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Tough Room, May’s Stand Up Act


It’s not friendly territory. He knows that going in.

But on the eve of a possible — let’s be honest, probable — closure of the A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence, LuTimothy May was optimistic.

“If everybody is saying, ‘we believe they’re on the right track now,’” May paused in frustrated desperation, “OK, let’s make this happen.”

As the newly installed chairman of the board that oversees the charter, May spent Monday sending out letters to members of the school board in an attempt to stave off the wolves at the door. The Escambia County School Superintendent has said he will recommend closing the school within 90 days of this afternoon’s meeting.

“To make that decision is to say that this school is going to die,” May said.

To close Dixon, by May’s estimate, would be to take away an alternative designed to reach low-performing students. Many of the school’s students arrived several grades behind and are now on the path to catching up.

“We have students now that really believe they’re smart, and they are,” May said earlier this month, when he thought he was about to work with the school district to mend the charter.

A.A. Dixon is a second-year charter school. Last year it went into considerable debt, earned an F-grade on state tests and significantly strained relations with the Escambia school district. The county board gave the school — now under new leadership — until today’s meeting to present them with a plan to recover.

But Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said Monday that he intended to recommend the school be closed. He said that “most of it’s about money,” and the fact that Dixon dug itself a $100,000 hole last year.

“You really handicap the school in the future,” Thomas said.

May argues that the Superintendent’s recommendation would do far greater damage. If the charter is put on a 90-day notice, meaning it will most likely be closed before next semester, it effectively turns the present semester into an academic desert.

“It’s a slow death of the school,” he said. “It’s unreasonable for any teacher to give their all when, ‘I have an eviction notice waiting for me in 90 days’ … it’s fatal.”

May also said the notion of a closure is already having an effect on students’ parents.
“I’ve been inundated with calls from concerned parents,” said May, adding that teachers were also approaching him. “ — with tears, they’ve cried.”

The Chairman of the charter’s board is also crying foul over funding. In addition to claiming that the school district withheld $70,000 from the school last year, May is alarmed that the charter will apparently miss out on some state money this year; he found out earlier that the 90-day notice will disqualify the school from $100,000 in grant money.

“This is a grant that is coming from the state,” May said. “All he has to do is not make that recommendation.”

And that’s exactly what May is holding out for. It’s the same thing school board member Jeff Bergosh said it would take to convince him to leave the school open. A “miracle.”

“Hopefully, it will not even be an action item, he will delete it,” May said. “It could be just as simple as that.”

As of now, the issue is still on the agenda.

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Want to Go?

What:
SCHOOL BOARD OF ESCAMBIA COUNTY
REGULAR MEETING

When:
SEPTEMBER 20, 2011
5:30 P.M.

Where:
J.E. HALL EDUCATIONAL SERVICES CENTER
30 EAST TEXAR DRIVE
ROOM 160