Questions about a struggling charter school
A note, before posting this letter from a group of parents concerned about Avant Garde Academy:
The Tampa Bay Times on Friday placed calls to both phone numbers listed on the school website, eager to get their explanation for the delays in opening the Citrus Park school. Both went to voice mail and there was no response. Our calls to the school district's charter office were referred to district communications chief Grayson Kamm, who was in a long meeting. District spokeswoman Tanya Arja told the Times later in the day that a robo-call had gone out to parents, advising them to show up at Grace Family Church on Monday morning to sign up their children if they wished for them to remain in the school, even though the building still is not ready. The expectation was that the building would be ready for use on Sept. 5, eight days from now.
We, too, have questions. Parents have purchased uniforms and supplies for their children. There is room for them in the district-run schools in Citrus Park. (Side issue: The school uses the name "Westchase" even though it is not anywhere near Westchase.)
We welcome the superintendent, the charter office or the charter school itself to provide more information. Should that response arrive in an email, we will be happy to publish it.
Dear Superintendent Eakins,
We write today with our concerns regarding Avant Garde Academy Westchase.
Many families had high hopes for this institution, but there have been significant problems with it for over a month now with no remedy. As of August 28 the building remains unfinished, and very little work had taken place at the site over the past two days with much remaining to be done. AGA was granted two unprecedented delayed completion dates, with a "final" deadline of noon on August 25 that you promised would not be extended further. However, a third extension was ultimately granted anyway. Why did you decide to grant the third extension after your meeting with the school board on August 25? What is the new deadline for construction completion, and what must be completed by then that wasn't as of the last inspection? Something clearly changed between the robo-call that went out from your office to AGA families on August 24 and your meeting with the board the following day, and the public deserves to know what that was.
The bigger issue, however, is the astounding lack of honesty and transparency on the part of the AGA administration with regard to these delays. We are fully aware that no person can control the weather timeline of the AGA school building's completion was impacted heavily by rain. Any reasonable person can forgive that. But the fact that the AGA administration insisted to parents that it would open on various dates after learning otherwise - and its failure to openly and proactively acknowledge the possibility that the school might not end up opening this year and explain the impact that would have on students - is utterly reprehensible.
Your staff was notified on several occasions by several different people about this breach of duty on the part of AGA administration, yet these harmful actions were allowed to continue. Families took AGA at their word that the school would be ready to open on three separate dates because that was all the information made available to them, and until just a few days ago they were not informed through any official channels that the school might not open at all. As such, they have had little to no opportunity to prepare a plan B in the event that it doesn't.
One of the responsibilities of the office of the superintendent is to ensure that all children have access to education. However, for families with children enrolled at Avant Garde Academy, it is a very real possibility that those children will be denied that for a time. The public deserves to know what makes this school such a special case that it merits diverting funds from area public schools despite missing deadlines and misleading parents about its degree of readiness THREE TIMES, and why its unethical communication practices have been effectively authorized by your office given the office's failure to change them.
Your meeting on August 25 should have been public; to have done otherwise simply draws the shroud of secrecy tighter around this already incomprehensible situation. A dangerous precedent has now been set where charter schools are concerned, and countless children could be adversely affected if choices and actions like these are ever repeated. You have a chance now to make things right - put students first by providing the transparency families deserve so that we may make fully informed decisions about our children's education and ensure that they do not fall behind.
Very truly yours,
Jillian Jackson Le