Have An Award-Winning Charter School In Your County? Shut It Down!

The Fulton County School Board decided unanimously last night to reject the charter renewal application of Fulton Science Academy Middle School. The vote could force the Blue Ribbon winning school to shut it’s doors at the end of the schools year unless a compromise is reached.

The Alpharetta school wants a charter renewal for at least eight years, but schools Superintendent Robert Avossa recommended only three. He said FSA needs to synch its charter cycle with Fulton Science Academy High School and Fulton Sunshine Academy because the three are issuing a $19 million building bond together.

That alignment is necessary for responsible financial oversight and stewardship of Fulton taxpayer money, he said.

Fulton Science Academy Middle School had asked for a ten year charter renewal but had offered an eight year renewal as a compromise.

According to a document distributed by FSA, the longer charter term was needed to provide stability at the school.

Lasting stability will allow FSA to apply the long-term planning that is needed to for the implementation of some major educational programs and learning strategies that will be extremely beneficial in enhancing the education of our students as well as for the future development of our school. Examples of this are: College Readiness Program, Technology Enriched Instruction Curriculum Development, and Teacher Retention Program.

Save Fulton Science Academy” has details of interactions between Fulton County Schools and Fulton Science Academy leading up to last night’s vote.

Fulton Science Academy was one of nine Georgia schools (and the only Charter school in Georgia) to be named a 2011 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.


    • Engineer says:

      You would think that the Fulton Co. officials (be they school board or otherwise), would be wary of making people in North Fulton mad or upset. This is only going to make pro Milton County sentiment rise. Last thing they (FCSB) should want is the majority of their tax base suddenly leaving.

    • ChuckEaton says:

      I’m pro- charter schools, but it was a unanimous vote by the school board, so it doesn’t appear to be a North Fulton vs. South Fulton issue.

  1. UpHere says:

    Buzz: I would suggest you dig just a little bit into this and find the real story on why this school was shut down. It has to do with the Turkish connection and the Gulen movement. It is actually very sinister. I would venture to say that most parents with kids at this school has NO idea.

      • UpHere says:

        Never said it was a cult.

        As for the three year extension, I am not sure. I do know through conversations with one at Fulton County schools, most were in agreement that they needed to get rid of the school operations all together. The way the board is set up and their connection to the non-profit was a little unsettling.

    • drjay says:

      instanbul was constantinople, now it’s instanbul not constantinople, why did constantinople get the works? that’s nobodies business but the turks…

    • jttraino says:

      The conspiracy theorists who have never been to the school have some wacky ideas. I’ve seen nothing of the sort. I’ve had one child attend 3 years and have two others there now.

      I’m a conservative who led the Georgia Tech CR’s for years. I’m a Catholic who has taught Sunday School (PSR/CCD) for 3 years. I’m an adult leader in Boy Scouts, etc. Most of my friends who have children there are the same.

      There simply isn’t any evidence of this type of thing at all. Have my kids met more Muslims since being at FSA? Sure. They also have met more Jews, Hindus, and Protestants. It happens to be the most ethnically-diverse school in the system, but they never talk about religion except in maybe a world geography class.

      I saw this conspiracy claim early on at FSA and researched it. The icing on the cake is when I was talking to the Assistant Principle about his grown son and daughter-in-law serving in the Christian mission field. But, maybe he just wasn’t in on the conspiracy. 🙂

  2. Every time a charter school gets hassled by a school board, somebody pops up to invoke “The Gulen movement” as the “real reason” the school board did whatever they did. It’s a load of crap. If this is some sort of anti-Gulen action by the FulCo School Board, they should say so.

    • Engineer says:

      On the other hand, if you were a teacher, would you want to work somewhere that has the potential to be shut down in a short term vs a school that offers long term employment? Truth be told, most would go for the more stable position.

      • griftdrift says:

        Teachers work on a year to year contract. I don’t see how this would make a difference. However, I will admit I am not well versed in these issues.

        But I would say this is something where it would be easy to make simplistic points when in my limited eyes it seems both sides have an argument.

