Odyssey Academy loses charter, will close in September

A Brooklyn Center charter school will shutter its doors next month after its charter contract was terminated.

Odyssey Academy, a K-8 charter school serving around 300 students and located at 6201 Noble Ave., will closes its door after nearly 20 years no later than Sept. 15, after charter authorizer Audubon Center of the North Woods (ACNW) decided to terminate Odyssey’s charter, after the Sandstone, Minnesota-based Audubon determined that the school failed to meet three specific criteria to live up to its contract.

“ACNW based its decision on Odyssey’s failure to demonstrate satisfactory academic achievement for all students, including the requirements for student performance set forth in the charter contract,” read a statement by Audubon. “(Also,) Odyssey’s failure to provide its students with a proper learning environment, and Odyssey’s failure to properly conduct its corporate governance.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Report Card site, Odyssey Academy was shown to have a 9.3 percent proficiency in math across all grades in 2017, as well as an all-grades proficiency of 24.8 percent in reading and a 5.6 percent proficiency in science.

“While we recognize that Odyssey Academy has been serving students for many years and that some positive things are happening at the school, Odyssey is not meeting its contractual goals,” said ACNW director of charter school authorizing David Greenberg in the statement. “The school’s academic performance is among the lowest in the area as measured by statewide assessments, and schoolwide assessment data also shows that students are not making sufficient progress in their learning.”

Furthermore, Audubon asserted that the school’s environment was not conducive to learning over the last school year, as well as the fact that Odyssey’s administration supposedly failed to effectively address challenges faced by the school and student body.

Odyssey’s interim executive director John Sedey, however, believes that there was more to ANCW’s decision to terminate the charter than that. Per Sedey, the school’s previous executive director Mindy Crowley was placed on adminstrative leave in January due to reported staff complaints.

In November of last year, we got a letter where Audubon said we had a wonderful climate (and) a perfectly safe place… (a) great place for kids to go,” said Sedey. “In January, Mindy gets put on administrative leave, pending the investigation. That’s when things started to fall apart. Putting Mindy on administrative leave, the leadership of the school… was divided among three people who were on-staff, and they assumed additional duties to keep the thing rolling.”

According to Sedey, Odyssey was given a letter of deficiency from Audubon, ranked on a five-tier severity level, with level five warranting closure.

They put (Odyssey) at a level two,” said Sedey. “They also recommended in March that the school board engage in the development of a long-range strategic plan. The Odyssey board then hired Portage Partners, a company that they said were on the list of some good places to go, to help them develop a strategic plan.”

Crowley reportedly resigned from her position on April 11, after which the school kept her three successors on for the rest of the school year. But Odyssey later received a new letter of deficiency in May, a level four. Audubon held a meeting with students’ parents on June 5, listing a number of deficiencies including that of purported safety issues. On June 21, the school received a letter of termination, which the Odyssey board chose to appeal. It was around that time that the school recruited Sedey– Crowley’s predecessor– to serve as an interim executive director until a full-time replacement could be hired.

Sedey said that Odyssey was granted a hearing with Audubon, which took place on Aug. 1, presenting a variety of documentation to plead their case. On Aug. 8, a final termination notice was given to the school, effectively signaling its closure.

There’s a problem with process here,” said Sedey. “The Audubon board decided to terminate us; then, if we’re going to appeal it, we have to go back to the Audubon board, which was the same group that said they were going to terminate you. There’s no arbitration, there’s no process for us to follow. Besides, giving us that timeline is just incredibly bad.”

Sedey conceded that while Odyssey’s student scores were low, he argued that other schools had lower scores but were still aloft. He also asserted that Audubon’s citation of safety and school climate issues were already being addressed, thanks in part to a recent rehauling of the Odyssey board of directors. Nonetheless, Sedey believed that a number of disgruntled Odyssey staffers who were displeased with Crowley’s ouster fed information to Audubon about supposed red flags at the school.

So we had a class for special education, where a good portion of the class was going on field trips, so the special ed teacher went with them,” said Sedey. “There was a student that was left here that wasn’t on the field trip, and we had a paraprofessional (watch them), but the paraprofessional wasn’t licensed (as a special education teacher). So they reported that to Audubon unbeknownst to us.

So these people that were very unhappy with Mindy leaving started feeding information to Audubon,” Sedey continued. “Audubon listened, encouraged them to do that, which is a little bit strange. If there are problems coming to your attention, come back and tell us so we can deal with it.”

Sedey said that in reviewing data, he felt that many of the issues reportedly fed to Audubon were overblown, such as a complaint that a student stood on a table.

Well, what they did was that they took instances like that and they blew up, that kids (were) all over the place doing this,” said Sedey. “I think they made their decision based on this kind of information, which we debunked at the hearing. But I don’t think they heard us at the hearing, because they had already made up their minds.”

Audubon’s statement noted that leadership and governance issues led to poor performance at Odyssey, and those factors “combined with a downward trend in student outcomes led the ANCW board” to terminate the school’s charter.

“ACNW is acting according to Minnesota Statute 124E. 10, Subd. 4, which enables authorizers to terminate a charter school contract due to ‘failure to demonstrate satisfactory academic achievement for all students,'” the statement read.

But Sedey felt that the timing of the rendered decision was suspect.

We had low test scores a year ago in August,” he said. “Why didn’t (they) tell us then? Why did they wait until the end of June to tell us that? We could have prepared kids. What it really came down to was, after 19 years of a clean bill of goods… we got a blip this spring. When you let go of the chief executive officer, it’s going to be felt through the organization. But when you got people working under the table, it’s really, really difficult.”

Per Audubon’s statement, ACNW would help implement an orderly closure of the school and help students and the families smoothly transition to new schools. But Sedey believes that such a transition will be difficult and trying for the students.

You feel angry, but you also feel sorrowful,” said Sedey. “Because to let us know that Aug. 8, we got parents who need to find a place for their kids to go to school. We’ve got teachers and staff who need jobs, and it’s not the best time of year to look for them.”

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]