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Palm Coast Thursday, May 17, 2018 5 months ago

Flagler Schools prepares for possible shutdown of Palm Harbor Academy

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The charter school had transferred many of its lowest-performing students to a private school on the same campus immediately before state assessments, preventing those students from taking them and affecting the school's grade, according to district offic
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Several days before the Florida Standards Assessments began near the end of the school year, 13 third-grade students suddenly transferred from the Palm Harbor Academy charter school to a newly created private school on the same school campus, run by Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover.

With one exception, all of those 13 students had one thing in common: They were at least one full grade behind grade level. Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.

The students’ transfer to a private school meant that they didn’t take the state assessments required of public school students — and, therefore, didn’t drag down the school’s state scores and school grade. A failing school grade would have meant shuttering the school, School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, because the school got a D last year. 

The school district has portrayed the moving of the students as an attempt by Palm Harbor to skirt the school grade process, at a cost to the students: Those with disabilities who were moved were not being provided state-mandated support, district officials said, at the newly created private school, the Academy of Excellence.

“I’m going to tell you right now there is nothing that can be produced to us to show that those third-grade students’ rights were not violated by moving them,” School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, adding that the move meant that the kids lost speech language services.

In fact, she said, the Academy of Excellence was so new when the children were moved over that the state had not yet completed the annual survey that would make the school a “viable entity” for funding purposes. 

Board member concerns

The transfer of the 18 students was only one of a series of issues district officials raised with Glover during a workshop and subsequent meeting May 15 before School Board members voted unanimously to send him a 30-day “notice to cure,” and another notice warning that the district intends to file a 90-day notice of termination of its contract with Palm Harbor at the next board meeting. But for School Board members,  it was the most serious.

“Let’s say it’s totally legal,” Board member Colleen Conklin said to Glover during the workshop, concerning the transfer of the students. “It certainly doesn’t appear to be done in the right manner, because it looks as though the purpose and the intention of doing that was so that students were not being tested, so their scores were not being calculated.”

School Board member Andy Dance also noted the timing, asking, “Why not complete their year of education when they’re this close to the final end?”

“First and foremost, we did not move the students,” Glover said, noting that the parents had requested the move.

Dance said Glover was blaming the parents.

“I’m not blaming the parents,” Glover said. “We did not talk to the parents at all about moving their children. … We did not in any fashion conduct any kind of campaign, solicit, try to induce parents to take their kids out of Palm Harbor.”

“But you accepted them,” Dance replied. It did look, Dance added, “like you are not testing those students so that you don’t have a course grade.”

School Board member Janet McDonald noted that the transfer paperwork was nonstandard, not like the forms used in neighboring Volusia for withdrawal from a charter school.

With those models available, she said, why were Palm Harbor’s done “in a manner that didn’t look like a professional organization?”

“I can’t answer that,” Glover replied. 

Hiring and record keeping 

There were also other issues: For instance, the private school had hired a music teacher, Nate Shropshire, who’d lost his job at Palm Harbor about two years before after an investigation into allegations that he’d been rough and threatening to students.

Glover, who is a pastor at the First Church of Palm Coast, said that one of the church members had told Shropshire that he could discipline her child, and that another parent overheard Shropshire doing so and complained. 

“I am unaware of any communication that’s come to me as to why this person cannot be employed by the school,” Glover said. 

Gavin said that there had been multiple complaints, not just one, about the teacher, including, in one case, that “he told the student to shut up, and that he would punch him in the gut.” And, Gavin said, Shropshire made “disparaging comments” to the kids, “including utilizing the N-word.”

Glover replied that Shropshire was black.

“Mr. Shropshire has been counseled,” he said. “Counseled by a prior principle, counseled by an existing principle, before he was engaged to do this particular task. … In our assessment, he does not pose a risk.”

Gavin also pointed out that Palm Harbor had previously indicated it would be expanding, but then created a private school on the same campus. 

Glover said that the Palm Harbor board’s expansion plans included the private school and that the Palm Harbor board had talked about it last year.

He said he was sure School Board members would have heard from Palm Harbor board members that they were planning for a private school. 

“Actually not,” Conklin said. “The confirmation’s not been there. That’s why we’re asking for board meeting minutes.”

Glover had said multiple times that the Palm Harbor board’s meeting minutes from 2017 referred to plans for creating a private school. But when School Board members received those minutes later the same day, they found no specific mention of adding a private school, although the minutes enumerated the details of other expansion plans for the charter school.

Other issues included the district’s assessment that the school had repeated issues with students record keeping, and that its bus was regularly late, meaning that students were missing instructional time.

District staff who visited the school had on several occasions found tables of students still eating their breakfasts in the cafeteria at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., Gavin said.

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