By Mike Klein
As this year’s school days were ending one of Provost Academy Georgia’s online students wrote a note saying, “I have never been this happy in all my years of growing up. I need more positive adults like you in my life.” The student who wrote that note lives on her own and plans to attend college. “We are really, truly, saving lives,” says Provost Superintendent Monica Henson.
Provost Academy Georgia is also growing up.
This summer Provost is expected to change its relationship with Edison Learning, the national organization that incubated Provost for two years. The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers name will disappear in favor of new branding. Provost will fully manage its entire financial model and back office infrastructure. Edison will continue as a curriculum vendor.
The Georgia school and its Edison Learning parent have been in discussions for months. “Our partnership with Edison Learning is evolving,” said Henson. She expects Edison will continue to provide tech support and affordable internet access to financially eligible students. Provost will continue to use the curriculum vendor Apex Learning for advanced placement courses.
Provost will also launch a small pilot project this fall with Marietta City Schools to improve graduation chances for at-risk students. “We are delighted to work with them,” said Henson. “I have been looking for two years for a district partner to set up this kind of prototype.”
The biggest change from a public perception is discontinuation of the Magic Johnson brand connection. Provost operated brick-and-mortar Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah. The new name is Graduation Achievement Centers of Georgia.
Johnson licensed his name to Edison Learning for its work primarily in city settings but Provost increasingly sees its opportunities being in less populated Georgia. “We expect to dramatically expand outreach to rural students,” said Henson. “We’re very grateful to Mr. Johnson for his support. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without his help and support.” Johnson made one trip to Georgia in April, 2012 to announce the initiative at a State Capitol news conference.
Provost Academy Georgia is a learning hybrid with an emphasis on hard-to-serve students who failed in traditional settings. The typical student is a high school dropout. The typical freshman is at least 16 years old. Some are at-risk youth who were accepted into National Guard Youth ChalleNGe programs at Forts Gordon or Stewart. Some are under juvenile justice jurisdiction.
Provost students ran out of traditional options or they burned bridges. About 1,100 students enrolled in the Provost online academy this year. Another 600 enrolled in Magic Johnson Bridgescape Centers. This fall’s estimated enrollment is 2,175 students.
The fifth and newest Graduation Achievement Center will be the partnership that the Marietta City Schools board approved last week. This fall Provost will take classroom space at the city system’s Performance Learning Center, housed in a former school. Provost will start small with 25-to-50 students. Some could be Spanish speaking students with limited English skills.
“We aren’t satisfied with our current graduation rate. It’s been hovering around 60 percent,” said John Waller, director of secondary curriculum and special programs for Marietta City Schools. Waller said Provost will target “any student who is overage and under-accredited. If this reaches students who otherwise wouldn’t graduate it’s the right thing to do.”
Universally, Georgia charter schools will tell you they have great students, great parents and lots of financial challenges. Provost is no different. The four Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers that opened in 2012 closed in February this year when the state’s financial aid formula was no longer sufficient to support the brick-and-mortar model.
Provost 2013 – 2014 funding was based on 942 students who enrolled during the previous school year. But when the Academy enrolled more than 1,700 students this past year the financial aid formula did not work. Keeping the four brick-and-mortar centers open would threaten the entire Provost Academy model, so they were closed and about 20 staff members lost jobs.
This spring the state agreed to fund Provost going forward based on 2,175 total enrollments which is what the Academy expects this fall. Provost will receive about $4,779 per online pupil and about $7,821 per brick-and-mortar pupil at the five Graduation Achievement Centers. The statewide average for full time funding is $8,440 per pupil in traditional public school systems.
Last year Provost awarded 20 high school diplomas to its first graduation class. At least 40 students will graduate this month and the number of 2014 graduates could increase after end-of-course retakes are scored. Henson is encouraged about the road immediately ahead: “We are now in a financially stable position going forward.”