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'Lump Of Coal In The Christmas Stocking:' Farmers Branch Charter School Confident About Appeal

 The charter school chain based in Farmers Branch says it will appeal the state’s decision to close its seven schools. Parents with kids in the charter’s Farmers Branch middle school hope the appeal succeeds.

It’s the holiday season for many, but there’s little cheer at Honors Academy. This week, the Texas Education Agency basically told the charter operation it’ll have to fight to keep its seven campuses open once the spring semester ends. Honors Academy CEO John Dodd is ready.


“We did get a lump of coal in the Christmas stocking,” Dodd said. “But that’s an opportunity for us to turn that lump of coal into a diamond.”


Under the state’s new charter law passed this year, the TEA can close charters if they fail minimal financial or academic standards three years running. The state says Honors Academy has too many dropouts and low academic performance. Dodd calls that old news and says the problem’s been fixed.  


“In the past, there were particular schools at particular grade levels where

that was an issue from 2009," Dodd said. "That is no longer an issue because we no longer have those particular grades with one exception. That’s the high school in Oak Cliff,  which is recognized as one of the best high schools. And the dropout rate there in 2013 is not an issue.” 


Dodd says a TEA monitor who visited earlier this year even concluded Honors Academy was complying with TEA requirements. And Dodd says since the charter’s been cleared, it would be double jeopardy for the agency to bring it up again.  


But TEA ratings show the problem did not just occur in 2009. Honors was rated "academically unacceptable" that year through 2011. Then, under the latest STAAR test, Honors charter received the lowest possible rating again.


Honors charter parent Fay Berry, with an autistic son in Park Branch Middle School, loves her Farmers Branch campus.


“Teachers are superb,” Berry said. “If your child needs special care or they’re falling back in a subject, we don’t worry because that teacher will take your child one-on-one.”


Another mother, Melissa Poston, echoes Berry’s words. She has two kids here and another who graduated, and says their grades improved almost from the start.


“And teachers gave them more attention here,” Poston said. “So if they had any issues with anything they didn’t understand, there were teachers here that understood them more. Rather than in Dallas schools, there were too many kids to put that one-on-one focus.”


The TEA says any appeal by Honors Academy will be tough. But John Dodd is confident.


"We believe charter schools, public schools, need to be closed if they’re not educating students," he said. But, he insists, "we’re educating students.”


If the school’s appeal fails, Honors Academy doors would close for good at the end of the school year. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.