Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Turnaround school in district's control

More news about the for-profit Community Education Partners (CEP) group in Florida. -Angela
Turnaround school in district's control
By Christina DeNardo

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The private company that runs an alternative school is turning over control
to the school district following complaints about student violence at the
Riviera Beach school.

Schools Superintendent Art Johnson had asked the board to take over Oak
Grove Academy earlier this week, but he rescinded the request Wednesday
after Community Education Partners agreed to terminate this year's $4
million contract.

Today, district officials will go to the school to meet with administrators
and begin assessing staff. CEP will leave the campus Oct. 19, the end of the
grading period.

It's unclear what the district plans to do with the school, the staff and
the 700-capacity school it is building to house Oak Grove next spring. It
could keep current programs intact, develop its own or send the school's 166
students to other alternative schools, including those run by another
private firm, White Hat Management.

District officials would not discuss the settlement, citing the agreement,
which prohibits both parties from commenting publicly.

CEP Chief Executive Officer Randle Richardson said the district's move
surprised him. The 10-year-old company has 13 clients nationwide. Only one
other terminated a contract.

"We believe the dispute arose out of misunderstanding and miscommunication
on both sides," he said. "We believe we are offering a good program and have
the results to show it, but it's their call."

Oak Grove Academy, a turnaround school for middle- and high-school students
with low FCAT scores and behavior problems, opened in January with great
optimism. The all-male school is designed to limit distractions, and
students wear uniforms. Backpacks are not allowed, and every student is
searched. Metal detectors ensure no one brings in weapons.

Alleged incidences of verbal abuse, staff turnover and violence - including
a student choking a teacher and a student beating a classmate - spurred the
district to seek a takeover.

The district's crime statistics show that many high schools report violence.
For the 2004-05 school year, there were 803 violent acts against people,
3,099 fights and 405 weapon possessions.

Oak Grove administrators say a few months isn't enough time to change

Despite the students' troubled backgrounds, some parents say the school's a
godsend. Debra Upperman, a single mother who lives in West Palm Beach,
credits the teachers and the school's small classes for improving her son's
grades and confidence.

"The faculty made a connection with him. And if the kids feel a connection
with the teachers, they're better behaved," she said. "The school just
opened. How can you snatch the rug under them when they just started? I
don't think that's fair."

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