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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2011

Origin of school questioned

Northpointe opened in same building as Dunbar


A charter school management company skirted Ohio law when it essentially reopened a Toledo charter school a month after it was closed by the state for poor academic performance, a Cleveland-based advocacy group claims.

Northpointe Academy, 3248 Warsaw St., opened in July in the same building as the Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy, a K-8 charter school that was closed in June after its 2008-09 test scores were in the Academic Emergency designation. The new school is under the same management company and has nearly the same staff as the closed charter school.

Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal think tank, said the reopened school spotlights flaws in Ohio's charter school system.

"Until Ohio overhauls charter school law and creates an effective oversight system, this kind of abuse will not be resolved," Policy Matters researcher Piet van Lier said in a press release.

But Leona Group, an East Lansing, Mich.-based company that managed Paul Laurence Dunbar Academy and now manages Northpointe Academy, asserted Monday that Policy Matters is misrepresenting what happened.

Northpointe is the result of a reshuffling of a relationship between two other charter schools and is not Paul Laurence Dunbar with a different name, the management company said.

Great Lakes Environmental Academy, a grades 7-12 charter school that the group closed on its own last year, was renamed Northpointe and moved from 2913 South Republic Blvd. to the Warsaw Street building. The school has a cooperative relationship with Wildwood Academy, a K-12 school previously aligned with Great Lakes, said Melissa Cook, a Leona spokesman.

While much of the staff at Northpointe is the same as the staff at Paul Laurence Dunbar when it was closed, including school leader Andre Fox, Ms. Cook said Leona had undertaken a major overhaul of administration and teachers there in the past 18 months independent of the Ohio Department of Education's sanctions.

About half the staff was replaced, and Paul Laurence improved its designation to Continuous Improvement last year under the new staff.

No members of the former Paul Laurence governance board are on Northpointe's board, Ms. Cook said. The board also governs Wildwood Academy.

"It's a whole different board," she said.

Curriculum at Northpointe, which focuses on core courses, is significantly different from Paul Laurence Dunbar, which was a performance arts school. And Ms. Cook said the improvements under Mr. Fox increased parent interest, as student enrollment increased from 204 at Paul Laurence to more than 270 at Northpointe.

While Policy Matters argued that the move is an end-around of state law, education department officials said the change was legal.

"The school that had to close, closed, but another school -- and not a new school -- opened in the building of the closed school," department spokesman Patrick Gallaway said in an e-mail to The Blade. "The actions are legal."

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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