Although a letter went home with students Wednesday, many parents had already found out about the library closing through an online petition created Monday, urging Cherokee Charter and its parent corporation, Charter Schools USA, to keep the media center.
Debbie Pascoe, the mother of a fifth-grader at Cherokee Charter Academy, said she found out the library was closing after seeing the online petition calling on school officials to save it.
“It wasn’t communicated to parents,” Pascoe said. “I’m unhappy that they made that decision unilaterally, without consulting the parents.”
By Thursday afternoon, more than 235 people had signed the petition addressed to Cherokee Charter Academy and CSUSA, asking for the school to keep the media center.
Allison Walker, the mother of a kindergartener at Cherokee Charter Academy, said she heard about the library shutting down from a friend — before the letter was sent home. Walker signed the petition Tuesday.
“It’s very upsetting. I was completely shocked when I heard it,” she said. “Everyone’s been voicing similar opinions. Just finding out about it; being shocked.”
Colleen Reynolds, spokeswoman for Charter Schools USA, the parent company over Cherokee Charter Academy, said Thursday school leaders made the decision and CSUSA supports their choice.
“Cherokee Charter Academy school leaders make decisions based on what’s best for their students. The leadership team of the school met to address space concerns and offer solutions,” Reynolds said. “Scott O’Prey presented the idea to the leadership team of the school, who overwhelmingly thought this would be a good idea. This is not a board decision or a decision by the management company, but one made by the school. CSUSA fully supports the decision and will assist in any way to help it be implemented.”
Parents received a letter from O’Prey, the Cherokee Charter principal, Wednesday, explaining space is in short supply at the school and it will do away with the school’s central media center to make room for more instructional space.
“Space at Cherokee Charter Academy is at a premium. This year, all classrooms, the small cafeteria and half of the media center are being used as instructional space. There are seven teachers on carts,” O’Prey wrote in the letter to parents Wednesday. “My staff is doing its best to be flexible and be good stewards of our space.”
As of March, the official enrollment count for Cherokee Charter was 1,104. The school budgeted to have 1,108 at that time.
Pascoe said the school itself offers her child a good education, but she didn’t expect the charter academy to make a decision without consulting parents.
“It’s not supposed to be unilateral. That’s the whole point why we’re in the charter school, because we don’t want to be like a regular public school, where decisions are made and we have nothing to do with them,” Pascoe explained. “We didn’t find out until the petition was up. I’m annoyed about that. I don’t understand what a school is without a library or a media center.”
Reynolds, though, said Cherokee Charter Academy offers parents a number of ways to be involved.
“One interesting program at Cherokee Charter Academy is ‘Coffee with the principal,’ a monthly meeting where parents can meet informally with Dr. O’Prey over a cup of coffee and present ideas or voice concerns,” Reynolds said. “These meetings have been quite well attended and have produced positive input. We encourage parents who have concerns to bring them up directly with the principal.”
Pascoe said some parents plan to attend a meeting with O’Prey at the school next Thursday at 6 p.m. to talk with him about the decision.
“It’s something that parents should have been involved in,” Pascoe said.
The letter sent to parents explained how books from the school’s media center will be divided up into individual classrooms by grade level.
“Many schools, both traditional public and charter, are using the classroom libraries model … Our plan for next year calls for transitioning to this model,” O’Prey wrote.
Reynolds said the “in-classroom media centers” are becoming a trend.
“We have implemented this model in all of our new schools and it is becoming a trend throughout the country,” Reynolds said. “We have received very positive feedback from parents and students in the schools where this has been implemented.”
Georgia’s State Board of Education rules require the Cherokee County School District to provide a full-time media specialist for each school or a half-time media specialist for schools under a certain size, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.
Cardoza said the rule doesn’t apply to Cherokee Charter Academy, and some parents who signed the online petition had concern about what would happen with the school’s media specialist.
When asked about whether or not the school’s media specialist would remain at Cherokee Charter, Reynolds explained she couldn’t comment on personnel issues.
Walker said she plans on keeping her child at the charter school for now, but said if anything else “that integral” goes away, she may reconsider.
Walker said her child really enjoys the media center, and it’s an important part of education.
“She looks forward to it: going to the library, checking out her book, reading it,” Walker said. “It contributes a good bit (to education).”
Pascoe said she hopes the school can find another way to “shuffle space” and keep the media center, and “in the future, start consulting parents on big decisions like that.”
“They’ve got to find another way to shuffle things around and create space,” Pascoe said. “If there are children that need space, I want them to have their space, but I don’t understand why they’re taking it away from the entire school’s media center. It seems to me like a bad decision.”
Pascoe said parents at Cherokee Charter Academy just want to do what’s best for all students, and she thinks a library is important for the school.
“We really care about our children. We try to get the best opportunities for our kids,” Pascoe said. “But this decision was a horrible thing.”
O’Prey explained the details of the changes in his letter to parents.
Next school year, middle school classes will be held upstairs and elementary school classes will be held downstairs, O’Prey explained.
“The current downstairs computer lab for middle school will be placed on the second floor,” O’Prey wrote. “The current downstairs computer lab will be dedicated to our elementary classes so the small cafeteria will not have to be used as instructional space.”
O’Prey said the school store is moving off-campus, which will provide more classroom space.
“We will be able to move the fifth grade downstairs and meet the increasing needs of our students with disabilities,” O’Prey wrote. “Our books will be distributed by Lexile levels to the appropriate grade levels.”
O’Prey said in the letter students will have closer access to books with the new arrangement.
The petition can be found online here.