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Leaders of the two local charter schools have expressed confidence that the schools will be



Published: Mon, August 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Leaders of the two local charter schools have expressed confidence that the schools will be rechartered.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Eagle Heights Academy and Youngstown Community School will come under scrutiny this academic year as the state determines if the schools should continue operating.

The five-year contracts for the two charter schools expire at the end of this school year, at which time the State Board of Education will decide whether to extend the pacts and keep the schools open.

"It's a crucial year," said Alex Murphy, Eagle Heights superintendent.

Eagle Heights and YCS, both on the city's South Side, were among the first 10 charter schools approved by the Ohio Department of Education in 1998.

The schools, publicly funded but privately operated, received five-year contracts, which expire next summer.

Teams to visit

The education department will send a team of evaluators into each school this fall, said Steve Burigana, executive director of the office overseeing the state's charter schools.

The teams will examine each school's performance, from facilities to test scores, parental involvement to curriculum.

"The result of that evaluation will be used for us to determine whether or not we should make a recommendation to the state board to renew the charter contract or not," Burigana said.

The state board will have the final call and could vote to extend the contract or possibly pull its sponsorship, he said.

Leaders of Eagle Heights and YCS said they're confident their charters will be extended.

"They've got rocks in their heads if they don't recharter us," said Sister Jerome Corcoran, YCS founder.

"We intend to show the Ohio Department of Education that we are more than worthy of being chartered," Murphy said.

About Eagle Heights

Murphy said Eagle Heights was one of two charter schools in the state that underwent a voluntary pilot evaluation in the spring in anticipation of the formal evaluation this fall.

He said it is imperative that the academy, the largest charter school in the state with about 900 pupils, does well on the evaluation.

"We're going to have to take some large steps in what's going on here as it relates to what goes on in the classroom," he said. "We're pulling out all stops."

Murphy, former principal of East, Chaney and Rayen high schools in Youngstown, took over Eagle Heights last summer as part of an administrative overhaul aimed at refocusing the school on academics and boosting lagging test scores.

Eighty-eight percent of the Eagle Heights' fourth-graders failed the state reading test last fall, double the 44-percent failure rate in the city public schools.

The school, housed in the former South High School, was started by a group of pastors, and Murphy said it was a monumental task just getting the school up and running.

But now he said pupil achievement must be the top priority.

"Everything that we are doing is focused on helping our children perform better," he said.

The school initially enrolled pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade with plans to add a grade level annually through 12th grade. Last year, the school added ninth grade and enrolled nearly 1,000 pupils.

Unable to find a new building, school leaders decided to eliminate ninth-grade classes for this school year and delay further expansion.

History of YCS

Youngstown Community School opened four years ago with 40 kindergarten pupils housed in Millcreek Children's Center on Essex Street. The school, under the direction of Sister Jerome and Sister Mary Dunn, has since added first, second and third grades and enrolled 192 pupils last year.

The school opened a new $4 million building in April and will add fourth-grade classes this year and fifth- and sixth-grade classes over the following two school years, boosting enrollment to more than 330.

"Then that's it," Sister Jerome said about the expansion.

YCS students will take the fourth-grade proficiency test for the first time this year, and Sister Jerome said she expects the school's scores to be high.

YCS and Eagle Heights are among six charter schools in Youngstown and nearly 100 in Ohio. The schools are nonreligious, do not charge tuition, operate independently from the traditional public schools and receive about $5,000 per pupil in local and state funding.

cole@vindy.com




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