        • Engineer says:

          I’m just saying that if a teacher or any person for that matter is looking for a job, they are usually going to look for one with long term prospects (not so much for younger teachers, but this is more often the case with older teachers if they have kids and/or family in the area and/or don’t want to move any time soon).

          Or think of it this way, would you rather work somewhere that may or may not still exist in 3 years, or a place that may still exist for 10 or more years? A lot of folks will go for the more stable option (even if it is lower paying).

      • Cloverhurst says:

        3 years was used because it would sync them up with their affiliated High School and Elementary Schools.

        btw the High School has not made AYP

    • jttraino says:

      Of all of the Fulton Charter schools, all of them currently operating are on a 5 year charter… except one. Hapeville is on year 3 of a 10 year charter. The charter was granted so they could improve their physical facilities… an opportunity that FSA thought would be afforded to them given the stellar performance.

      If FSA were a brand-new charter school, the state-mandated minimum would be 5 years. That’s so a school can plan, invest, recruit, etc.

      FSA tried to compromise with Fulton Schools on the term, but Fulton staff said that it was non-negotiable. FSA incorrectly assumed that the Board would see the overwhelming value and strong argument for more than 3 and vote for them. They were wrong.

  3. Charlie says:

    I have no idea why the Gulens are using a Turkish birth certificate to open or close a school.

    I do think there’s a legitimate question here over who is to regulate a charter school. My guess is that there will be some clarity for the issue during this session of the legislature, where State Charter status is likely to be codified and expanded. I would presume a constitutional amendment to expand and more clearly define the role of charter schools would be likely.

    For those more in the know, a question: If the school was offered a 3 year charter, why does that impose an immediate hardship on the school instead of the 10 years they requested? Given the probablility that the state will expand charters and funding mechanisms for charter schools over the next two years, why doesn’t the three years give them enough time to sit and wait for a better offer?

    • It’s got something to do with their ability to issue bonds. Shorter term = less (possibly no) ability to issue bonds for permanent facilities, longer term = more ability to do so.

        • That’s an excellent question about a complex issue and should properly be addressed to somebody who has facts and gives a damn. In their absence, I will have to do.
          I don’t think (ie, I’m not sure) the high school and the elementary school were given 3 year charters. They have a head-start on the middle school. The article indicated that timing the charter renewals to be simultaneous was the reason for the three year offer from Avossa.

          Funny how these school boards go all taxpayer watchdog only when charter schools are involved.

            • jttraino says:

              FSA offered a great compromise on last Friday to do 8 years. It would sync up the terms of the schools and give them the longer term for planning, recruiting, cost-reduction, etc.

              FSA got an e-mail last night *after the vote* that was a response to that request from Fulton Schools. I think the e-mail error was on FSA’s side and it is thought that it would have helped things with FSA on the vote last night. FSA has asked the Board to consider this and call a special meeting via teleconference to reconsider the vote in light of that amendment being accepted.

              Even though I am a parent of students at FSA, I would have bailed instantly if it looked like they were not trying to get a solution. For over a month now they have tried for a solution.

            • I just think it’s ironic that the school system even has a say over things like this. Weren’t charter schools created because the school system was pretty much failing to create good schools?

                • jttraino says:

                  They have a ton of oversight. They can yank the charter for many reasons. They always have been able to and they would have been able over the next charter term.

                  They get monthly financials and a solid external audit.

                  Everything is open at the school. I don’t know what other oversight you want.

                  • griftdrift says:

                    Not me. I was just explaining to our libertarian friend who seems to be under the impression that forming a Charter school means you are seceding from the school system.

                    I’m aware there’s oversight. And based on what I’ve read, it’s usually the right amount. But as Charlie pointed out earlier, I think the legislature is about to give us a lot more guidance on what is “proper”.

  4. 22bons says:

    Thank God the Georgia Supreme Court declared that local school boards exercise exclusive control over k-12 education and did away with the state charter commission which was usurping their control.

  5. Cloverhurst says:

    Buzz- this is not about closing down an award winning school.

    A majority of the Fulton County Board of Education is for charter schools and school choice, in fact Fulton County has more charter schools than any other system in the state.

