York Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Rock Hill, has placed Managing Director Clay Eaton on paid leave as the school’s board evaluates his position and the school’s “strategic direction.”
Eaton’s leave was announced in an email from the board of directors to parents last week.
The board did not elaborate on the reasons for Eaton’s leave, citing the “confidential nature” of the “personnel matter,” but said they were “acting in good faith, considering all information available to us, with the sole intent of doing what is best for the school; our students, faculty and staff.
Later in the week, board chair Abram Carmer said managing directors are evaluated as part of a formal process that includes surveys with parents, students, teachers and staff, board input and discussions with the human resources department.
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“Overall, we’re assessing the school’s needs and areas where we need to continue to improve,” Cramer said.
In the email, the board stated that it was “evaluating the position, as well as looking at the strategic direction and long-term planning of the school.”
When asked what that meant, Cramer said he would look to the school’s charter for direction. The board may bring in a consultant.
“As far as being able to accomplish all the lofty goals that are in that charter, we are a work in progress,” he said. “Some things we do well, other things, we continuously try to improve upon.”
Eaton could not be reached for comment last week.
But since York Prep opened its doors in the fall of 2010, each school year has brought a new managing director. If Eaton is not retained, his replacement would be the fifth in the school’s five years. Reasons for the other departures include poor leadership skills and a failure to comply with state education laws.
When Eaton moved to York Prep from the S.C. Charter School District last summer, he said he was in for the “long haul” and wanted to stop the “revolving door” of leadership at York Prep.
The district oversees the creation charter schools, which are public schools that operate outside the normal regulations of South Carolina’s public schools.
Wayne Brazell, the superintendent of the South Carolina Charter School District, said district officials also would like that revolving door to stop. While charter schools usually have a higher turnover rate among leadership, five managing directors in five years is atypical, Brazell said.
“We’re concerned,” he said. “And we’ve let (York Prep) know that.”
The charter school district does not get involved with a school’s personnel decisions. But, Brazell said, that doesn’t mean the district is totally hands-off.
“We’ve offered to help (York Prep) in any way we can,” he said. “We’ve given them several names of folks that we think would be good candidates.”
This constant turnover of leadership means that the York Prep board needs to closely evaluate its hiring practices, Brazell said. The board needs to take a look at the leadership requirements of charter schools, particularly a school like York Prep, which has around 1,200 students in elementary, middle and high school. York Prep is the largest on-campus charter school in the state.
But Cramer said York Prep’s size and wide grade range means it’s difficult to say what is “atypical” in terms of leadership turnover because there is no school to use as a comparison.
When the board hired Eaton last year, he was the best candidate for the job, Cramer said.
While the state charter school district has concerns about the leadership turnover and has the power to issue sanctions and take a more proactive role in getting the school on track, Brazell said, district officials have no inclination to do that now. Despite the turnover, York Prep is growing consistently, and the district frequently receives positive feedback about the school.
York Prep, which now fully owns its newer, four-building campus on Eastview Road in Rock Hill, will graduate its first class of seniors this year and expects to reach its maximum student capacity of about 1,600 students by the 2015-2016 school year.
And despite the latest administrative shake-up, Cramer said, York Prep is fully prepared to begin the new school year in August. Over the summer, the board hired new principals for the high school and middle school.
“We’re continuing to make things stronger and better there at the school,” Cramer said. “We have strong leadership in place.”