West Virginia’s first charter schools approved

West Virginia’s first charter schools approved
West Virginia’s first charter schools approved
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 8:32 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The first charter schools in West Virginia are set to open next year after the state’s Professional Charter School Board approved three applications during a virtual meeting Wednesday morning.

The Board authorized the applications of three brick-and-mortar schools -- West Virginia Academy, Eastern Panhandle Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy. These schools will now work with the Board to finalize their charters by the end of this year and begin the opening process.

Charter schools will recruit students this spring, and possibly hold a random admissions lottery for the 2022-23 school year if more students are interested in the charter school than they have openings available.

Two of those learning proposals, the Eastern Panhandle Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy, will be run by for-profit company ACCEL Schools. Our WSAZ Investigation into the company found it operates 33 schools in Ohio, and the Ohio Department of Education’s School Report Card grades only three of those charter schools with a C, the rest received a D or F.

WSAZ Investigates | Charter school concerns

The main reason is ACCEL is trying to build on success,” Charter School Board Chairman Adam Kissel said when asked about ACCEL’s poor performance in Ohio. “It’s a learning organization just like the other Education Service Providers (ESP). The applications show they intend to keep learning from test scores and other things that happen in the schools until they continue to improve. Charter schools are only a generation old, virtual charter schools are even newer than that. So, there is a lot of learning that will still happen. The question really for West Virginia is how do those schools measure up compared to the other schools in West Virginia, and there is a lot of room for improvement across the board.”

Kissel said the Board consulted with school officials in Ohio while reviewing the ACCEL applications. He said the company has experience turning around bad schools, so the application approval had more to do with value added to education in a community than a history of overall performance. He is not concerned about the majority of ACCEL Schools-run charters receiving an F grade.

Charter schools aim to create more school choice in West Virginia, Kissel said. The goal of the new schools is to create competition and force public schools to improve, while offering another option for the handful of students who need a different learning environment. Kissel gave the examples of students who are bullied, have disabilities or are gifted when asked about who the schools will look to help.

The Nitro Prep Academy, which could be located in the former Nitro High School building, hopes to attract up to 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from Kanawha and Putnam counties, according to its application. That would including pulling students from Nitro Elementary School, which will share a parking lot with the new charter school, and Rock Branch Elementary School, which is one of West Virginia’s three National Blue Ribbon Schools and is located less than a 10-minute drive from the proposed charter school.

Nitro Prep said in its application to the state, “there is a need in this area for a high-quality charter school because neither county is excelling academically.” The application goes on to state it hopes to create an individualized learning environment as “an alternative to traditional public schools that have been ineffective in meeting certain family and student learning needs, or cost-prohibitive private schools.”

Kissel said ACCEL Schools will run Nitro Prep, but a school board will oversee its operation. That board will include at least two parents of students who can help address any concerns that might arise about how the school is being managed and the quality of the education students are receiving.

“It we need to hold a school accountable, we will,” Kissel said. “We will be getting regular updates to make sure we are able to do that effectively.”

The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board met Wednesday to consider seven applications from companies looking to open new virtual and in-person education options. It approved the application withdraw of the proposed Shepherd Aviation Academy and set a vote for Nov. 17 on three virtual charter school options.

West Virginia’s charter school law allows for the operation of up to 10 charter schools, but only two of them can be virtual.

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