    #1. FSA refuses to file complete financial documents with the FCBOE
    #2. Gulen schools are known for manipulating grades- might explain the Blue Ribbon Designation’
    #3. The FBI met with the School Board and Superintendent in closed session in regards to trips to Turkey this school was making- advertising such as “European Trips.”
    #4. Their is no statistically significant difference between their test scores and those of peer institutions in the county.

    • jttraino says:

      #1. Wrong. FSA has open financials that are shown monthly at the open Governing Board meeting on Saturday AM. Those financials are also provided monthly to Fulton. FSA has an external audit annually and passes with flying colors. It’s all public record, my man.

      #2. Wrong. As a dad of smart boys who struggle to get decent grades, I can tell you for darn sure there is not “inflation”. Heck, based on how they did in their neighborhood elementary school and the jolt of reality they get at FSA, I might argue it is grade “deflation”.

      #3. My sons have benefited from these trips a great deal. They haven’t been able to go on the Costa Rica trip, but have gone to Turkey. It was a great experience and something of which I am jealous. They got to see where Paul was in Epheusus and what was thought to be the Virgin Mary’s home. Oh, I think they saw some Muslims over there, too. But, I can still convince them to say the “Our Father” somehow.

      #4. Wrong. Even when you normalize for poverty, they are at above the regression line. I’m not sure if you read the news story, but they have had the highest ITBS standardized test scores in all categories for four years running. But, school is more than test scores. See how they do things like win the State Model UN or they get first in the country in the Social Studies fair. The list goes on.

      Cloverhurst, You are 0-4. Maybe you should visit FSA and improve your education. I hear they expect people to get questions right there.

      See if you can muster up some better claims so I can shoot them down. These were way too easy. If you can stump me, I’ll buy you that brand new tin foil hat you have been looking for.

    • Ambernappe says:

      Please excuse my confusion, but would not a Milton County School Board be a completely new entity? And how are you privvy to non-public information such as financial documentation and FBI meetings concerning this school? Which other schools are “peers” of this school? And what are the specific non-negotiable items presented by Ms. Greenway? I have vague memories of a former State superintendent who was “obsessed” with numbers, but is responsible for the miserable state of affairs in mathmatical education in Georgia.

      Just curious…

  6. griftdrift says:

    I don’t understand all this conspiracy stuff. Although I like conspiracies. Maybe I’ll google it later.

    But I would like to know more details about this from the AJC article…..

    “While the school was going through the application process, Fulton staff investigated its finances and found problems. The charter campus paid $156,000 to a nonprofit without first putting the contract out for bid. The school’s executive director and principal served on the board of the Grace Institute for Educational Research and Resources, which contracts with schools to provide technical support, professional development and purchasing services.District officials said it created a conflict of interest.”

    • Ambernappe says:

      Grift – I decided to “google” Gulen Movement now. It is said to be an Islamist educational group. Thirty-three charter schools in Texas are said to be operated by this group. Limited information…..

    • jttraino says:

      You might want to quote the relevant part of the article that this was a factor in the charter renewal. Actually, even better, ask Fulton attorneys. They are on record saying that there was never a conflict of interest and there isn’t one now.

      And, the software licensed by the schools is awesome. It is one of the innovations the school uses to keep parents engaged. Every FSA parent will tell you exactly how to check for “missing assignments”… something you need if you have a pre-teen son.

      And, the services provided are not in a category that Fulton bids. So, even Fulton County would not have bid that.

      • jttraino says:

        Typo: “You might want to quote the relevant part of the article that this was *not* a factor in the charter renewal.”

  7. nfultonforfsa says:

    Dr. Avossa gets an A in misinformation and an F in educating our kids. Stating that he is looking out for tax payers is a joke. Fulton County is at NO RISK regarding the bond. The money is going to be spent on each child regardless of what school the kids go to… I think what Avossa should have said was that he’d rather close a high performing charter school and send the kids and more $$$ to lower performing schools. The school requested the 10/8 year charter to secure the financing and attract parents and students–knowing the school will be around for a while. The bond is intended to build a school big enough to meet the demand of the waiting list which contains several hundred families trying to send their kids to FSA.

