2 new Middletown charter schools to open next year

There will be two new alternative high schools operating in the city next school year as a result of a management shake-up at the Life Skills Center of Middletown on Breiel Boulevard.

The board of directors at Life Skills recently voted not to renew its contract with White Hat Management, one of the state’s largest for-profit charter school operators, when it expires June 30. Board President Rod Hale said the six-member board is currently negotiating a contract with a new company, Newpoint Education Partners, which would manage a new high school under a new name and different location in Middletown.

The Life Skills board operates two drop-out recovery schools — one in Middletown, the other in Springfield — with about 375 students, 18 staff and administrators and a $2 million annual budget. The contract with Newpoint would include the Springfield Life Skills, which would also get a new name and location.

“A lot of it had to do with the board, as a whole, felt that the direction presented by this other company brought about a greater model of education and sense of community with our students,” Hale said. “We were not seeing a lot of the support that we thought we were paying for (from White Hat), whether that was marketing, enrollment, working with and engaging staff.

“A little more openness and transparency by White Hat would have gone a long way,” he said. “With Newpoint, you are not just writing a check and saying, ‘Trust us.’ You are actually a partner, you participate in the decisions.”

David Stiles, vice president of Newpoint, said his company has offices in Akron, Ohio and Clearwater, Fla., and operates three alternative schools in northeast Ohio. He said Newpoint’s educational approach is very student focused.

“Our goal is to make sure we can get as many kids across that graduation line as possible,” Stiles said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to improve the school in any number of ways.”

Hale declined to release the location or the name of the new alternative school at this time, citing ongoing negotiations with property owners. He said the current school would be closed June 30 and reopen in early August for classes.

Joseph Buckalew, an employee of White Hat, said Wednesday in a written statement to The Journal that White Hat would continue to operate an alternative school out of the current Life Skills location at 631 S. Breiel Blvd. even after its contract with the current board of directors expires. Buckalew said the school would be called Life Skills High School of Middletown and would have a new board of directors and a new sponsor.

“We have improved programs that will be in place in addition to vocational services and career academies,” he said in the statement.

The school would also have a new principal. Chuck Hall, who had been the principal at Life Skills Center of Middletown for the past nine years, was fired Monday after informing White Hat officials of his intention to apply for a job with the school being formed by Hale and his fellow board members.

“I told them my intentions at 1 p.m. and by approximately 5 p.m. on April 22, I was informed by my supervisor that I had been terminated effective immediately,” Hall said. “It certainly was White Hat’s prerogative to do that, but it’s very disappointing because all this really does is hurt and disrupt things for the kids.”

Buckalew declined to comment on Hall’s firing, saying White Hat does not discuss employment matters. However, he did say that he would be serving as Hall’s replacement, adding that he has been with a Life Skills in Columbus for eight years and was recently honored for being the administrator of a school rated as “Effective.”

Hall’s firing came as a shock to many Life Skills staff and students. One teacher at the charter school, who asked not to be named out of “concern for my employment,” said many students who were angry about Hall’s dismissal staged a walk-out on Tuesday and attendance at the school Wednesday was down.

“People are sad because of what has happened to Mr. Hall, and we are also angry because of what they (White Hat) are doing to us as employees,” the teacher said.

According to some staffers, White Hat officials have given them until May 1 to decide if they want to remain at the new Life Skills High School or pursue other career opportunities. One teacher said they were told that all of their jobs have been posted, and if they don’t sign an agreement with White Hat by the deadline, they would be immediately replaced.

“We feel like we are completely in the dark,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. “We don’t even know what is our last day.”

Stiles said Life Skills personnel could apply online for jobs at their new charter school.

The board of directors has called a meeting for today, April 25, at 5:30 p.m. at Life Skills to discuss personnel matters.

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