October 22, 2021

Charter school wins approval

SUNY institute unanimously backs proposal for Truxton Academy

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Board member Cindy Denkenberger stands at the front steps of the newly approved Truxton Academy Charter School on Thursday in Truxton.

The former Hartnett Elementary School, closed in 2015, will once more be full of young students next September, as a charter school for the site won approval Thursday.

The SUNY Charter Schools Institute unanimously approved the Truxton Academy Charter School proposal, its second time considering the project. The proposal goes to the state Board of Regents in November but that is considered a pro-forma vote, according to the Charter Schools Institute, with the institute’s vote carrying forward regardless of input from the Board of Regents.

Getting approval through SUNY Charter Schools Institute is a more difficult process than an effort that failed last year through the state Board of Regents. The institute has approved 35 percent of its new charter school applications.

The closest of the institute’s 185 authorized charter schools is New Roots School in Ithaca.

Most of them are clustered around larger cities, including Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and the metropolitan New York area.

This time, the Truxton Academy Charter School applicant group had made the necessary revisions and was prepared, said Cindy Denkenberger, one of the school’s founders.

“The first time, in 2015, we were totally unprepared and ignorant of what we needed to do,” she said. Then came a string of denials from the state Education Department, but the applicant group kept trying.

“It was extremely thorough and we knew what things needed to add and how to make it more realistic,” she said.

The school will start with kindergarten, first and second grades, adding a grade a year until it serves up to the sixth grade. It expects a 68-child enrollment to start, expanding to about 142 in the fifth year, Denkenberger said.

What they said

Here’s what the SUNY Charter Schools Institute said in endorsing the Truxton Academy Charter School:

• “Truxton Academy aims to provide an educational choice of excellence, relevance and innovative learning for elementary students from rural and migrant families in Truxton and adjacent communities.”
• “Rural poverty, physical isolation and the lack of educational variety limit families’ ability to choose an alternative to the local public schools, where in 2016-17, approximately 30 percent of students achieved proficiency on New York state assessments in ELA and mathematics.”
• “Truxton Academy will establish a lean administrative structure, sufficient for its small student population and designed to ensure viability in the small rural school. The head of school will provide external and internal leadership and serve as the school’s operational, financial, and school culture leader.”

— Source: SUNY Charter Schools Institute Summary of Findings and Recommendations on the proposal to establish a Truxton Academy Charter School

Denkenberger didn’t give the total expected cost of running the school year to year, but said it will be covered between state and federal grants. In the first year, a $500,000 federal grant is offered, a funding source that continues in diminished amounts over the course of five years.

The school will also get about 73 percent of the state aid that each contributing school district gets for each student that is sent there from those districts.

This is why the issue has deeply divided the community for nearly five years, as backers of the charter school have been fighting for the school since 2014 and Homer School District officials have opposed it for just as long.

The Homer Central School District expects to lose $1.8 million in school aid over five years to the new school and has consistently opposed it. However, DeRuyter, Cortland, McGraw, Tully and Fabius- Pompey would also lose aid as the charter school expects to draw students from those districts, too.

Homer Superintendent Tom Turck could not be reached for comment.

At the latest public forum on the subject in September, proponents of the school said it would use project-based learning and tap into community farms and businesses, providing alternative educational choices. They also argued it could invite more people to the district, broadening the tax base.

Thursday’s vote, approving four new charter schools, brings the number of SUNY authorized charter schools to 200, serving more than 100,000 students.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said in a statement that she is excited by the prospect of the school’s agricultural and science focus.

“The founding board’s curriculum design and commitment to children matches the institute’s work in authorizing innovative models for all communities throughout New York.” she said.