    The effect of the 3 year renewal was to undermine the FSA construction funding, and its ability to recruit students and teachers. The guy is on the job 6 months and closing FSA his best work? God help our school system and children with this lack of leadership. If charter schools like FSA are Superman, the FCBOE overhead/oversight/micro management is the Kryptonite that will kill our kids chances of getting a high quality education.

    As a conservative Republican I’m shocked the FCBOE would go in this direction. FSA has made many of the changes I’d like to see in our public schools. They run lean and deliver results. I’m not surprised though, this isn’t the first boneheaded move of the FCBOE and won’t be the last.

    The root problem/issue is that a high performing charter competes with the new charter system that the FCBOE is attempting to setup. By forcing all renewals into a 3 year charter the FCBOE is setting the stage to create a charter system that looks identical to the system we currently have–they are doing nothing more than paving a cow path.

    We pay far too much tax to Fulton County to continue to accept this kind of poor performance.
    Instead of hand cuffing this charter the FCBOE should learn from and support an on-going success story. This is an example of highly paid bureaucratic overhead making decisions with no accountability. I doubt the FCBOE will be successful with their version of a charter system if they remain this restrictive. If Georgia is going to remain competitive and draw tech firms here we need more schools — we need FSA — to prepare our kids to be doctors, vets, research scientists, technical specialists.

    • benevolus says:

      I admit to not knowing the specifics of this school, but I did want to comment on the possible motivation of the FCBOE.

      An issue for many people with charter schools- or any schools that can accept applications- is that they attract involved parents and therefore likely motivated students- the very parents and students the other truly public schools need in order to have a chance to be successful. The normal public schools are increasingly left with low-achieving students who are harder and more expensive to teach. I am sympathetic to parents who want the best for their own kids, but what is the solution for who is left behind? Are public schools to become daytime warehouses to babysit kids while their parents work? Those kids are going to grow up too and we need to find a way to give them a good chance to be productive members of society. The fact is, we will have to deal with them one way or another, and sooner or later.
      If there are problems in certain schools that makes parents want to send their kids elsewhere, shouldn’t we work on fixing the problems rather than running away from them?

        • benevolus says:

          I don’t think there is any mystery about what it takes to have a successful school. You need a process to install competent leadership, and you need engaged parents.
          As long as those groups aren’t saddled with bad doctrine, they can make a good school anywhere.

  8. griftdrift says:

    “Fulton County is at NO RISK regarding the bond.”

    With what little I know about the statutes, I find this highly doubtful. The bonds of most municipalities if they default fall back on the county/state.

    If I’m wrong, tell me why.

    • jttraino says:

      You need to get up-to-speed on how charters work. The charter can be revoked at any time for certain circumstances (financial, safety, etc.).

      5-10 is the expected duration per state law. For a brand-new school, 5 is the minimum (unless requested).

      Fulton County Schools gave a 10 year charter to Hapeville to help them build a building 3 years ago.

      • griftdrift says:

        Interesting. I will read more.

        But can you answer this question. Why is the middle going for a 10 year charter when the high school is accepting a three year?

        • jttraino says:

          The high school is in the second year of a 5 year charter. Until last night, I bet that they would have considered a 10 year next time around. Frankly, I would be against that 10 year because they have not performed as well as the middle school.

          The middle school is the flagship school with a waiting list double the size of its population (500 student waiting list for a 508 student school). Until the vote last night, they were strong, strong, strong. If this can get resolved, they will be strong again.

          I actually think that the renewals should be staggered, frankly. From a business perspective, I think it mitigates risk to stagger the renewals in the event that there was a failure.

        • 22bons says:

          Google works just fine.


          “Because of the long-term financial investment and commitments which Hapeville Charter is making towards the construction of the new career academy facilities on Buffington Road as a part of our strategy to improve student achievement and increase the student graduation rate, we are requesting that Fulton County Schools allow the charter to be approved for a ten year period.”

          • griftdrift says:

            Now that’s interesting.

