November 30, 2021

Truxton charter school faces challenges

‘In it for the long haul’

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Owen Mosure, left and Kaylin Cirbus, both second graders, work on creating paper crafts Friday at Truxton Academy Charter school

In the first grade classroom of Truxton Academy Charter School, children’s’ voices filled the air as they practiced writing and reading.

The second grade classroom next door offered a stark contrast Friday, with the children silently decompressing after recess, building items from paper just before for math class.

The Truxton school is one of only two rural charter schools in New York. The other, New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, recently needed a $200,000 donation to help pay down debt.

The Truxton school is nowhere near that point. That doesn’t mean its first year has been trouble-free.

“It’s a challenge but we’re in it for the long haul,” said Cindy Denkenberger, the president of the school’s board of trustees.

The school, which opened in September, has some financial issues, and some difficulties with busing students from as far away as Syracuse.

The budget has been tight and some positions, like student achievement coordinator, have been eliminated. But “we have got everything in place,” Denkenberger said. She did not provide specific numbers on the budget or other financial information.

Sara Petit-McClure, the head of school, said Truxton Academy received an $800,000 start-up grant from the state that must be spent by June, though she did not know how much remains.

Denkenberger did note that a gala in April will raise funds to help the school.

“I’m very hopeful and confident that the board will create the environment to be successful,” she said.

But the problems aren’t as severe as those of the other nearby charter school, New Roots, which received a $200,000 anonymous donation two weeks ago to help with the school’s debt.

The Ithaca school will use $80,000 of that donation to pay the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, with remainder of the donation funding retirement contributions over the next two years.

“This incredible, inspiring and unexpected gift was made by a donor who wants our school to thrive as a resource to young people and our community,” Tina Nilsen-Hodges, the school’s principal and superintendent, said in a news release. “We are deeply grateful for this breathtaking act of philanthropy.”

The school owes $279,000 to the retirement system after it failed to pay invoices in 2018. In December, the SUNY Board of Trustees Charter Committee put the school on probation for not making the retirement contributions and for failing to meet enrollment and age requirements.

Truxton Academy, which has 43 students, is looking to add a grade per year up up to sixth grade, Petit-McClure said.

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Sophia White, left, a first grader, and Celeste Quezadas-Mendez, a kindergartner, work on writing and reading exercises Friday at Truxton Academy Charter School.

And on Friday, the first- and second-graders worked together to learn about animals, their habitats and how the animals adapt. The children created videos and presented to their peers about specific animals.

The second graders did a project where students first learned about the mealworms’ life cycles through reading, then created a miniature habitat for them.

“You would hear them at lunch be like, ‘Ms.Petit-McClure, my mealworm went into pupa stage’ so they’re really excited to share those things they’re learning,” she said.

“I like everything at this school,” said Kaylin Cirbus, a second-grader.

Sophia White, a first-grader who was practicing her hand-writing, said she liked writing and math, particularly multiplication.

Petit-McClure said she is hopeful for the future of the school.

“In general, we believe that all children can learn and we believe in creating environments that encourage and support students to find their strengths and use those strengths to flourish in the future,” she said.