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Athenian Academy gets a year to correct problems

NEW PORT RICHEY — During its first 18 months of operation, the Athenian Academy of Pasco had its share of problems.

Among them:

• It ran budget deficits of more than $100,000.

• It lacked the necessary curriculum resources to teach reading to students.

• It failed to meet Florida law for monitoring student progress.

• It experienced high teacher turnover, even during the school year.

These concerns in mind, the School Board declined to give the charter school a lengthy contract extension over the summer. It gave the school just one more year — time to fix things.

Five months after giving the charter school its list of problem areas, the Athenian Academy has responded.

The board said that its deficit included money owed to management firm Leona Group, which has waived the charges, leaving a more "manageable" shortfall. It pledged to correct its curriculum shortfalls and to comply with all statutory responsibilities.

Perhaps the most important thing for Pasco officials, though, is the addition of new education experts to the Leona Group's staff. They seem to have ideas that are worth exploring, said Nancy Scowcroft, charter school supervisor.

"I think the district would like to have the opportunity to meet with these people … and see what they are proposing," Scowcroft said.

Tim Bower of the Leona Group said the firm had added staff to help with a growing number of charter schools. But it had not changed the management of the Athenian Academy of Pasco.

Pasco School Board members said they are closely monitoring the situation.

"There obviously are some issues that need to be looked into," board member Allen Altman said. "Are they critical? I can't tell."

Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said the charter school should understand it is on notice that it must improve before the board should consider granting a longer contract.

"I am comfortable with giving it another year, not three years," Starkey said. "There is nothing there to cause us to close their doors. But I think they need to work on what they said they would."

The Athenian Academy's charter expires in June. It has asked the school district and the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, an alternate chartering agency, to sponsor it in the future. Pasco officials plan to take another look at the school's operations beginning in January.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.ub.

Athenian Academy gets a year to correct problems 11/03/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 9, 2008 11:01am]

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