Charter School Enters Columbus’s Poorest Neighborhood

Published July 4, 2013

Franklinton Preparatory Academy is a new public charter high school that opened this August in the poorest, most underserved neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio.

The demographics in Franklinton are stark, says Martin Griffiths, founder and CEO of the school: “The Federal Community Disadvantage Index rates two of the three Franklinton ZIP codes perfect 10s—the most disadvantaged score possible—while the third scores a 9.”  Just 25 percent of adults in the area have high school diplomas, and up to 40 percent of its young people abuse drugs and alcohol. More than half live below the poverty level.

In 1982, the area’s high school closed, requiring students to bus elsewhere. Losing a neighborhood school “is a wound that is slow to heal,” Griffiths says.

Franklin Preparatory Academy (FPA) is a made-from-scratch, community-based high school that aims to provide an excellent public education option.

“We remain dedicated to the proposition that ‘If not us, then whom? And if not now, then when?'” says Michael Reidelbach, a retired businessman and FPA founder who has dedicated the past two years to this school. “FPA has joined hands with citizens, community groups, businesses, organizations, and foundations who share their mission and passion”

Seeking High Achievement
On average, Franklinton students perform at two or more grade levels below their Columbus peers, drop out of high school at a higher rate, and create or endure higher crime rates.

Franklinton Prep will offer its students a small school community of 300 students, and its student to teacher ratio will be 15 to 1 so teachers and staff can provide individualized and small group instruction.

To stem the tide of kids dropping out, FPA’s first step is to give kids a reason to come to school every day. Relationships between teachers and students will be key, and considerable resources will support teacher and staff training in this area. The school’s premise is “everyone graduates.”

Supplemental Online Instruction
“After researching best practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher training, and school leadership at A-rated schools serving similar student populations, they selected the best instructional model to ensure that every Franklinton Prep student graduates with a life plan for success,” said Doug Brooks, a professor of education at Miami University. “Blended Learning is the model. Blended Learning combines the best of online schooling with the relationships and positive school environment that can only take place in a traditional brick and mortar school.… Moreover, because students will be learning at their own pace, our gifted and talented students will be able to take honors and AP classes, earning college credit.”

From the beginning of ninth grade, students’ programs will be tailored to their aspirations and personal strengths. The students will help direct their programs, with teachers designing small group and individual lessons accordingly. The objective is to replace the feeling that education is something that is done to kids instead of something children actively participate in.

Four Paths
Not every student needs, wants, or can afford to attend college, and FPA is working with many employers who need hard-working employees. The Franklinton Prep student prepares for one of four paths: Career, for a living-wage job with benefits; four-year university; trade school, community college, or apprenticeship/certification programs; or enlistment into the U.S. military.  

Beginning in 11th grade, FPA will provide job experience through internships. In ninth grade, academic advisors, who follow a small cohort of students throughout high school, ask each student three questions: “What do you like? What are you good at? And what do you want to be?”

The answers to these three simple questions will help reveal post-graduation objectives for each student. 

FPA students can get free college credits through blended learning, Griffith said, “which will save money before they start borrowing and building college debt.”

The school also partners with Junior Achievement and local financial institutions to provide its students with financial literacy. 

In addition, “FPA believes that art, music, and movement—physical education, martial arts, dance, et cetera—are core elements of an FPA education,” said Joe DeLoss, an FPA board member. “Often, these types of classes are the last remaining limbs still in the grasp of students who are in danger of dropping out. FPA has adopted a longer school day and a longer school year in part to be able to provide a robust art, music, and movement menu of classes.”

Finding a Home
Ohio charter schools struggle with facility expenses because the state does not provide them facility funding. Consequently, charter schools face a devil’s bargain: sacrifice teacher quality or facility soundness. FPA’s facility needs have been eased by its relationship with its landlord, Central Ohio Youth for Christ, a nonprofit that also provides after-school tutoring. Their location is near the major museums, learning centers, universities, and corporate centers in Central Ohio. 

Drive around Franklinton and imagine the same neighborhood five years from now, when FPA will celebrate its second graduating class. Or ten years from now, when their graduates have married, had kids (they prefer it to be in that order), and bought a home nearby. FPA is poised to make a dramatic impact not only on the lives of students but also on a neighborhood that’s on the edge—by which they mean the edge of greatness.

Image by Sydney University.