State shuts down Three Rivers Academy
Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2022
WINDSOR – A public charter school located here was closed on April 8 by order of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
Three Rivers Academy, which opened during the 2018-19 academic year, was scheduled to have its charter school agreement with the state terminated effective June 30 of this year. That decision was reached on Jan. 6 during a meeting of the State School Board and were based on findings that Three Rivers Academy failed to meet standards of student performance, as well as for ongoing and longstanding violations of federal and state law, for violations of the provisions of its charter, and for failure to provide required oversight and accountability over the school’s Education Management Organization (EMO).
However, at their meeting late last week, the State School Board agreed to hasten the closure of Three Rivers Academy. The reason behind that sudden decision was spelled out within the State Board’s order on Friday.
By the terms of the Charter Agreement between Three Rivers Academy and the State Board of Education, Paragraph 26.2(b), “If information available to the SBE [State Board of Education] indicates that the Charter School’s current operation poses an immediate threat to the health, safety, of welfare of the Charter School’s students or employees or the public, the SBE may take protective action pending a final decision on the termination of the charter.”
The order continued, by saying, “While the State Board would prefer to close a school at the end of the school year, the State Board finds that immediate closure is necessary to protect the educational needs, welfare, and rights of students currently enrolled in Three Rivers Academy, and to safeguard the financial and other public assets that are in the school’s possession.”
The order, which was signed at 3:45 pm on Friday, directed all monies, documents, records, computers, buses, automobiles and other net assets of Three Rivers Academy purchased with public funds become the property of the Bertie County School Administrative Unit, as provided in North Carolina General Statute Section 115C-218.100 (b).
The State Board of Education further authorized Bertie County Schools to be the Fiscal Agent related to this school closure, to make final payments to vendors and employees, as authorized by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Division of School Business.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Three Rivers Academy listed an enrollment of 88 students.
Earlier this year, there was an appeal made to the State Board in an effort to save Three Rivers Academy from its then-known charter termination effective June 30. That appeal was made Jan. 14 by Don McQueen, the owner of the EMO. He is listed as a contractor with the Charter School Advisory Board.
In its order, the State Board of Education found that McQueen, “did not have standing to appeal on behalf of the charter school board and his request for an appeal on behalf of the EMO does not constitute an appeal made by the charter school board. In fact, it is the charter school board’s complete lack of oversight over the EMO and complete abdication of its responsibility to govern Three Rivers Academy, as well as Mr. McQueen’s egregious misconduct in failing to ensure adequate education services to the students of Three Rivers Academy, failing to meet legal requirements, and mismanagement and misappropriation of state, federal and local public funds allocated to Three Rivers Academy that form the basis for the State Board’s revocation decision. Mr. McQueen has a conflict of interest and is not qualified to represent the charter school board in this matter.”
This marks the second time that the State Board of Education has taken action against a public charter school in Bertie County. In November of 2017, the State Board voted unanimously to revoke the charter of Windsor-based Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy (HCLA).
According to EducationNC.org, HCLA opened in 2014 and was labeled as low-performing by the state in 2015 and 2016. At the its June, 2017 meeting, the Charter School Advisory Board discussed problems with HCLA, including missing deadlines to submit audits, operating close to a financial deficit, and having a ratio of teachers versus other personnel at the school that disproportionate compared to similar schools.
HCLA officials were required to complete its reporting requirements on deadline and needed to either add more board members to its governing board to meet statutory requirements or dissolve its board. The school had to also submit monthly budgetary and financial data, meet with the Charter School Advisory Board two more times, and reconcile its payroll information so that it was clear how many employees it actually had, as opposed to the number listed in its payroll.
The problems persisted at the school, prompting the State Board to revoke its charter.