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Overview of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School.

Table of Contents

Overview

Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School (DLA), formerly Smith Academy for Leadership Charter Public School, was organized in 2003 to operate as a Commonwealth charter school1 under Section 89 of Chapter 71 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

DLA is located in Dorchester and serves 216 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. According to its website,

The mission of Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School is to develop high achieving students of good character who use problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills to inspire others and to catalyze educational, economic and political advancement within their communities and the broader nation.

Section 89 of Chapter 71 of the General Laws addresses the purposes and structure of public charter schools:

(b)  The purposes of establishing charter schools are: (i) to stimulate the development of innovative programs within public education; (ii) to provide opportunities for innovative learning and assessments; (iii) to provide parents and students with greater options in selecting schools within and outside their school districts; (iv) to provide teachers with a vehicle for establishing schools with alternative, innovative methods of educational instruction and school structure and management; (v) to encourage performance-based educational programs; (vi) to hold teachers and school administrators accountable for students’ educational outcomes; and (vii) to provide models for replication in other public schools.

(c)  A commonwealth charter school shall be a public school, operated under a charter granted by the [Board of Elementary and Secondary Education], which operates independently of a school committee and is managed by a board of trustees. The board of trustees of a commonwealth charter school, upon receiving a charter from [the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education], shall be deemed to be public agents authorized by the commonwealth to supervise and control the charter school.

According to Section 1.00 of Title 603 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, a charter school’s board of trustees has various responsibilities, including developing a strategic vision for the school, hiring qualified personnel, holding the school’s leaders accountable for its academic success, and providing financial oversight.

Commonwealth charter schools are funded through deductions from the local aid accounts2 of the sending districts (the districts in which the students reside) and are generally based on the per-pupil tuition rates of the sending districts. During fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017, DLA received revenue totaling $3,320,338, $3,332,391, and $3,409,321, respectively.

Since 2013, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), through its charter renewal process, has identified a variety of issues with DLA’s operations, including board governance, and has instructed the school to take measures to correct these deficiencies (see Appendix). After our audit period, in February 2018, DESE renewed DLA’s charter and placed the school on probation with conditions requiring major improvements in the board’s governance and financial oversight and the school’s academic program and performance.

The school’s long-serving executive director retired on August 1, 2017, and DLA subsequently appointed an interim executive director.

1.    Massachusetts law provides for two types of charter school. A Commonwealth charter school is a freestanding government entity fully independent of traditional local school districts and their school committees and is managed by a board of trustees. A Horace Mann charter school operates under the approval and cooperation of a school committee and, in most instances, the local collective bargaining unit in the district in which it is located.

2.    Commonwealth charter schools cannot charge an application fee and tuition. Rather, payments to charter schools are funded through deductions from dedicated “local aid” accounts (established under Chapter 70 of the General Laws) of the districts in which the students reside.

Date published: November 19, 2018
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