Columbus Collegiate overcomes the worst of times and is set to move on

Andy Boy received lessons in persistence, patience, and how government can operate in working up to his first day as founder and executive director of the Columbus Collegiate Academy last August.

Boy runs the 48-student, North Side charter school (see here). The school is affiliated with the Building Excellent Schools program (see here) and Boy is a BES fellow. Nine months ago he was worried there wouldn't be a school at all. Instead, he is celebrating the completion of CCA's first year-a triumph over a series of seemingly endless hurdles, from problems of finding a suitable facility, to last-minute transportation snafus, to the loss of nearly half the original student body.

CCA has survived and, if not flourishing yet, has triumphed over adversity. Students are getting the academics. "We just finished Romeo and Juliet. We never would have been able to do that at the beginning of the year," said reading teacher Jennifer Burdine.

Although the result of the state academic achievement tests are not back, the nationally normed Northwest Evaluation Association assessment - given in the autumn and again in the spring - shows the students in the school - all sixth graders - improved more than would be expected in both reading and math. In math, students entered the year performing 10 points below the average American sixth grader. When retested in the spring, they scored higher than average.

The power of the assessment is that it adapts to the ability of each student, accurately measuring what a child knows and needs to learn. In addition, academic growth is measured over time, independent of grade level or age. Test items adjust to a student's performance level, and as a result, test scores are more accurate and can be compared with the scores of millions of sixth graders across the United States.

CCA now seems poised for flight. Student and parent demand for the academy, it will serve sixth and seventh graders next year, is so good Boy had to conduct a lottery to select the 75 new students who will enroll in the school this fall.

Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy

Ian Slater, Jennifer Hurtado, and Awilda Dejesus during a math lesson at Columbus Collegiate Academy

"For two years I wondered if there would be a school at all," Boy said, recalling problems first in finding the right building in the right place and for the right price. Potential school buildings were either too expensive, or were considered structurally unsafe for a school or in need of a new roof or other expensive upgrades.

Eventually, he found space at the Seventh Avenue Community Baptist Church in the Weinland Park neighborhood in Columbus. The church, with a strong reputation for neighborhood involvement, was looking for a little more income to help with expenses. Still, plans and zoning changes to use the church had to be approved by the city. And there were last-minute glitches-the church, for example, actually never had an occupancy permit, despite decades of operation and Sunday services. Once discovered, that bureaucratic problem had to be remedied. Once granted, however, the new occupancy permit needed to be changed to allow for the operation of the school. Parking and transportation permits also had to be obtained. Meanwhile, the first day of school was coming on like a freight train.

A final, last-minute switch threatened to derail the whole enterprise in August, when the school couldn't get into the church until a week after the first day of scheduled class. So, Boy arranged for the first week of class to be at the Godman Guild House about three blocks away. No problem, until the Columbus City Schools said its school bus would only drop students at the church, not the Godman Guild. Then another school bus would pick up the children and bus them the three blocks to the temporary quarters. It doesn't make sense but, for a week that's how it was done.

Such start-up difficulties could have easily sunk the school but Boy and CCA largely escaped media attention. Reporters were more focused on the startup challenges of the Columbus KIPP Journey Academy (see here). KIPP's first principal resigned a couple of months into the school year, and there have been other start-up challenges as well at that school. The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors both CCA and KIPP.

So once going, CCA was able to deal, out of the spotlight, with the normal, first-year problems of a start-up charter school. Normal parental dismay over demanding expectations and the rigid academic structure seemed almost small potatoes. There's a lot of homework, there's Saturday school, and students show up in their uniforms, no excuses. For some parents it was too much and they returned their children to the Columbus City Schools.

"We got a lot of push back on the homework and got a lot of pushback on coming to school every day," Boy said.

Math class at Columbus Collegiate Academy

Ms. Abbey Kinson teaching math at Columbus Collegiate Academy

Boy is retaining all his teaching staff and will hire three more teachers for the autumn. CCA's board is also working to buy a former school building, renovate it, and move in permanently this January.

Elijah Cook, 12, can vouch for the pertinent positives at CCA. "The curriculum is much better and the teachers seem more knowledgeable. I felt I learned much more," he said of his first year at the school. "There's a lot of homework and I've stayed up a few nights on it but I manage it pretty well."

Elijah, who will be a seventh grader next year, not only wants to go to college but he wants to become a scientist or a mathematician.

Also, the principal, who has had some experience dealing with difficulties, is there for students needing a little extra attention. "He (Boy) helped me when times were tough. I was disrespecting my mom. He talked with me about it," Elijah said.

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