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Sun, Feb. 16

Northpoint will leave PUSD in 2010-11

The Prescott School District students who enrolled in Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy three years ago as freshmen and are now seniors will graduate in May.

They will be the only graduating class from NELA as a PUSD school, because plans are underway to switch NELA from a PUSD district school to a charter school starting in 2010-11.

The Prescott Unified School District Governing Board Wednesday afternoon approved a resolution supporting the creation of Northpoint Academy, an independent charter school.

On Aug. 3, a group of parents will apply to the State Charter Board for the creation of the Northpoint Academy.

During the governing board's retreat Tuesday, NELA Director Geneva Saint-Amour said switching NELA from a district school to a charter school is a "natural progression."

The director said the creation of Northpoint Academy would provide the school autonomy. Saint-Amour said removing the school from the district would eliminate the pressure the governing board came under about the cost per NELA student versus that of Prescott High School students.

During the 2008-09 school year, the governing board conducted several community forums to discuss the need for a new high school. During the forums, community members repeatedly brought up the issue of money the district was spending on NELA students.

Saint-Amour said changing to a charter school would result in Northpoint losing some advantages.

"It is nice to be in the district," she said. "It is nice to have support services in place and it is nice to have the support of the board."

Governing Board Member Steve Campbell asked about the negatives and positives for the students.

"I believe NELA can look almost exactly as it is for students and parents. The changes will be behind the scenes," Saint-Amour said.

The negative, she said, is that students "could be taught by people who are not certified; people who are not part of this vision."

PUSD Chief Financial Officer Renee Raskin said the district would lose state money for about 168 students. At the same time, she said, the district would experience a reduction in staff.

Campbell also asked if the parents are doing what is best for the students, not what they think will spare the governing board members problems.

Kim Belli, the parent of an NELA student said switching to a charter school is best for the students.

"Northpoint really needs to be about 50 students per grade, and for PUSD, that makes no sense financially." Belli said.

Dee Navarro said that as a board member she is sad to see NELA leave the district. She said NELA offered PUSD students an option.

"However, if it is best for students, I can understand," Navarro said. "Financially, I think this will eventually even out."

Saint-Amour talked about the opportunity PUSD has to do something new - partner with a charter school.

Board Member Joan Fleming agreed with Navarro. "I hate to see NELA leave the district. As a district, our motto is choice"

Fleming said not having NELA removes the opportunity for choice.

Superintendent Kevin Kapp has a strong involvement with NELA. He said he likes the idea of providing students with options.

"Unfortunately, Arizona does not support innovation in education. To support that would require more money per child," Kapp said.

The superintendent said he would like to see NELA continue and he is "sad to see it go."

Saint-Amour said it is possible that the Northpoint Academy would stay at its current location-the Dexter school building at 551 First Street. She added that the charter school could contract with the district for food service.

Kapp said he hopes the charter school would continue to use the building. He is also excited about the potential for partnerships between the new academy and PHS.

"For the students, the only complication I see could be credit transfers to PHS," Kapp said.

The superintendent said many details must be worked out, such as laptops and furniture which all belong to PUSD.

Saint-Amour said student count at NELA is down. She attributes it to the bad publicity against NELA and parents not wanting to enroll their children when they did not know the fate of the school.

Campbell said, "There are kids our there who would have done well, who would have excelled at NELA but because of the negative publicity their parent would not send them to NELA. The positive thing is that NELA will no longer have to deal with the wide range of public outcry."

The State Charter Board must decide by Jan. 15 whether to approve the application. However, a new charter school governing board could not sign the charter until it has a building lease in effect. At that time, the new charter school could start receiving start-up money from the state.

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