Will Eagle Fly Statewide?
Now Eagle Academies of Waco -- a charter running online schools in several cities, including Austin -- has applied for an "amendment" to its state charter for three schools (Beaumont, Waco, and McAllen/Pharr) to add 1,000 pupils and become effectively a "virtual school" for the entire state. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott has until Dec. 24 to make a decision on the application, or it goes into effect automatically. On Monday as the Chronicle went to press, TEA spokesperson Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said that she expected Scott's decision to be issued the next day and that she understood the staff recommendation is to reject the application, primarily because the Eagle Academy schools "do not have a stellar record" on state accountability standards. According to an April 4 Chronicle report by Michael May, "Chartered Well ... and Badly," nine of Eagle's 23 charters have been rated "low-performing" for the past two years.
The Chronicle recently obtained a Sept. 10 memo from Eagle administrator Barbara Hinkle to Kirsten Christophersen in the charter division of the TEA, in which Hinkle wrote, "At the request of Robert Scott, Eagle Academies of Texas is preparing documentation to submit an amendment for a statewide Virtual Academy," and asked for advice about preparing the documentation. (At press time, Hinkle could not be reached for comment.)
Ratcliffe said that she was told Eagle Academy first contacted Scott about making the application, and simply was informed about how to proceed. "I don't think there was any 'Nudge, nudge, wink, wink' [from Scott] that Eagle should apply," Ratcliffe said. At least 80 school districts reportedly wrote to the agency opposing Eagle's application.