School District and Renaissance Public Academy continue collaboration
Molalla's school board voted on Jan. 11 to yet again extend the timeline for collaboration with Renaissance Public Academy regarding 16 instances of concern at the school during the 2016-2017 academic year. This comes after the results of a third-party evaluation of the school, which showed that RPA is fulfilling the requirements of the charter agreement.
"We feel that RPA and MRSD have been able to reach common ground on a variety of issues." -RPA Admistrator Michael Gibson
After heated discussion at the June 22, 2017 school board meeting followed by a vote from the board to not move forward with a termination of the charter, the district and the charter school have been working together. At that meeting, the board passed a resolution to form a committee including representatives from the district, the school and a third party (Kristen Miles), with a 45-day timeline. But that timeline has been extended, most recently until the February school board meeting.
In the time since that meeting, communication has improved between the parties, and Superintendent Tony Mann sees that as positive momentum for the charter school.
"The fact that the board unanimously took that action and that we're continuing to make progress in our collaboration with RPA, those are all positive things for the charter school and the young people and families that are served by that charter school," Mann said.
RPA Administrator Michael Gibson boasted positive results of the collaboration.
"We feel that RPA and MRSD have been able to reach common ground on a variety of issues," Gibson said. "We are establishing, what we all hope will be a solid, collegial relationship. Both sides are committed to a positive outcome in the future and will continue and foster a positive dialogue that will bring maximum benefits to all the participants."
Recently, Molalla River School District enlisted Portland State University to conduct a formal evaluation of RPA. The evaluator was Victoria Bianes Chamberlain from PSU's Center for Student Success.
"Vickie Bianes, the director of the Center for Student Success at Portland State University, has done tremendous work along the way, and I believe in the work of her office and the university," Mann said.
"...it is evident that RPA is substantially fulfilling the provisions of its charter with the Molalla River School District and substantially complying with federal and state statutory requirements regarding charter school operations and accountability in Oregon." -Victoria Bianes Chamberlain
The results of that 52-page evaluation were mostly positive for RPA. The school is exceeding standards in executing its mission and implementing key design elements outlined in the charter agreement, they are meeting standards regarding parental involvement and they are exceeding standards when it comes to providing the educational program and instructional practices described in the charter agreement.
In the evaluation's conclusion, Bianes Chamberlain said, "Based on information collected by the CSS evaluator through a comprehensive document review, numerous communication exchanges (in person, over the phone and electronically) with RPA staff, board members, teachers and parents and observations conducted at the school, it is evident that RPA is substantially fulfilling the provisions of its charter with the Molalla River School District and substantially complying with federal and state statutory requirements regarding charter school operations and accountability in Oregon."
"Our faculty is arguably one of the most supportive, engaged faculty I have been associated with. They are passionate about their work and will go out of their way to address the needs of our students." -RPA Administrator Michael Gibson
Gibson said that he was pleased with the evaluation process and results.
"PSU's evaluator was both supportive and thorough as she provided an abundance of feedback and encouragement throughout the process," Gibson said. "She pointed out all the fruits of our labor, what our strengths are and what areas we need to address in the future. We are pleased with her findings."
The original 16 situations that concerned the school district included RPA's handling of a situation with a special education student who attempted suicide over a weekend, failure to follow a student's 504 plan, and safety concerns about a horse that had wandered onto the school's grounds.
The evaluation did reveal some areas of opportunity for the charter school, including in their work with students with disabilities. Chamberlain Bianes determined that the school is "approaching standard" when it comes to protecting the rights of students with disabilities.
"The district has expressed concerns about whether the IEP and 504 plans for identified students have been fully implemented in the past," Chamberlain Bianes writes in the evaluation. "As a result of these concerns, additional language related to the district's expectations for services to students with identified disabilities was added to the latest charter agreement in 2016. The district noted that while it is contractually optional for RPA to contract with MRSD for 504 services, currently those 504 services are being handled exclusively by RPA. During the site visit, the evaluator observed active accommodations being made in one classroom being conducted by a veteran educator. The student was fully engaged with the full class in the clearly adapted activity."
Additionally, the evaluation found the school wanting in academic performance on state assessments. They did not meet expectations for both English Language Arts and Math. RPA's average elementary-age score for English fell below Clarkes's and Mulino's but exceeded Molalla's, Rural Dell's and Molalla River Academy's. In math, RPA's average score was the lowest in the district. According to the evaluation, RPA has been working to address math performance by using a new curriculum and focusing on staff development.
"We have been focusing on strengthening our primary and secondary mathematics and science curriculum by enriching our curricula, hiring both an advanced math and science instructor while at the same time focusing on student engagement and achievement in both disciplines," Gibson said. "It is an exciting opportunity for all of our students to connect, interact and be inspired to discover the possibilities that math and science offer."
In response to the evaluation, Mann noted that he is encouraged by the recent work at RPA and considers the PSU assessment to be "one component of the district's responsiveness and commitment to provide comprehensive feedback and ongoing evaluation of charter schools."
As the process continues, Gibson took the opportunity to praise both his faculty and to thank the school district.
"Our faculty is arguably one of the most supportive, engaged faculty I have been associated with. They are passionate about their work and will go out of their way to address the needs of our students. They are willing to meet with students during their prep periods, at lunch breaks and after school," Gibson said. "MRSD's Superintendent Dr. Tony Mann, along with his administrative team and school board, have been a strong support for us this year and should be acknowledged for that. Relationships with school and district leaders are important. Positive relationships will ultimately extend into the classroom and improve the quality of the learning environment and allow teachers to meet student needs, grow professionally, and thrive."