Catasauqua Press

Friday, May 25, 2018

Setting the record straight

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by ZACH HOTTINGER Special to The Press in Local News

Charter school officials come to meeting prepared to quiet the storm

The Catasauqua Area School Board had many questions about the education being offered by the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School, and IAACS officials came to a meeting Tuesday with answers.

The special school board meeting was held to hear the testimony of charter school Principal Douglas Taylor, charter school Solicitor Dan Fennick and school adviser Tom Taylor.

In two prior Catasauqua board meetings, former members of the charter school staff had voiced their concerns for the school’s well-being under the direction of Taylor because of staffing, security and faculty insurance benefit issues.

Because the Innovative Arts charter was issued by Catasauqua Area School District, the school board has oversight responsibility and the power to revoke the charter if it finds the quality of education provided to be lacking.

Taylor and Fennick were invited to a previous meeting but were not in attendance, as Fennick could not attend due to private matters and believed Taylor should not attend without him.

Because of their decision to not attend that meeting, the school board became more aggressive toward having Fennick and Taylor address the situation and sent out a list of questions for the pair.

Taylor and Fennick answered the questions by creating three documents in response and presented them to the board Tuesday.

The documents contained information responding to all of the questions that the board had asked — and then some.

Taylor explained the first document had information on the qualifications of every staff member. He noted out of 26 teachers, 22 have certification. With that level, 84.6 percent, the school exceeds the state requirement of 75 percent.

In previous meetings, former faculty members had voiced concerns that Taylor had hired many people without certification.

Taylor told the board many of the new hires are from out of state and applied for emergency certification. Out of the 22 that are certified, two more will be within the coming weeks as well.

“We’re a fresh charter and a fresh school,” Taylor said. “I was hired to take control in April and knew an overhaul was due. The school has only been around for one year, and a lot of changes needed to be made to ensure the future. Some staff had to be let go that I felt did not share in the vision of where the future of Innovative Arts is going.”

The charter school officials reported the school encompasses 337 students and are only losing two students from the year prior, due to the students moving too far away to continue their education at IAACS. This is a statistic the charter school representatives are proud of since it shows the students and parents were pleased with the progress that the school took in its first year.

The second document listed the safety procedures the school enacts, showing documentation of the fire drills and other drills the school conducts. Taylor assured the board the school is checked on such practices and the practices do, in fact, take place.

Some discussion took place on the decision Taylor had made to eliminate security personnel and to instead use counselors for the students.

Taylor said he believes the school would be in better shape by using personnel that were more suited with de-escalation therapy than pure security purposes and explained to the board that the number of staff compared to students is well in hand.

The final document contained information regarding the school staff’s insurance policies, which are required to be closely related to Catasauqua Area School District’s insurance policies. Due to budget constraints, the charter school’s policies are not exactly the same as the school district’s, but the document states it is as close as it can be at the current time.

Questions by school board members were brief, as Taylor had addressed every concern the board had.

He offered the board an invitation to visit the school or a future IAACS board meeting at any time.

Catasauqua’s next school board meeting will be held 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at the school district administration building on 14th Street. The next IAACS board meeting will be held 6 p.m. Aug. 16, at the school on Howertown Road.