Jean Massieu Academy in Arlington ordered to close in summer

ARLINGTON -- The state ordered the Jean Massieu Academy in Arlington to close this summer after revoking its accreditation as a school district, the Texas Education Agency announced Wednesday.

School officials have until Friday to ask Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott for a hearing to reconsider the closure.

Jean Massieu, which opened in 1999 to serve primarily deaf children and their families, lost accreditation because of its poor performance on state academic and financial accountability systems. It has been rated academically unacceptable by the state four years in a row and received substandard rating in financial accountability for failing to turn records in to the state on time.

"While it saddens me to take this action, given the expectations of state law and my concern for the long-term education of the students served by Jean Massieu Academy, I am compelled to move forward with this action," Scott wrote to school leaders. Additionally, he noted that the school had continual issues in its special-education program for "serious and persistent deficiencies."

School officials did not return messages seeking comment.

The charter-school campus was one of only four charter schools or districts in the state to have their accreditation status revoked because of substandard academic or financial ratings.

The TEA has been accrediting school districts for three years and charter schools for two.

This year, 1,198 out of 1,232 districts or charters schools were accredited. Fourteen schools had their accreditations left pending because of ongoing investigations. Two districts and three charter schools received accredited-probation status, including the Metro Academy of Math and Science in Arlington, which received the rating because of poor academic and financial accountability.

Ongoing concerns

Jean Massieu has had a monitor and then a conservator in place over the past 21/2 years who cited ongoing concerns about special education, staffing qualifications and poor financial management.

The school had long struggled to keep a school leader, Jean Massieu officials had said in past interviews.

In the spring, conservator Rebecca Lofton reported that despite desperately needing revenue, school leaders did not follow up on opportunities such as those related to natural gas or working with the city to lease parking spaces during Cowboys Stadium events. The business manager was removed this summer, and financial responsibilities were contracted out to the Region 11 Education Service Center.

In recent months, Lofton said that Superintendent Katherine Johnson had been making significant improvements to the school and brought in experienced educators and organized curriculum. Johnson began leading the school about two years ago.

In her January report, Lofton said that the board was more involved in building oversight but still needed to do more to raise funds for the campus. Lofton wrote that Johnson was working with teachers who were not performing up to standards but that data showed "continuing instructional concerns."

What happens next

If Scott changed his mind about revoking the accreditation, he could decide to appoint a board of managers to take over for the school's board of directors, spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.

If the revocation stands, the TEA will go to the campus after the school year ends and secure student records for families. Then they'll settle up accounts, paying anything that is owed back to the state or to parents, Culbertson said. Students would return to their home district or another charter school in the fall.

Culbertson said the decision to revoke accreditation isn't one that Scott treats lightly. Several measures are taken, such as the conservatorship, to avoid it. Conservators act as the commissioner's representative and can overrule school officials on some decisions.

Unfortunately, Culbertson said, some districts and charter schools cannot regain their footing even with the state's help. In those situations, "it's better just to give these kids a better chance, to get them out of a situation that's almost hopeless," she said.

The Arlington, Birdville, Crowley and Fort Worth school districts work with the state to provide for students in the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf. Arlington has such programs at Miller Elementary, Young Junior High and Martin High schools.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700

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