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Florida: Chaos at Palm Beach Charter School

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Florida is a welcoming state for charter school. It is easy to win approval to open, there is virtually no supervision or accountability, and public money flows freely based on enrollment.

In this environment, problems are inevitable.

The latest mess is the Eagle Arts Academy, a charter school in Palm Beach.

“Like hundreds of families before them, Jill Sheffield and her mother walked the halls of Eagle Arts Academy last summer with growing excitement.

“Touring the sprawling campus, the shy 11-year-old and her mother followed the school’s director across the dance studio’s shiny wood floors, through the guitar-filled music room, and into the gleaming computer lab, listening as he explained the school’s focus on arts and creativity.

“Everybody walking out of there was just like ‘Oh my God, this school is going to be amazing,’” Jill’s mother, Ashley, recalled later.

“But when school started in August, many classrooms had no textbooks. The principal resigned abruptly in the first week. The second principal was gone a few weeks later. The third one left two weeks after that.

“Soon, teachers were being fired or leaving in droves. Mothers complained that their children were not being enrolled in art classes. And then a fed-up parent put together an online petition to remove the school’s director, who responded by calling police.

“Before long, Jill and her mother realized that instead of signing up for an idealized education in academics and arts, they were watching a school be consumed by chaos, an unraveling that many parents say made it impossible for their children to learn and — in some cases — set their educations back by a year or more.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When it opened in 2014, Eagle Arts – blessed with a compelling arts-themed marketing pitch and an enviable location on the campus of a former private school – had the makings of a marquee school.

“But by the time classes started this year, educators say erratic leadership, financial mismanagement and constant staff turnover had left the publicly financed charter school — one of Palm Beach County’s largest — opening its doors with a D grade from the state, a trail of spending controversies and some of the lowest student achievement in the county.

“Since then, parents and former employees say the school has been shaken by even more upheaval as its quick-tempered founder, Gregory James Blount, assumed direct control and drove it into deeper crisis, engaging in repeated confrontations with teachers, parents and administrators, including shouting fits that happened, in some cases, within earshot of children.”

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