MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Earlier this week, multiple school districts across Middle Tennessee voted on the fate of one charter school.
The American Classical Academy submitted applications in Jackson, Clarksville-Montgomery, Madison, Rutherford, and Maury counties.
Every district, except Rutherford County, voted to deny the charter school’s application.
In Maury County, school board members said no in a six to five vote.
“I think we were disappointed of course to have the vote go against us by one vote,” said Joel Schellhammer.
Schellhammer is the executive director for the charter school and isn’t just disappointed; he is now questioning the district’s charter review committee.
“After looking at the review of the committee, we had some concerns about how the committee has judged our application,” he said.
Schellhammer is accusing the Maury County committee of copying lines from other school districts’ reviews.
“What we found in both the academic operations and the financial sections of Maury County’s reviews were direct copy and paste from both Clarksville-Montgomery’s review that was published a few days earlier, and maybe most concernedly from Rutherford County’s review, which was not published by the time this came out,” he said.
Vice President of Schools for ACA Phillip Schwenk said he compared the reports, and questions if this played a role in Tuesday night’s decision.
“I think most of us would agree, including Maury County as whole, that taking other people’s work and claiming it as your own is not what we should be doing,” he said. “It’s pretty apparent what we were reading was the same thing, and so that’s when we started looking back at other reports and noticing that there was some crossover.”
Maury County Superintendent Lisa Ventura responded to those allegations with a statement saying:
“The districts in TN that received an application from ACE received very similar applications. The rubric applied by each district is identical. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for the language of the responses to be filled with many similarities, especially in light of the response language being taken directly from the application. The similar results, state-wide, of the charter application review committees demonstrate inter-rater reliability regarding the rubric, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the application received. I am perplexed at the accusations, especially in light of the school board chair beginning the discussion by stating that ‘the ACE representative stated,’ he felt like this process in Maury County has been probably the fairest and most collaborative of these process that his organization has experienced in TN.“
Schellhammer said despite the setback, ACA plans to continue pushing for a charter school in Maury County.
“We’re not there because we want to prove a point, or we’re not there because we want to show that the Maury County review process wasn’t fair,” he said. “We’re there for those students and those parents, and that’s why we want to be back.”
Schellhammer said their next step is to amend their application to address concerns that they will then resubmit to the Maury County School Board.
If the board votes that down, American Classical Academy will appeal that decision with the state’s public charter school commission.
Copies of Maury, Rutherford, Clarksville-Montgomery and Robertson county school district charter school recommendation reports can be found below.