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Last updated: Wed. Feb. 27, 2013 - 09:16 am EDT

New charter met with opposition at meeting

FORT WAYNE — Officials from a charter school hoping to locate south of downtown were met with hostility Tuesday during a public hearing.

The hearing was conducted by the Indiana Charter Schools Board, a charter school authorizer that currently authorizes one other local charter school – Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy.

Carpe Diem Indiana Inc., which operates a school in Indianapolis, has proposed to replicate its technology-incorporated education model in Fort Wayne at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd., the site of the former Taylor University campus. Carpe Diem hopes the state charter school board will authorize the school’s charter.

More than 200 people packed an auditorium at the campus for a question and answer session with Carpe Diem officials, followed by the public hearing.

The charter school board is tasked with taking the school’s proposal and the public comments, as well as submitted written comments, into consideration when they make a decision to approve or deny the school’s charter during a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

Two state charter school board members of a total of seven were present for the hearing. Notes on the hearing were taken for the absent board members. Among the two board members present was Jamie Garwood, director of planning and program research at the Fort Wayne Urban League. The Urban League operates Marshall Academy.

Community members and parents, teachers, administrators and board members of Fort Wayne Community Schools spoke in opposition to the school, saying much of what the school offers is already available locally.

Just a handful of people spoke in favor of the charter school. Most were students of the Carpe Diem school located in Indianapolis along with two teachers and the school’s principal.

Carpe Diem currently operates two schools in Arizona and Carpe Diem Meridian in Indianapolis. Carpe Diem’s CEO and founder, Rick Ogston, made a presentation on the school’s model and what the Fort Wayne school serving students in grades 6 through 12 might look like.

A picture in his presentation showed a large room with rows and rows of cubicles, a computer and a uniformed student in each station. Ogston said he founded the organization because he didn’t believe traditional public schools were educating students for the 21st century. He said the school leverages technology to educate students. Students are taught using an “individual online curriculum,” and their time is split between independent learning and collaborative workshops with teachers and classmates.

The charter’s proposal expects 130 students in its first year of operation and 13 teachers. Estimates have enrollment growing to about 300 students after three years with 15 teachers. The maximum number of students the school could accommodate would be 600. The model calls for a higher student to teacher ratio, but a video shown during Ogston’s presentation indicates the model allows “better teacher student relationships” because students have one teacher per subject area all six years they attend the school.

Susan Stahl, who lives near where the school hopes to locate, said she couldn’t imagine sending her children to a Carpe Diem school, calling the model “bare bones education.”

She said, “If this charter is granted, the children of our community will pay a price.”

Chris Brown is the mother of Taylor, 15, a student at Carroll High School who was excited about the opportunity to attend a school like Carpe Diem. Brown said her daughter is “slipping through” the traditional public school and would benefit from the individualized program for students at Carpe Diem.

FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta, who got into a heated exchange with Ogston during the question and answer portion, said he wasn’t against choice, but he is against duplication.

“Everything you’ve said you do, we do better,” he said, before requesting the board to delay a decision on the charter proposal.

FWCS board member Steve Corona submitted a written statement to the state charter schools board saying he was disappointed in the lack of attendance by the board for the hearing.

“I am disappointed in the board’s rush to judgment. Given that less than a majority of your board failed to appear at Tuesday’s public hearing, I am perplexed how they can even consider support for the proposal in the face of overwhelming opposition expressed at this hearing … I can only deduce Tuesday’s public hearing was a sham and seen by you as nothing more than a statutory obligation,” he said.

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