Upset school board members put off approving the Star Academy, a separate school for students who failed eighth grade classes, and rebuked their staffers for planning teachers and funding for the school without clearing the idea with the board.

Though the program was born out of long-running discussions of what to do when eighth graders fail, several features of the Star Academy came as a surprise to board members. Shelia Jackson was frustrated that it was a separate school that could develop a stigma; John de Beck was bothered that it was housed at Mann Middle School, which could be difficult for eighth graders across the city to reach, and was alarmed by the cost.

Staffers had proposed contracting with an outside group to provide computers, software, furniture and other materials for nearly $700,000. Though the cost would be a one-time expense, de Beck said it was inappropriate in a tight budget year “when we’re holding on by our fingernails.” The school would serve relatively few students: Superintendent Terry Grier noted that roughly 65 students would likely attend the school in the fall.

Trustee Luis Acle was flustered by the idea that eighth graders who struggled could accelerate enough in a single year to enter tenth grade the following year, as the agenda item suggested.

“We can’t do that with our advanced kids, and we’re going to do that with kids who have problems? Two or three Fs?” Acle asked rhetorically.

Grier replied that the goal was to ease them into the ninth grade, likely at a high school housed on a college campus for at-risk students. The board will reconsider the question of Star Academy at a later meeting.

EMILY ALPERT

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