Four months after being placed on probation, Frederick Classical Charter School presented its first update to the county Board of Education on Wednesday, with school staff highlighting changes in leadership and governance.
The board voted to put FCCS on probation in June after community members complained about its governing body, the Board of Trustees, which some said was responsible for a “climate of fear and retribution” across the school.
“It was never the board’s aim to close the school,” Board of Education member Karen Yoho said Wednesday. She previously expressed hope that the probation — imposed in June — would allow the school’s leaders to “step back, put your egos on the shelf, take a deep breath” and listen.
Every one of the school’s Board of Trustees members has now been replaced, with the exception of its president, Nkechi Ileka-Adeoye. On Wednesday, Ileka-Adeoye told school board members about changes that have been made since the probation started, including new training requirements for Board of Trustees members and updated communication protocols.
The trustees are also working to rebuild what had been a strained relationship with the school’s administration, Ileka-Adeoye said.
While under the yearlong probation, FCCS is required to submit quarterly progress reports to the Board of Education detailing the steps it’s taking to improve.
Concerns about the school’s governance surfaced last year. In November 2020, then-Board of Education president Brad Young sent a letter to the Board of Trustees outlining his concerns. Community members had complained about members’ racist remarks, a lack of transparency and immature behavior at meetings, among other things, he said.
Young also cited a high staff turnover rate, with 41 percent of FCCS staff — 13 employees out of 32 — leaving during the 2020 school year. Only two of those were retirements.
The Board of Trustees’ response to Young’s letter was “borderline hostile,” Yoho said in June. Communication between the trustees and the county was strained and largely unproductive before the probation vote, board members said.
School board members said they were “heartened” to hear of the school’s progress on Wednesday. Several new Board of Trustees members spoke at the work session,
“This has been a good update,” said board member Liz Barrett. “I think things are moving along.”
Still, school leaders acknowledged challenges remain.
Jennifer Schneider, who previously served as the treasurer on FCCS’ Board of Trustees, presented alongside Ileka-Adeoye. She’s now contracted to help manage the school’s finances — which are under audit as a result of the probation — through the transition in governance.
FCCS had been looking to purchase a new building before the probation began, Schneider said, but the schools has had to put that pursuit on pause.
“We are disappointed to say that this work is stalled, and it is due to the probationary status of the school,” she said. “Unfortunately, with the probation came the realization that we would not be able to acquire funding from a lender.”
The school’s lease on its current facility on Spires Way in north Frederick ends in June 2023. It costs about $675,000 per year, Schneider said, and Board of Trustees members had hoped to secure a new building by the time their current lease expired.
She said “early action” by the school board on the probationary status would aid FCCS in its property search.
Barrett pushed back on the idea that the probation was a result of the school board’s decision. Instead, she said, it was a result of actions by the FCCS Board of Trustees.
“What’s prevented the purchase are the root causes that you all are addressing,” she said. “If you’re going to take the huge financial step of purchasing a building, you would have needed to straighten [those problems] out anyway.”