Charleston Advancement Academy's James Island campus reopened Jan. 9 after an unexpected temporary closure last week | Photo by Chelsea Grinstead

The South Carolina Public Charter School District (SCPCSD) Board of Trustees voted Thursday to revoke the charter status of Charleston Advancement Academy (CAA), which has campuses in North Charleston and James Island. It’s unclear whether the school will challenge the decision.

“Revoking the charter means the school will close as of June 30, 2023, but this is only if the board decides to proceed with revocation after a hearing and any appeals,” said SCPCSD Chief Communications Officer Drew Johnson in Columbia.

CAA is an alternative public charter school with students ranging in ages 14 to 21, which allows older students and students who were not successful in the mainstream public school system to complete high school graduation requirements. 

Meanwhile, parents and teachers said they felt let down about what’s happening at the school, which has been mired in internal controversy involving academics and finances in recent weeks.

“The board has not communicated to parents about the district’s decision to revoke the charter,” one student’s parent told the City Paper Thursday. “We have received no guidance, no sympathy and no word from [the CAA] board — this is shameful. 

“We are heartbroken.”

An employee who asked to remain anonymous said, “It was pretty devastating news, but I know the district is making the decision they feel is best for our students. Our board of directors put this school on this path, and put all of our students’ academic success at risk for their own personal gain. 

“So right now, as sad and worried for the future of our students and teachers as I am, more than anything else, I am angry.” 

The problems

The district board held a public meeting Jan. 19 to take action on the CAA board’s request to transfer to Limestone Charter Association, but the meeting ended with a vote to revoke the school’s charter status within its current district. 

“I’m going to make a motion to deny the transfer for several reasons that just blow my mind,” SCPCSD board chair John Payne of Florence said at the public meeting Jan. 19. 

He said the school’s student academic performance and financial structure are in question. He said that there was a significant drop in the average number of credits students earned this year in comparison to previous academic years. He also said he was concerned that only 45% of CAA’s $3.5 million budget is allotted to student support and instruction. 

The school did not meet three of the eight measures that the SCPCSD used for evaluation last spring including failure to provide goal data, public reporting requirements and submission of a timely audit from fall 2021, said John R. Payne of Columbia, SCPCSD’s deputy superintendent of sponsor performance. The two Paynes are unrelated.

After denying the transfer request, the board’s chair opened the meeting for fellow members to comment. Trustee Jonathan Butcher of Greenville then made a motion to revoke CAA’s chartership. 

“Having been provided information … of the progress of CAA over the course of several months, and taking very seriously and in no way offering this motion lightly, I am very concerned with the reports that were provided today as well as the timeline of events,” Butcher said. “And so I make a motion to revoke the charter and terminate CAA’s contract as of June 30, 2023. The reasons for making this motion include the failure to meet the goals in the charter [and] failing to use taxpayer funds for student instruction.”

The district board passed Butcher’s motion to dissolve CAA’s chartership with a 6-1 majority vote. The CAA board can appeal the action.  

A history of issues 

CAA’s board chair Nadine Deif of Isle of Palms said at the district meeting Jan. 19 that the school’s transfer request was partly due to “irreconcilable differences” between the CAA board of directors and the S.C. Public Charter School District. 

SCPCSD Board Chair Payne said in response, “My superintendent and my staff have bent over backwards to help your school to the point that we helped you rewrite your charter because you did not have capacity.”

In addition to a SCPCSD investigation into the school’s governance, CAA’s administrative director resigned last month and the lease for its James Island campus expires at the end of the 2022 academic year. 

“After the comments made by the school’s board and the staff, I feel that this school is just unstable,” trustee Payne said. “I can’t imagine trying to go through a transfer, hire a school leader and negotiate a lease all while trying to get academics up.”

While the news wasn’t good, the school employee said that what happened this week was “almost a relief” because an end is in sight.

“The last month has been wrought with confusion, worry, fear, sadness and more. To finally see the state step in and say something was really vindicating. 

“Moving forward, we just have to keep doing what we can for these students. We have them until the end of June, and we owe it to them to continue doing what we do best: supporting them, encouraging them and giving them the tools they need to find success.”

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