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New Springfield charter school opening today

Board of directors split with previous management company.

A Springfield charter school board began classes today in a school with a new name and operator and in a new location, a move that came after the board of directors split in June with the previous school operator.

Cliff Park High School, 821 N. Limestone St., expects to serve about 140 students ages 16-21 this year. It retained about of the 100 students it served at the former Life Skills Center of Springfield in the Southern Village Shopping Center, Administrator Karl Perkins said.

Cliff Park School’s board of directors, which formerly contracted with White Hat Management to operate Life Skills, didn’t renew its contract after last school year.

The new school, considered by the state to be a drop-out recovery school, offers a different learning environment to students who weren’t successful in either the traditional high school or district-run alternative schools, Perkins said.

Its main goal is to help students earn a high school diploma and have a plan to follow after they do, Perkins said.

““They’re just kids who are different kids,” he said, “and a school that’s different and that thinks different and has a curriculum that’s a little bit different and instructional practices that are a little bit different.”

To do that, it merges teacher instruction and technology to focus on three dynamics: direct instruction, group-based instruction and classroom instruction.

Its average 1 teacher to 15 students ratio helps officials tailor assistance based on each student’s needs, when necessary.

The instructional model isn’t all virtual learning, nor is it all lecture.

“One of the things I’ve found in this environment, in drop-out prevention, is that you can’t use computers to replace teachers. You need instructional leaders in the classroom,” Perkins said.

While Cliff Park lost about 10 of its students during the break-up with White Hat, it gained about 30 more than it had at the former school. And it has room to expand to about 225 students, according to Perkins.

Board of Directors President Rod Hale explained that students at Life Skills were considered Cliff Park students and were automatically enrolled, unless they decided to stay with Life Skills or go elsewhere.

Perkins was also the administrator at Life Skills and was a White Hat employee before he was hired by new Cliff Park operator Cambridge Education and became Cliff Park’s administrator.

While some local charter schools like Cliff Park are enrolling more students, it hasn’t greatly affected student populations in traditional districts like Springfield City Schools, according to Superintendent David Estrop.

The district runs its own drop-out recovery school called Keifer Alternative School, which has remained in the 300-student range for the three most-recent school years, though it did see a slight dip below that mark during the latter two years.

“In terms of what impact this new school will have on us, at least based upon initial enrollment, it doesn’t appear to be having much impact,” Estrop said.

“With all of the options now available to students in Springfield City … and the ability to blend those, clearly we are having some success in attracting people and keeping people in the Springfield City School District,” he added.

Perkins said Cliff Park’s main student base is those who weren’t already successful in the traditional or alternative school setting both in city and county districts.

The building itself features lecture and computer-based learning spaces, each dedicated solely to core subjects like language arts, science, math and social studies, and additional space for vocation planning and administrative offices.

Hale said the board spent $273,000 on renovating the 6,400-square-foot building over the summer, which is rolled into the terms of the lease, and another $50,000 for equipment such as desks and computers.

The board also governs Marshall High School in Middletown and contracted with Cambridge to operate it after the falling out with White Hat.

White Hat continues to operate a charter school in Southern Village Shopping Center, now called Life Skills High School of Springfield. It’s governed by the same board of the Life Skills High Schools in Columbus.

Steve and Terri Bruce applied earlier this year for a conditional use permit for their North Limestone Street building from which to operate Cliff Park School.

The property formerly housed professional services offices like physical therapists, insurance and others.

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