DALLAS — Dallas Community School, a home-school charter school based in Dallas, is seeking a renewal of its charter from the Dallas School District.
DCS started in 2015 on a five-year agreement with Dallas, and presented its case for renewal at the board Feb. 10 meeting. The school has turned in its application, and the board has 30 days dating back to the meeting to decide to renew.
Executive director Bill Conlon represented the district at the meeting, followed by comments from students and parents.
“We feel that we have come a long way. Our founding organizers sat before this board five years ago asking that you approve the charter. We feel that we have grown as an organization,” Conlon said. “We’ve grown in our instructional model. We feel that we are stable financially, so we are here to urge your approval of our charter agreement. We believe that we have really served a niche in the community. We have a number of families who would have been without services had it not been for our program.”
Conlon answered questions from the board about state assessments, improving math scores, and the continuing issue of documenting instructional time.
DCS has improved its participation in state assessments from 54 percent in its first year to 93 percent last year.
Scores on the school internal assessment system — which is used by parents and teachers to track progress — are consistently higher than state assessment scores. The board asked why that was happening.
Conlon said it might have to do with environment. Internal assessments are taken at home, where students are used to studying, while state assessments are taken at the school. He added that some students have testing anxiety.
Board member Mike Blanchard asked how the school deals with that because test anxiety is a part of life. Conlon said they work with parents to develop that as a skill students must master.
“We use a driver’s license as an example,” Conlon said. “If they want a driver’s license, they are going to have to take a test to get that. In order to do that, they have to learn test taking skills.”
DCS scored the lowest of all schools in the district on math assessments from last year, but did improve from the year before. Conlon said the school plans to use Student Success Act money to hire an additional teacher to work with students on math and language arts, pay for teacher training and other measures focused on math.
District staff asked how the school was tracking instructional time. Conlon said he believed that parents provided more teaching time that is required by the state, but finding a system to track that has proven elusive.
“Charter schools, by their design, are focused on innovative practices, and sometimes it’s a challenge for us document all of the instructional hours.”
Families submit weekly lesson plan with activities, subject matter, and standards that are being covered. That is one way of tracking time, Conlon said.
He added that families sign an agreement saying they will provide adequate teaching time.
“It’s not necessarily a perfect, clean system, but we are pretty confident that our families are in fact meeting the hours of instruction,” Conlon said.
Kristen Miles, with the Oregon School Boards Association, conducted a review of the charter school renewal application. She said her assessment is tied to charter school law, and she recommended the board approve the application.
“As you will see, I believe at this time they have met all of those criteria and should be renewed by the board,” Miles said. “This school has come a long way. As you probably remember in the first review that I did, there were some fundamental issues with compliance with charter law and those kinds of thing, that in a pretty short amount of time, I believe the school has really turned around.”
Miles said that the new contract should include provisions that address improvement in math and ensuring that all teachers are licensed.
When she checked with the state’s teacher licensing agency, Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, it looked as though one teacher’s license had expired.
“Sometimes TSPC a little behind in updating its information, but I wanted to point that out,” she said.
She added the contract should also address instructional time documentation.
“Continuing to pursue that conversation, I think, is important,” she said.