Threshold Academy forced to shut its doors at end of school year

By Curtis Wildfong • Last Updated 10:23 am on Friday, April 04, 2014

Threshold Academy in Orleans, which charters students from the Greenville, Stanton, Sheridan and Belding areas, currently enrolls about 158 students. The school will no longer operate after June 30. — File photo

ORLEANS — Threshold Academy, a free public charter school in Ionia County, will shut its doors at the end of this school year as its overseer decided not to renew its contract.

Central Michigan University’s Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools notified the academy Monday it will no longer authorize the school after June 30, citing low Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) scores and declining enrollment. Threshold, which charters students from the Greenville, Stanton, Sheridan and Belding areas, currently enrolls about 158 students.

Letters to parents were sent home Thursday.

“There were a lot of tears here yesterday, especially when the kids found out,” Daniel Petersen, president of EightCAP Inc., who manages the school, told The Daily News this morning. “Disbelief is a good way to put it.”

The CMU Center serves as the school’s authorizer, something each charter school in the state of Michigan is required to have, and oversees the school and is the entity state funds funnel through.

For several years the CMU Center has informed the school it must raise its proficiency in state testing. What once were five-year contracts between the center and Threshold were in four of the last five years just one-year deals. The current contract, which expires June 30, was a one year-deal.

Despite some progress in academic achievement, Petersen said, the authorizer made the decision to pull the plug on the school.

In the letter to parents, Threshold Principal Victoria Simon said the school’s MEAP proficiency has increased each year for the last four years and was once recognized as the third most-improved school in the state in math. This year the school had its highest reading proficiency on MEAP testing in Threshold’s history.

“It trended upward,” Petersen said of recent achievement. “We were making improvements, just not enough for CMU.”

Petersen said the authorizer compares socioeconomics of the school to others and where achievement is at each, something he said wasn’t a true indicator of achievement.

“We can show academic growth as well as improvement in a number of other areas including a decrease in truancy, but the gains were apparently not good enough for our authorizer,” Petersen stated. “College readiness benchmarks are not necessarily the tract that all students should be expected to be on.”

He said declining enrollment also likely played a role in the authorizer’s view of the school’s feasibility moving forward. Threshold lost more than 20 students from last school year.

“I’m very disappointed in the center’s decision not to reauthorize the academy. The school goes far beyond teaching just academics,” Simon told The Daily News, noting many children in the school deal with many issues outside the school that impact performance. “If students don’t have their basic needs met, they have trouble learning.”

“The students really feel it’s a family to them.”

In her letter to parents, Simon thanked the “Threshold family” and wished continued success for the students.

“This has been a wonderful journey for me personally,” she wrote. “The entire staff passionately loves working with your students at Threshold Academy. I wish every one of you the best in your future. Please continue to encourage your child to do their best in school to help them have a future with many possibilities for success on the job, as a loving family member, law abiding citizen and a high school graduate.”

Petersen said officials will attempt to reach out to other centers in hope of finding a new authorizer, but admitted because of the timing of the announcement by the CMU Center, it would be tough sledding.

“That’s the ideal situation for us, is to find a new authorizer,” he said this morning. “The probability of that … no one has been identified. We’re hopeful we’re open next year, but the odds are stacked against us.”

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