After a tumultuous start four years ago, Tooele County’s only charter school is finding stability.
Excelsior Academy in Erda has 675 students enrolled currently, which puts the school at full capacity, according to Shelly Taylor, chairman of the Excelsior Academy board of trustees. The school’s enrollment is capped by the state Board of Education.
“We are full and we have a waiting list of students that want to enroll,” said Taylor.
Students at charter schools are selected by lottery. Each year, Excelsior uses a computer program to randomly select enough students to replace students that don’t return either because they graduated at the end of eighth grade or their parents chose to enroll them elsewhere, according to Taylor.
In 2012, Excelsior selected 95 students by lottery. Of those, 55 replaced graduating students. The 40 who left the school without graduating represent a turnover rate of 6 percent of the student body.
Following the school’s first year, 10 percent of the student body turned over for reasons other than graduation.
A total of nine new teachers were hired for the 2012-13 year. Eight of those replaced teachers that left the school, and one was hired to replace Matt Hymas, a math teacher who was made the full-time junior high director over grades seven and eight.
Teacher turnover has lowered considerably since 2010 when 15 teachers — half the faculty at the time — did not return for the school’s second year.
The high teacher turnover followed the turmoil of the school’s initial director, Ernie Nix, leaving before the end of the first year. The board of trustees then contracted with American Preparatory Schools, a charter school management company that manages charter schools in Draper and West Valley City, to provide administrative staff for the school.
Starting in 2012, Excelsior’s administrative staff is completely in-house. The school will maintain a contract for one year with APS for consulting services to help train the school’s director, Keri Stoddard.
Taylor attributes the reduced teacher and faculty turnover to increased administrative experience.
“We are over that three-year hurdle,” said Taylor. “Our administrative staff is now stable, we aren’t changing the curriculum, and our programs are in place.”
Excelsior also undertook some couple capital improvement projects this year.
Bonding for a total of $550,00, Excelsior added additional parking space and is near completion on a building addition with four classrooms and two offices.
Excelsior bonded with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, a non-profit organization that provides technical assistance, training and financing for rural communities. The bond is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We added 60 new parking spaces when school started and the classroom addition is scheduled to be completed Oct. 1,” said Taylor.
The new parking spaces were needed to keep parents from parking along Erda Lane during school activities. The classroom addition includes a music room and space for teachers to break out their students into smaller groups for instruction, according to Taylor.
“It has been a very quiet year so far,” said Taylor. “I think we are over the issues of the first few years and are settling down now.”