            Just an opinion here. I don’t doubt your school is a fine one and many of the reasons you’ve given (although arguable I’m sure Fulton County would say) seem to lend strength to your position, the ten year thing sticks out like a sore thumb. You can see here how it got me wrapped around the axle.

            Since the county’s main line of argument is ten years is not prudent from a financial perspective, I’d point out that they didn’t seem to have that concern when Hapeville’s was approved.

            Pointing out inconsistent application gains you many more allies than simply thumping your chest about how you’re so much better than everyone else. Just good politics.

            Thanks for all the info. I’ll keep reading up on this issue as I’m very interested in the charter question and want to be as informed as possible.

  9. CobbGOPer says:

    I have an excellent suggestion for all Fulton County parents:

    Move the [expletive deleted] out of Fulton County.

      • 22bons says:

        Or you could review prior comments by a Cherokee County BOE member in a similar saga:

        “If nothing in this school district meets your needs, then you can move, you can pay for private school, you can homeschool, you can run for school board and make things happen, or you can get involved with your child’s education at your local public school.”

        The idea that charter advocates are the unreasonable party in this dispute is ridiculous.

        • And what go we tell the students zoned for failing schools? Sucks to be you. Better hope the adults get their act together and hire a good superintendent who implements reforms that will pay off in the future so your younger siblings get a better education than you did.

          Charters can provide a viable option for low income parents who cannot move to a better performing school or system.

        • griftdrift says:

          Hey 22bons, I actually support charter schools, but we’ve got two parties here. One says 3, the other says 10. It seems there’s room for compromise. At best you could argue both are unreasonable.

          But with an eye towards history, there’s been too many instances where north Fulton says we want this, Fulton says no, north Fulton screams high taxes/unfair representation/Milton blah blah blah. That’s usually the extent of the back and forth.

  10. jttraino says:

    A great deal of the questions asked here can be found on my website at http://SaveFSA.com. I’m obviously biased as I am a dad of 3 kids that have benefited greatly from the school. So, remember that when you are reading.

  11. Charlie says:

    The best comment thread we’ve had in a long time. A few conspiracy theories for entertainment value, and quite a bit of good information and debate.

    Please continue.

  12. Cloverhurst says:

    I wonder who paid for the robocalls out yesterday telling parents to call Fulton School Board Chair Linda Schultz and tell her to vote for the renewal?

    • jttraino says:

      I would love to know, too. It would let us know who is trying to help FSA stay open. Once you find out, please let me know!

  13. jttraino says:

    Quick update… A bunch of elected officials just asked Fulton County Schools to end this.

    FSA will modify the two items down (already agreed to by the FSA Governing Board) and the Fulton County Board of Education would just have to vote to renew the charter.

    If FCBoE doesn’t renew the charter at this point, it would just be retribution and would confirm that they do, indeed, want the best-performing middle school in Fulton County shut down.

    The actual letter posted here: http://savefsa.com/news/2011/12/22/fulton-leaders-call-for-charter-renewal-by-fulton-county-sch.html

  14. kazp18353 says:

    Fulton Science Academy is indeed a Gulenist-run school, as are all the schools associated with the Grace Institute, plus about 125 more charter schools being supported by American taxpayers. Consider the possibility that jttraino has a blind spot that makes it difficult for him to absorb the truth about FSA’s unquestionable ties to the Gulen movement. That wasn’t the case for Kelly Wayment and Ruth Hocker, two American parents who had enough common sense to catch onto what was going on with their children’s charter schools and then go public.

    It’s really too bad how so many American parents have allowed themselves to become the Gulenist’s tools, but it it not surprising. This group has perfected their approach to outsiders for years (“A strategy of seduction is employed by the cemaat not only towards parents but towards local governments too” is how the approach was described in 2003 by Bayram Balci, a sociologist who studied the movement’s missionary schools in Central Asia). Unless one joins the cemaat and learns how to speak Turkish, studies Gulen’s teaching, attends sobhets, and gets put under the oversight of an abi, they will have no idea about the nature of this brotherhood which is emphatically taught to keep secrets by their leader.

    Sorry, but no conspiracy theory here, just a verifiable, slow and steady infiltration by this foreign religious group.

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