From the outset, the Nap Ford Community School in Parramore has been something of a debacle. Pushed by Orlando city commissioner Daisy Lynum and former mayor Glenda Hood, Nap Ford was envisioned as a school specifically for a beleaguered, mostly black neighborhood, whose children had been bussed to outside schools since a desegregation order took effect in 1972.
Even before it opened in 2001, the school was awash in controversy and silly mistakes.
The school's charter application was ridiculously sloppy; its budget included money that wasn't there, and administrators applied for their charter under two different names. The state Department of Environmental Protection quashed a deal between the city and the school, saying that the city's pledge to give the school exclusive use of a community center violated the terms of a previous contract requiring the city to keep the community center open to the public. Hood tried to do an end run around the ruling by calling in a favor from the governor's office, but that ultimately failed after the federal government stepped in.
A coalition of Parramore residents fought the school, saying they wouldn't want their kids educated in such a dangerous environment, and complaining that the city cut corners on the $1.5 million project. There was a consensus among the dissenters that the school was more of a political show horse for Lynum and Hood than an actual need.
Despite it all, in August 2001, the school opened at its third proposed location, 648 W. Livingston St., on a former overflow parking lot for the adjacent TD Waterhouse Centre. The opening didn't go well, either. Nap Ford officials were required by the Orange County school board to have a certificate of occupancy in hand 30 days before opening, but they didn't. Facing a nullified deal, the school board called a meeting to amend its contract to allow the school to get the certificate days before it opened. The buildings "modules," officially were finished just in time for final inspection, according to an Orlando Sentinel story announcing the school's opening.
"There were a lot of things," says school board member Kat Gordon, whose district includes Parramore. "There were so many things that they just did not have. It's been a struggle for them, a real struggle."
The school board approved a five-year charter, which meant the school would be up for renewal in 2006. But the school now wants its charter extended for 15 years, almost two years ahead of schedule. Without that extension, the school won't be able to raise enough money to move into a permanent facility and get more students, Gordon says.
The amendment originally appeared on the Orange County school board's Nov. 16 consent agenda, but Gordon never a big fan of the school pulled it. She wants to examine the school's performance, and not just rubber-stamp an extension.
That didn't please the Orange County Charter School Association, which sent a letter Dec. 14 to the school board asking that the charter be renewed immediately. The school board didn't take a vote, so the issue is up in the air until January at the earliest.
Jeraldine Perkins, the school's principal, says that, halfway through its fourth year, things are going great at Nap Ford. "I think we've done an exceptional job," she says. She points out that the school had the second-best countywide improvement in math scores, and that the Orlando Utilities Commission recently donated a library. If things were bad, "companies like OUC would not be so engaged. We're headed toward being one of the models in education."
But the school's test scores are abysmal. It doesn't have enough students in each grade to be rated by the state's "A+ for Education" system, so the school doesn't get a letter grade like public schools. Nap Ford is almost exclusively black, which would seem to violate at least the spirit of the district's desegregation order. Perhaps most striking, and directly contrary to what Lynum and other supporters promised, few of the school's students live in Parramore.
To the right is a list of statistics culled from an annual report Nap Ford officials submitted ahead of their charter extension petition. Keep in mind that Orange County schools have no set criteria for determining what constitutes a successful charter school.
A PASSING GRADE?
Percentage of Nap Ford fourth graders who received passing grades on the FCAT reading test in the 2003-2004 school year: 50
Average percentage of fourth graders who passed the reading test throughout Orange County public schools: 66
Percentage of Nap Ford third graders who passed the FCAT reading test in the 2003-2004 school year: 48
Average percentage of third graders who passed the reading test throughout Orange County public schools: 62
Percentage of Nap Ford third graders who passed the reading test the year before: 40
Percentage of Nap Ford fourth graders who received passing grades on the FCAT math test in the 2003-2004 school year: 20
Percentage of Nap Ford third graders who passed the FCAT math test in the 2003-2004 school year: 33
Percentage of Nap Ford third graders who passed the year before: 40
FCAT grade the Nap Ford school received from the state: None. Not enough students took the test.
In 2003-2004, Nap Ford did not meet the Annual Yearly Progress criteria required by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2003-2004. In 2002-2003 it did meet the criteria.
In its 2003-2004 report to Orange County, the Nap Ford Community School was asked, "Did the charter school meet student achievement goals?" Its answer: Met all goals
Number of students in 2003-2004: 137
Number of black students: 134
Number of white students: 0
Number of students who reside in Parramore: 8
Percentage of students who come from Parramore: 5.8
Percentage Daisy Lynum predicted when advocating for the school: 85
Percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch: 77
Student-mobility rate, a measure of how transient the student population is in a given school year: 61 percent
Number of incidents of violence, weapons violations, vandalism, substance abuse and harassment on the bus, campus and school: 7
Number of students suspended during the year: 18
Percentage of third graders who were promoted: 77
Average number of years of experience for Nap Ford teachers: 4
Number of teachers with master's degree or higher: 1
Number of school nurses: 0
Percentage of students who rely on bus transportation: 0
Number of teachers in 2004-2005: 11
Number of staffers: 21, including two substitute teachers
Number of white staffers: 3--