SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Charter School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to begin the process to terminate the charter of Kairos Academy, a public charter school in West Valley City that primarily serves teen mothers and pregnant teen girls.
This past school year, Kairos Academy served about 90 students. The school, which opened in 2014 with plans to serve 200 students, has been on probation since March 2015 over issues of low enrollment, academic performance and questions about the qualifications of faculty members, said board member Bruce Davis.
Board member Michelle Smith, who made the motion to begin the revocation process, said the charter board had worked with Kairos Academy's board and director for three years but "we have encountered such dramatic inability to execute on the original charter that they are out of compliance with the terms of their charter."
Beyond that, students have performed worse academically at the charter school than in comparable options, she said.
"I don't feel like this school, this particular charter, is salvageable. They've been extended lifeline after lifeline beyond what we would even offer other schools and they have not only not availed themselves of the help that was proffered, they have actively resisted making changes," Smith said.
The academy has 15 days to request a hearing on the board's decision regarding its charter, which the State Charter School Board granted in 2013. If the school does not request a hearing, the charter will be terminated.
If the school requests a hearing and the charter board upholds its decision, the decision can be appealed to the elected Utah State Board of Education.
Kevin Fenstermacher, the academy's director and board chairman, declined to comment on the charter board's decision.
"We're keeping all options on the table," he said.
The charter board met in closed session for close to two hours before returning to open session to discuss members' concerns and vote.
State Charter School Board Chairwoman Kristin Elinkowski said in a press release issued later in the day that the charter board wanted the academy to succeed.
"We think charter schools can fill a need by offering alternatives for underserved populations, including pregnant teens. Unfortunately, Kairos' enrollment numbers, test scores and graduation rates showed our board the school was not succeeding in serving these girls," Elinkowski said.
Kairos Academy, which serves students grades 9-12, had lower graduation rates and SAGE test scores than alternative options already available to these students, the press release said.
While school excelled in the "social piece" in serving students, it was evident they would be better served academically elsewhere, said member DeLaina Tonks.
Kim Frank, executive director of the Utah Charter Network, spoke on behalf of the school prior to the board entering executive session. She offered alternatives to terminating the school's charter, such as assigning a third-party mentor to work with the school or amending its charter to become an alternative school.
"In my opinion, if any school qualifies as alternative school this would be the school because of the circumstances of their students," Frank said.
There is not a process currently in State School Board policy to seek that designation, she said.
Jennifer Lambert, state charter schools executive director, said the elected Utah State Board of Education is implementing a new school accountability system, which would likely delay any such application.
Frank said she had recently visited the school, which she said is "unique and innovative."
The school's website describes it as "a fully accredited, tuition free public high school providing a quality education, college readiness and career training to ALL girls in grades 9 through 12. With a focus on leadership development, Kairos Academy specializes in serving girls with unique needs such as pregnant and parenting teens."
Frank said the charter school has served teen girls who "have the world against them." Kairos Academy helps prevent them from dropping out of school and provides an educational opportunities for teen mothers and pregnant teens who have already dropped out of school. The school has on-site child care.
Fenstermacher told the charter board that the school's enrollment started in the low 40s, hit 66 its second year and served about 90 students in the recently concluded school year. Its charter application envisioned a projected enrollment of 200 students.
"Kairos Academy does not intend to serve as a transition program where the primary emphasis is working toward moving students back into their 'regular' school. Instead, Kairos Academy will provide a full academic and social program to support pregnant teens and teen mothers through earning a high school diploma," the school's charter application states.