UPPER MARLBORO — One of Prince George’s County’s first-ever charter schools may soon be closing its doors if the school and school system cannot agree to new charter terms. The school’s charter expired last year.
Students and families at Turning Point Academy in Lanham are in limbo as the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system and their public charter school continue to clash over the school’s charter renewal. The school has been running without a charter during the past year as their former one expired on June 30, 2017.
“There isn’t a current charter with the school, and that is problematic, legally - to run a school that is a charter school that has no charter,” said Kevin Maxwell, Chief Executive Officer of PGCPS.
Turning Point’s future is in the hands of the Prince George’s County School Board, who took up the issue during it is March 29 meeting. PGCPS administration, in a board action summary, had originally suggested the school be closed, but Maxwell has since said his team is “open to coming forward with some additional options.”
“We have been having a significant amount of conversation regarding Turning Point and I would just like, for clarity, to say that our proposal in first reader includes keeping Turning Point open for a year while we look for a solution, but not to admit kindergarteners while we figure out how to go forward,” said Maxwell. “So the closure of the school, in its most direct form, is a year off.”
The decision to suggest non-renewal came after more than a year of back-and-forth with the charter schools operator and board. According to the board of education documents, PGCPS informed Turning Point in August 2016 of the impending expiration of the charter and offered a technical session for the school’s board to attend on the renewal process. The charter school’s board did not attend the session but filed intent to seek renewal on Sept. 8.
“The governing board submitted its first renewal application November 15, 2016, seeking a full five-year charter term renewal and to expand to high school. After the initial review of the renewal application, the board chair and the executive director were notified on January 6, 2017, of the concerns with the renewal application,” board documents read. “They were offered an opportunity to resubmit the renewal application to address the expressed concerns. The revisions were due on January 30, 2017; however, the governing board requested an extension until February 15, 2017.”
However, according to board documents, Turning Point’s board asked for several more extensions and was given formal notice from PGCPS counsel before the applications were resubmitted on March 6. That application was found to be still insufficient, and the governing board was debriefed on the issues on July 31 and given a list of specific issues to address on August 9.
Those issues included a need to restructure the governing board to address conflicts of interest and nepotism, solidifying a strategic plan “identifying the governing board’s priorities and initiatives,” and training for the reconstructed board. The charter school submitted a final response in November 2017.
“It is determined that Turning Point has failed to meet the conditions and standards to support the request for renewal of the charter agreement. The recommendation for non-renewal is due to overall ineffective governance, lack of an adequate facility and deficient academic achievement for students. Moreover, the governing board has not demonstrated the capacity to address these issues. Therefore, it is recommended that the Prince George’s Board of Education not renew the Charter Agreement for Turning Point Academy Public Charter School,” Maxwell’s recommendation reads.
Still, members of the governing board, who spoke at the March 29 meeting, said they were not given adequate time or explanation about why the school would close. Michael Peterson, a founder of the school and father of students that attend the charter, said there was never a conversation with the school about options to keep it open.
“You have a lot of people wondering ‘why is this happening’ and they don’t know why because they’re not getting answers from you guys and in not getting answers, we’re left trying to figure out how to deal with the situation,” he said. “What’s happening to the school should not be something that we should be having to go through. I think that any problem that is happening in your eyes – something can be done to rectify that problem if we all work together.”
Paul Shackelford, founder and executive director of Turning Point, accused the school system of lying about the academy’s non-compliance while Deborah Shackelford, another founder of the academy, said Turning Point has had a lack of support from the county since it is founding in 2006. Paul cited discrepancies in reports of whether the charter’s board was fiscally sound or not and claimed the “issues” with the governing board’s make up were never an issue in the past.
“As soon as we were given the letter from the charter school office to make adjustments to our board’s composition, we did so immediately,” he said. “There was never a ‘deal breaker’ mentioned in the past – simply that it looks bad or doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Paul said Turning Point was told it could not have several family members of the governing board, and he said the board immediately had all family members resign.
“Our parents, students, and teachers deserve better than how they’ve been treated,” Paul said.
The board of education discussed the school’s future for roughly 30 minutes as board members expressed a desire to find a way to keep the school open, citing test scores and academic achievements of the students from the school. Several students spoke at the meeting as well, to offer their view on the successes of the academic programs and to advocate for Turning Point to remain open.
PGCPS administration agreed to rescind the motion and will come back with a few proposals for moving forward at a board meeting in the future. A new charter will likely not happen before the end of the school year, and school leaders said they are still unsure they want to extend a new charter.
Maxwell said if the school system finds a solid solution to the charter issue, he would feel comfortable allowing Turning Point to enroll kindergarteners for the upcoming school year, but he also encouraged caution.
“Understand, though, that if at some point this doesn’t come to a good conclusion, then you’re bringing kids into kindergarten that would then have to make another decision. So we have to make sure that we’re committed,” he said.
If the school were closed, students would attend their boundary schools, moving more than 600 students into PGCPS schools.