Hearing on proposed Truxton charter school draws mixed opinions

Nearly 80 people voiced their opinion Tuesday night at Homer High School during a public hearing concerning a proposed charter school, Truxton Academy Charter School, in Truxton, roughly 10 miles from Homer.

A lawyer from Harris Beach, the law firm for Homer Central School District, conducted the hearing, limiting participants’ commentary to two minutes each. It took nearly two-and-a-half hours to cycle through the impassioned speeches of everyone who signed up to speak, and while, at first, opposition to the charter school came in steady and strong, many individuals spoke in resounding support of the project.

The impetus for a charter school in Truxton came about after the closing of Hartnett Elementary School in 2015. The consolidation of Truxton’s school district was a decision made by the Homer school board, with the intention of cost-savings and greater equity in classroom size.

Truxton Academy Charter School is applying for a fifth time to have the New York State Education Department approve their proposed charter school.

According to the group’s website, the planned grade levels will be Kindergarten through 4th grade, and the key academic elements will be project-based learning, an in-depth, hands-on learning experience; STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with an agricultural and environmental focus; Spanish elementary curriculum, specifying children’s adeptness at learning foreign languages at an early age; and a school family culture centered around conscious discipline.

The old Hartnett Elementary School building in Truxton was chosen by local charter school organizers as the location for their planned academy. Organizers secured the winning bid for the building at an auction in October 2015, but the project has remained on hold.

Financial implications concern opponents

Much of the concern from those who opposed the creation of a charter school was directed toward a rise in the community’s school tax levy, and how it will negatively impact both families with and without children in the Homer Central School District. Furthermore, many were worried how state funds removed from the district—that follow departing students—could negatively impact teaching positions in the district due to declining enrollment.

While many of the opponents recognized the distance and duration of students’ bus ride with the transition to the Homer school district, they pointed to the fiscal irresponsibility of creating a small rural charter school. Others questioned the democratic referendum and decision-making rigor of a charter school’s board of education.

Several teachers, including retired educators, from the Homer school district and administrators from Homer and surrounding districts spoke out against the charter school, many of them expressing the excellence and value of a Homer school district education.

A growing movement for non-traditional learning

Supporters of the charter school rebutted claims the Truxton Academy Charter School would negatively impact Homer school district, suggesting the educational options provided by a non-traditional, innovative, project-based charter school would draw families and businesses to the area, and also provide new professional development opportunities.

Much of supporters’ rhetoric focused on the contemporary and progressive teaching methods of a project-based charter school, arguing that children learn differently and need options outside of traditional learning methods, such as Common Core standards.

Jeanetta Laudermilk, a founder and member of the Truxton Academy Charter School’s Board of Trustees and a board member of the Truxton Community Center, addressed the community’s concern regarding the mission of the charter school.

“Parents and community members see that there needs to be something better. There needs to be something different, and a choice for another public education than Homer Central School District,” Laudermilk said. “Let’s open new doors. One door closes, and another door opens, and we’re going to open this door. We’re going to make something happen. We’re going to make something bigger and better.”

Laudermilk acknowledged the district’s project-based learning, but says it’s too limited in scope.

“Homer Central School district does project-based learning, on occasion. What they do is completely different from what we can do,” Laudermilk said. “It would be great if they could do what we could do in regular public schools, but the schools and teachers are limited by state standards. They cannot implement the way a charter school can. We are meant to be innovative, and to support underserved students.”

According to Homer Central School District’s website, copies of any and all written records or comments generated from the hearing will be sent to the Charter School Office within 15 business days after the hearing. The Truxton Academy Charter School Application has been accepted for review and possible action at the November 13-14, 2017 meeting of the Board of Regents.