that has the Fulton County Board of Education, under the leadership of its new Superintendent Dr. Richard Avossa, well on the way to possibly closing the most successful, highest achieving public middle school in the county. They are forcing the more than 500 students of the Fulton Science Academy public charter school back into the "regular"school system.

That is, unless Dr. Avossa and the board come to their senses and reopen the issue – which they can still do.

But, it is more of a mess than just deciding to recertify the school or not. You see, Fulton Science Academy was in the process of building its own campus and has successfully financed it through the sale of an $18 million bond to the private sector.

That's right, instead of this school being funded by we, the taxpayers, it was to be funded by bonds sold to the private sector. One of the primary reasons they were able to float the bond was their successful 10-year track record and the assumption (by all of the parties involved) of support from the Board of Education.

So let's look at the likely cost of Dr. Avossa's and the Board of Education's decisions. The highest performing middle school in the system could be shuttered. Any possibility of another charter school ever raising money through the private sector in the future has probably been destroyed. Georgia's already negative reputation in the national education arena will get only get worse, and there is the possibility of it getting drastically worse from the negative national press that will ultimately come if the school is forced to close.

And, perhaps at a time when public support and confidence in our government's stewardship of our tax dollar is at the lowest in many years, the action by Dr. Avossa and the board takes one's breath away. I cannot imagine how the situation could have been handled worse or less competently.

Now, was the situation entirely the "fault" of Dr. Avossa and the Board of Education?

No, of course not, but it has happened on their watch and they are where the buck stops. Fulton Science Academy is responsible also. They negotiated aggressively with Dr. Avossa and the board over the length of time for the next accreditation and the terms.

When the Board of Education pushed them, they pushed back. FSA had successfully just completed two five-year terms and conducted the school with a "blanket waiver" as to "how" they would teach – both with the full approval of the Board of Education. Under these conditions for 10 years, they created arguably the most successful middle school in the county system.

For the past four years in a row, the school achieved the highest average scores in all five subjects on the ITBS – one of the primary tests designed to measure achievement for Georgia middle schools.

Based on this 10-year track record and the documented, undeniable success, FSA asked the school board and Dr. Avossa for a 10-year term instead of five and a continuation of the blanket waiver that the county had already approved for the previous 10 years (in two consecutive five-year terms).

What did Dr. Avossa and the Board offer? They offered the elimination of the waiver and a hree-year accreditation "because it would be easier to manage."

Now, and in fairness to the school board and Avossa, FSA was also bringing in to their "fold" the charter elementary school and the charter high school that do not have the track record that FSA has. While that certainly is a rational consideration, it should not be allowed to be a "deal killer" and, in fact, given FSA's history, the probability that these two additions would end up being just as successful as FSA is close to a given in this writer's opinion.

The board and Dr. Avossa unfortunately, as bureaucracies frequently do, appear to have decided that something that was working incredibly well and was not broken needed to be fixed. And since FSA was unwilling initially to allow themselves to be fixed, Avossa and the board decided to play hardball (with our children) instead.

Absolutely amazing. It is even more amazing to me that the board has not asked for Dr. Avossa's resignation already.

So where does this leave us? Well, in a big, but avoidable mess. FSA has at this point caved in to the board's heavy hand and offered to accept the three-year accreditation instead of 10 or even five. FSA also agreed to the elimination of the blanket restriction that they have so learly earned and that has probably been instrumental in the school reaching such a high evel of accomplishment.

But "the deadline" has passed and supposedly the issue cannot be revisited for the 2012 school year. Let me rephrase that. It appears that the board and Dr. Avossa are unwilling to reconsider the matter, although they appear to have the ability to do just that.

The entire Fulton County legislative delegation, however, has assured the Board of Education in an open letter signed by all of the Fulton state senators and representatives that, "We have a legal opinion and confirmation from the state of Georgia that your board does have the power and authority to accept the resubmitted petition immediately that meets all of Dr. Robert Avossa's requirements and demands for approval."

It is difficult to not reach the conclusion that the objective of this Board of Education and Dr. Avossa is to put Fulton Science Academy out of business. It doesn't make sense. It isn't right.

All is not lost though. FSA may still apply for a state charter if the Fulton Board of Education does not come to their senses and redress the issue. Let's hope that it doesn't come to having to do that and that FSA and the board are able to meet again now and fix this mess for the 2012-2013 school year.

In the interests of transparency, my youngest son attended Fulton Science Academy for two years. And, yes, I have first-hand knowledge of the school and am a strong supporter.

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  1. report print email
    Well said.
    January 13, 2012 | 11:22 AM

    Any interest any running for the BOE Ray? I'd vote for you, just because you seem to have sommon sense many on the BOE lack.

  2. report print email
    Thank you for your op/ed
    January 13, 2012 | 12:36 PM

    Thank you both for your seemingly fair reports this week. We have a sixth grade daughter who is thriving now at FSA but had many years of struggles at her other county school. She always had math difficulties, and is now doing advanced math. After the first week of school she cried tears if joy saying "I never knew it could be like this." Our daughter has now made the Honor Roll for her first semester in middle school! I took a job in August at a location just blocks from the school, planning for the next several years of the commute as we have another child that would attend.
    > There are many other success stories like this that may appeal to the powers that be to reconsider. After all, it is about the kids. If you would like to report from our perspective please let me know if we can help.

    Thank you,
    April Saunders

    April Saunders
    North Fulton
  3. report print email
    Thank you for writing "The Biggest Mess"
    January 13, 2012 | 03:47 PM

    Your 'The Biggest Mess I have Ever Seen' on January 12 was well done.I appreciate you stepping up and telling it like it is.

    I believe great things come out of disasters. This is no exception. A State Charter will have many advantages for FSA students and parents and staff. And the successful school will be free from the stifling school board and narrow minded superintendent. Our educational system needs out of the box thinkers and creative solutions.

    This crisis has united the FSA community and has cemented our trust in the administrators of the school who have been nothing short of professional, compassionate and even respectful during the entire process. I applaud their patience and their transparency to the parents. They have made their decisions with full parental support.

    I wonder if Dr. Avossa now realizes his lost opportunity to be a leader in the educational system for the state of Georgia? He could have even ridden on the coat tails of this successful school - one almost literally in his backyard. It is hard to digest their pursuit for a county wide charter. And it makes me ask why? But that can be a topic for another day!

    The only aspect that was not addressed in your article, and it is important, is the cost per head of each child at FSA. This money is not in direct control by the FCBOE and it is the belief of many that THAT is the hidden agenda. Multiply that out and you are looking at a 'savings' of about 2.5M if FSA does not keep its doors open. Double that amount if a new building accommodates the hundreds on the waiting list. It is about money.

    Thanks for taking a stand.

    Parent of three children in FC Schools one of which is at FSA Middle.

    Lisa Machado
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