Charters ask for better communication and more peer networking

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission learned from an annual survey that its approach to accountability is viewed as a strong point for the agency but communication is considered its weakest attribute.

Commission director Nichole Hall said, “Our staff has begun the discussion on how we are already supporting our charter schools, how to increase awareness and make this support more accessible, and how to expand on current offerings. We will be developing a plan related to content, delivery and timeline.”

The IPCSC is the largest authorizer in the state with 62 charter schools. The Legislature created the commission in 2004 to provide oversight of the schools it authorizes. The commission’s seven board members are volunteers, appointed by the governor and the Legislature.

“We received almost three times as many results in the survey this year,” said Melissa-Jo Rivera, one of the commission’s portfolio managers.

This year’s stakeholder survey received 88 responses from administrators, school board members and parents.  Those leaders suggested additional training opportunities to better understand the performance framework, provide leadership boot camps for administrators and board members, and more collaborative time with other charter schools.

“Networking with charter opportunities, this has really been a hot topic since I got here,” Rivera told commissioners during a recent meeting. “Charter schools just don’t feel that there is enough conferences and support for just charter schools.”

After reviewing the feedback, Hall added, “It was determined that there is a need for clear, concise training and guidance related to commission policy and performance measures related to IPCSC’s performance framework. It was also apparent that charter schools would like additional support through the initial formative years.”

On a four-point scale, the commission scored highest on autonomy and accountability: it protects each school’s autonomy to make decisions at the school board level; and it holds each school accountable to the terms and metrics of their performance certificate. These survey comments support the commission’s approach:

“We have always been a staunch supporter of the IPCSC. Holding schools to a standard of accountability is the only way to have successful schools,” one survey comment read.

“A positive working relationship between the charter school and the IPCSC staff is a critical piece for overall success to be had. The departure of Tamara Baysinger has dampened our relationship with the staff a bit. We hope to see that improve,” another commenter wrote.

“Love your support and diligence. Please keep filtering out the nonsense so that administration and teachers can influence students to optimal learning,” according to a statement in the survey.

While accountability is viewed as a strength, others pointed out deficiencies in that area: The commission should provide measurements that are based on evidence of more than one to two years or that don’t vary based on the school’s structure, according to a statement in the survey.

“I have reviewed many of the charter renewals for the current year and am shocked at some of the conditions for renewal that were imposed on the schools. As an MBA who has worked in schools, I can honestly state there is no basis for a lot of the conditions, and unfortunately for the schools, they don’t feel they have an option to say no that they don’t work,” according to that statement.

Meanwhile, stakeholders rated them lowest on issues related to communication. Some participants feel that there is not sufficient opportunity to provide feedback on matters of agency planning and the level of communication received from the commission is lacking.

Hall responded, “With the commission’s responsibilities revolving around accountability measures and the associated verification process, we will be looking to streamline processes, data collection, and support efforts, in order to allow our program managers the time needed to work more closely with individual charter schools.”

The following disapproving comments were compiled from the survey:

  • It is very difficult to contact IPCSC staff directly, by phone. It is a surprise when they answer the phone.
  • Open communication with IPSCS members without the extraordinary efforts by ISPCS staff to stifle communication with publicly appointed commission members.
  • Increased collaboration with charter schools outside of the renewal process.
  • More communication with the legislature so they understand the importance of charter schools.
  • I would like to see less politically driven scrutiny from staff and ask that they apply simple or straightforward criteria while evaluating a charter school application. There is little deference given to qualified board members, often with more experience in education than the entire staff. The application  process appeared to be constantly moving the goalposts.
  • Reasonable oversight rather than looking for reasons to criticize schools and mark them lower on performance reports.
  • Providing these “resources” that they speak of. Being more approachable and supportive instead of feeling more like rebuking and an unhappy boss. 
  • Review how staff recommendations are created and ensure spot checks are performed to ensure proper and fair processes are being applied across the board. It appeared during our effort to bring a fresh, new virtual charter to Idaho that there were an amazing amount of roadblocks thrown up to stop the effort, none of which I had seen in the past.
  • I’m not aware of them providing resources, just reprimands. We are also often frustrated by the achievement metrics they create for our schools when we can’t even replicate those or figure out how they got them. That’s certainly not “transparent” or clear.

The commission staff gathers the feedback annually and presents it to the charter commission during a regular meeting. This year’s survey occurred between February and March, and the staff’s presentation took place in April.

“We heard loud and clear that schools want more networking opportunities. We need to build that into the budget,” commented vice-chairman Sherrilynn Bair during the presentation.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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