Instructional time a challenge for charter school

Dallas Community School is in its third school year. The charter school was founded to provide families of home-schooled students support for curriculum and help with instruction. Here, Julie Rain assists students working on projects when the school opened in 2015.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Dallas Community School is in its third school year. The charter school was founded to provide families of home-schooled students support for curriculum and help with instruction. Here, Julie Rain assists students working on projects when the school opened in 2015.



DALLAS — An Oregon School Boards’ Association review of Dallas Community School, a charter school in Dallas, found it is out of compliance with state instructional hours requirements.

The finding isn’t surprising given that DCS’ model has parents — not licensed teachers — providing most of the instruction to students, said Kristen Miles, board development specialist with OSBA who also conducts evaluations on charter schools. The school, which is in its third year, is designed to provide resources and guidance to families who home-school their children.

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Miles

As a public charter school, though, the school and its sponsor Dallas School District are accountable to state requirements.

Miles bases evaluations on the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ “Core Performance Framework and Guidance.” The review, called an “annual performance framework and report,” analyzes a charter school’s academic performance, financial standing and organizational management.

Miles offered commendations on strong performance areas and recommendations for improvement in others.

“My goal is to provide a useful tool for the board, the district and the charter school to work from,” she said Monday at the Dallas School Board meeting.

Miles said she noted the instructional hours compliance issue because it is Dallas School District’s obligation as the authorizer of the charter to determine if its charter schools are following the law.

“The main question is, are they providing a comprehensive instructional program, and are they providing the required instructional time, which is defined in OARs as provided by a licensed teacher,” Miles said.

She said DCS is using a model of accounting for attendance and instructional time that online schools use, but her determination is that the school is falling short of the requirement as it tries to blend homeschool and traditional school elements.

“The whole purpose of the school is to combine those things, to allow students to have a home school environment but also function as a charter school,” Miles said. “I think my note about that is to point out that there may be a tension in here in trying to do both. That is hard to do in a charter school model.”

DCS isn’t alone in this predicament. Dallas Superintendent Michelle Johnstone said other similar charter schools in the state are dealing with this concern.

“Some districts have said that’s not OK, like Bend, other districts have allowed it, like Medford,” Johnstone said.

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Johnstone

DCS Director Bill Conlon said the school is researching and working with the Oregon Department of Education to find a solution.

“We want to be in compliance,” he said. “We don’t want an issue for Dallas School District that they have something that is going to come back at them, so we are going to work hard to make it correct and figure out what it is we need to do.”

Miles commended the school on having 84 percent of its students participate in state assessments, an achievement, she noted, for a school serving a population not accustomed to such testing.

However, scores on those tests were lower than state and Dallas district averages.

“I’m recommending that the specific plan of improvement be written,” she said.

Miles also presented Luckiamute Valley Charter School’s evaluation on Monday night.

In a letter accompanying the evaluation, LVCS Executive Director Christy Wilkins said the school is regrouping after difficult years before and after the former director retired due to illness. She said he had been director for 13 years, and his mid-year departure last school year was challenging.

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Wilkins

State assessment scores also suffered during that time.

“It was disappointing to the entire LVCS community that results on the state assessment were so poor, because academic achievement has always been a point of pride for students, staff and parents,” Wilkens wrote in the letter. “I believe those results do not accurately reflect the skills of our students or our teachers.”

Wilkins in the evaluation and on Monday detailed programs and plans to improve performance, including better alignment between the grades, better interventions and professional development opportunities.

“We are implementing a lot of changes. I think good changes,” Wilkins said. “We are very focused on instruction and improving student achievement.”

Miles said parents she interviewed for the evaluation were satisfied with class sizes and relationships with teachers and staff.

“They also hired a new ED (executive director) who is strong and competent. I think that she will really serve that school well,” Miles said. “They are really focused on improving student growth and achievement.”

For more information or to see the annual performance reports, see the Dallas School District Jan. 8 meeting packet at: https://www.dallas.k12.or.us/school-board.



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