The Anchorage School Board voted Monday to take over a district charter school and transition it to an alternative school after district officials raised concerns with its governing board earlier this year.
Family Partnership Charter School is a K-12 public charter school with around 1,700 students, which helps families home-school their kids and connects them with other educational options like online and college courses. It will no longer be operated by that governing board, the Academic Policy Committee.
In a 6-1 vote, school board members voted in favor of dissolving the school’s charter in a near-full board meeting on Monday. Member Dave Donley, who is up for reelection in Anchorage’s municipal election, was the only school board member to vote against the move.
The school’s governing committee, according to the district, has been riddled with issues, including breaking the law, breaching its charter and “incessant infighting,” and “has shown that it is fundamentally dysfunctional,” as outlined in a memo the district sent to school board members.
At the Monday school board meeting, several Family Partnership parents and students asked the district to keep the charter in place and expressed concern over potential changes to what they love most about the school. Testifiers outlined how they benefited from the ability to choose curriculum and the independence students and families are afforded. Some threatened to leave the district if board members voted in favor of dissolving the charter.
“The existing charter provides families the freedom it needs to choose any curriculum or blending of curricula to instruct students,” said Hannah Utic, a 2020 graduate of the school. “This is a chief reason that FPCS parents are successful in educating their children.”
After warning the committee of a district investigation into its conduct in February, the district ultimately recommended that school board members vote in favor of a plan that would dissolve the school’s charter.
“The Family Partnership APC has shown that it is fundamentally dysfunctional and that productive relationships between its membership is irretrievably broken,” district officials wrote in the memo to school board members. “The APC members are more concerned with policing each other’s words and conduct than performing proper oversight of the policies that govern the school. The APC should be eliminated.”
Anchorage School District superintendent Jharrett Bryantt had previously told families that under the district’s recommendation to eliminate the committee, the school’s day-to-day operations would not change, and neither would the financial allotments that families receive to pay for tuition and technology.
In addition to the dissolution of the school’s charter, the school board also voted to adopt a series of commitments with regard to the school, including assurance that Family Partnership funds would stay in an account reserved for expenses only related to the school. The commitments also ensure district administration will work with parents and staff to maximize parent involvement in budget and curriculum decisions, including the creation of an Academic Advisory Council led by parents.
Board members also included a provision that “parental freedom of choice regarding curriculum will remain intact,” and “there will be no changes to student allotments, including the yearly rollover of any unused allotment funds.”
Throughout testimony at the Monday board meeting, parents and students praised the school’s existing structure and explained how the flexibility and agency students had in their studies had benefited them, urging board members to vote against the district’s takeover of the school.
Amy Sims, a sponsor teacher at the school, said several families had told her they would leave the district upon elimination of the Family Partnership charter. Sims argued the school would fundamentally change if the charter was dissolved, and asked whether there was a less extreme option.
“They have told me they chose to become a part of Family Partnership because it is a charter school,” Sims said. “They are not interested in an alternative or correspondence education. They feel they’ve been blindsided by the proposed termination of our charter.”
The school’s principal, Jessica Parker, said that “no matter what decision is made here tonight, Family Partnership will continue to offer innovative programs and curriculum and vendor resources. We will continue to provide our families and students with a high-quality education. We will continue to be a school that values and supports our staff. And we will continue to provide an environment where our families are supported and our students can learn and grow. This will not waver.”
Family Partnership student council president Josiah Tshibaka, the son of Republican former U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and former Anchorage human resources director Niki Tshibaka, said that termination of the charter was “blowing up a mountain to address a molehill. It will harm students more than it will help them and it’s not in the best interest of our school.”
A few current and former members of the Academic Policy Committee testified in favor of the district’s plan and outlined the issues they’d seen with the committee.
“I urge you to approve the recommendation to end the charter and to hold the ASD administration accountable to the assurances they’ve given that the school will remain unchanged, with the exception of the removal of this dysfunctional APC,” said committee member James Wileman.
Prior to the vote, school board members discussed whether to postpone the decision and give the school an additional two weeks to address issues, before the board ultimately voted against that option.
Board member Andy Holleman, also up for reelection, said that the issues with the APC did not come up suddenly and that he was sorry parents felt like they did.
“I don’t think we had a lot of choices, unfortunately, and if we had to decide it tonight, it had to go the way it did,” Holleman said. “But we do have a really good model of how it’s worked for a very long time, and we’ll all be watching as the superintendent goes forward with it, and coming up with a way that actively engages parents without having an Academic Policy Committee has the potential to be something that I hope we can push out to all of our schools eventually, but I think that Family Partnership is a great place to start because that culture is there and the expectation is there.”
Following the vote, several remaining members of the public seated in the board meeting room got up and left, including one person who exclaimed the board’s decision was “(expletive) criminal.”
As people were filing out, Bryantt told the room that regardless of the board’s decision on the charter school, some families would have been disappointed.
“Now that a decision has been made, it’s time to pivot our focus to supporting the Family Partnership communities and earn the trust of all families to choose the wonderful opportunities that Family Partnership offers,” Bryantt said. “It’s time for us to begin the healing process and that won’t happen overnight.”