Eagle Heights had planned to add a grade annually.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Unable to find a new building and faced with low test scores, the leaders of Eagle Heights Academy will eliminate ninth-grade classes next school year and delay further expansion.
"We spent many hours and days and weeks and months looking for a building and could not find any that was acceptable to us," said Alex Murphy, the academy's superintendent.
"We really need to focus on the improvement of student learning and student achievement, and we felt we could best apply our focus as a K-8 organization," he added.
History: The academy, housed in the former South High School on Market Street, was created in 1998 as one of Ohio's first charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately operated schools.
The school initially enrolled pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade with plans to add a grade level annually through 12th grade. This year, the school added ninth grade and enrolled nearly 1,000 pupils, but it needed more room for 10th grade next school year.
"We found quite a few empty buildings but nothing that would meet our needs without exorbitant costs to renovate," said Ron King, school business manager.
The academy looked into leasing the former Stambaugh School on the city's West Side, but renovation costs ran as high as $800,000, King said.
Although the state provides per-pupil funding to charter schools, it does not give money for facilities, forcing many of the schools to find alternative housing arrangements and raise private money.
For instance, two of Youngstown's other charter schools -- Summit Academy and Life Skills Center of Youngstown -- have classes in Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Hospital.
Youngstown Community School, another charter school, has received nearly $2 million in donations and pledges to build a new school on the South Side.
King said Eagle Heights has spent nearly $2 million on renovations to the building on Market Street, and nearly all of that came from private donations.
What was considered: The school also considered scattering some of its elementary grades in church classrooms around the city to make room for high school classes in the Market Street building.
"From an operational standpoint, that just wasn't going to work either," King said.
Murphy, who became Eagle Heights superintendent this year, said the change will allow the academy to focus on student achievement.
Nearly nine out of 10 fourth-graders failed the state reading test in the fall.
Murphy also said that Ben McGee, superintendent of the city public schools, has agreed to send guidance counselors to Eagle Heights in the spring to help eighth- and ninth-grade students re-enroll in the public schools.
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, Eagle Heights board president, could not be reached to comment.