Charter school cuts high-school grades

Independence Academy will reduce its grade-level offerings to kindergarten through eighth grade beginning next year.

The School District 51 Board of Education voted during a February meeting to scale back the charter school’s grade offerings from kindergarten through 12th grade a year before originally scheduled.

Principal Damon Lockhart said the decision was made because the education quality for
secondary students at the school had been deteriorating over time.

There also were concerns over kindergartners sharing hallways with high school seniors, he said.

“The bottom line is we weren’t able to meet secondary students’ needs,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said the school had “significant mobility issues” with its secondary students. By the time students reached ninth grade, Lockhart said, many opted to transfer to traditional high schools rather than remain at the small charter school.

Independence Academy has an enrollment of about 200 students, but fewer than 50 students were in high school classes. Lockhart said the school would have classes of 10 students at the high school level, and the low enrollment did not justify the expense of resources associated with teaching high school students, such as expanded curriculum offerings and electives and career counselors.

“This school is hands-on, experiential learning,” Lockhart said. “We try for 20 kids at each grade level, but when you get down to five or so, it makes it really difficult to offer all those things kids need.”

The changes will affect 48 secondary students enrolled at Independence Academy, Lockhart said.

The school has five graduating seniors this year, and a small number of juniors will be allowed to finish school at Independence Academy, provided they are set to graduate before next December.

For the other affected students, Lockhart said, they will have school-choice options, and area high schools are in the process of presenting their schools to those students.

Lockhart said the staff affected by the transition should be able to stay at Independence Academy. With the school refocusing on K–8 grade levels, Independence Academy should be able to take on more students in those grades than it has in the past and will need extra teachers to teach them.


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