Students said they’re not getting the internships promised at local businesses. And parents demand to know why the 2-year-old Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy continues to have a high turnover of teachers and administrators.
At a town hall on Monday, administrators of the academy met with parents, students and community members for about two hours. Administrators said they were hosting the town hall meeting to address rumors among the school community that the school was receiving a new principal, its fourth since opening in 2006.
The business academy is the first of three Renaissance 2010 Schools that opened at 231 N. Pine, the former Austin High School.
Michael Bakalis, CEO of American Quality Schools, a nonprofit management group of charter schools which operates the business academy, said the school’s principal was on a medical leave of absence and would be welcomed back as principal if she chooses to return. But according to students and parents, rumors swirled around the school that she wasn’t returning and may have been forced out. A regional manger with American Quality Schools has stepped in as interim principal and will remain until the end of the school year in June.
About 60 people attended Monday evening’s town hall. Some students were under the impression that they were getting a new principal. Reesheda Graham, principal of Plato Learning Academy, an AQS school in Austin at 5545 W. Harrison, had been on campus the week before talking to students. Students at the town hall said they were told that she would be their new principal. Graham, who was also at the town hall, said if students had that impression, it was a mistake, and that she was only their visiting the school and a possible replacement.
Parents and students also questioned the school’s turnover of teachers in the last two years. The business academy has 24 teachers, most of whom are certified. The school’s enrollment is about 350 students in freshmen, sophomore and junior grades. The school will have its first senior class next fall. Bakalis said some of the school’s former teachers took other teaching jobs with higher salaries. He added the academy was working to recruit and retain certified teachers.
The juniors also asked why they’ve not received internships at local businesses, one of the initiatives promised by the business-centered academy.
Bakalis said the school was working to create those internships for juniors and next year’s senior class. Other juniors said they don’t feel they’re being prepared to take the ACT this spring. Karen Washington, a regional superintendent with AQS who’ll serve as interim principal, disputed that, saying the teachers’ lesson plans are designed to follow the ACT, which is given to juniors. She added that she would talk with students about that concern.
Some of the parents also weighed in with concerns. Tracey Showers, parent of a sophomore, said she was concerned that someone was talking to students at the school without parents’ knowledge, regardless if they’re an educator. Washington said she told teachers that there would be a visitor at the school, but Showers maintained parents should have been alerted well ahead of the visit.
“I wasn’t told about that and I didn’t give me permission for my children to talk to anyone other than their teachers. It doesn’t make a difference that it is, I wasn’t informed, and I have a problem with that,” said Showers.
Town Hall Part 2
A community meeting concerning the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday Feb. 9, at 231 N. Pine, in the small auditorium. The meeting is for parents, students and residents to address the school’s staffing turnover and learning environment. For more information, call Dwayne Truss at 773-879-5216, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.