A Strong Leader Touts Physical Fitness
For an hour and 15 minutes every day, 2,000 students at EdVantages charter schools in Ohio and 1.000 students in Performance Academies charter schools in Ohio and Florida expend physical energy. More specifically, they rotate playing tennis, playing soccer and practicing martial arts a week at a time. For the rest of the six hours and 45 minutes in their school day, they study math, reading, social studies and science.
The eight-hour days for the K8 students at EdVantages, which has eight schools in Ohio with “fitness academy” in their names, and at Performance Academies, which has three schools in Florida and two in Columbus, Ohio, are more productive academically because the students are physically active, says CEO Myrrha Satow.
“We have kids that maybe aren’t the number one athlete, but they are benefiting from the daily fitness instruction,” Satow says. “A lot of kids get really excited about martial arts. It helps them to focus and learn about attention, concentration and self-control. A lot of skills like that lend themselves to the academic classroom. We have many kids with ADHD, and to exercise self-control and confidence and then learn about teamwork in soccer and creating a climate of competition and success helps them want to excel.”
Satow began her career as a private, middle school teacher in Tampa. In the late 1990s, she attained a PhD in special education, with a focus on education policy, at the University of South Florida. “At the time, I was a parent of four small children. I saw the need for school choice, as I was struggling myself to pay for private school for them,” Satow recalls. At the time, Florida public schools were crowded, with an average of 30 students in a classroom.
While working toward her PhD, Satow also worked at the USF Charter School Resource Center, where she helped provide technical assistance and support for the state’s first charters.
By year 2000, she worked as the executive director of the Education Resource Center at the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, and supported new charters in the area. In addition, she managed a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to offer technical assistance and support to charter school incubators and development groups nationwide. Her interest in charters led her to develop her own schools.
She partnered with Rob Shively, a U.S. Tennis Association certified instructor, who wanted to put a free tennis racket in the hands of students. In 2002, Satow created in Ohio the first two EdVantages schools—Trotwood Preparatory and Fitness Academy and Middletown Preparatory and Fitness Academy. In 2008, she founded the first of the five Performance Academies in Fort Myers, Fla.
In Ohio, every charter school must have an independent board. In Florida, one board oversees the three Performance Academies schools. The board enters into an agreement with a management company, or for example, with EdVantages, to provide services. EdVantages and the independent board of each of the schools have a management agreement between them. The agreement stipulates what services EdVantages provides to the school, such as payroll, leases, curriculum, professional development, purchasing and hiring. The independent boards monitor the management agreement and ensure that EdVantages provides a good service to the students and schools. The independent boards could hire a different management company if they thought EdVantages was not abiding by the management agreement or failed to provide the services.
The Ohio Department of Education offered a $50,000 start-up grant to help fund each of the two Ohio schools. In addition, a philanthropist in Middletown who owns the Middletown Tennis Club gave Satow a reasonable lease on the club and put up initial renovation costs (which EdVantages later paid back via the lease) to build Middletown Prep and Fitness. The club still operates, but gives the school precedence over time and space.
Since 2002, Satow has added six more EdVantages schools, within 250 miles of each other and with a total budget of $16.4 million. The U.S. Department of Education offered $450,000 start-up grants over three years for each of the EdVantages schools. The department also gave $350,000 start-up grants for each of the two Florida schools and one Ohio school under Performance Academies. The newest schools, including Cape Coral Preparatory and Fitness Academy in Florida and Columbus Performance Academy in Ohio, had no start-up grant money.
The EdVantages schools are located in renovated buildings, including a former shopping center and a former YMCA. There are no more than 18 students per classroom in EdVantages and Performance Academies. Enrollment is open to all, but if a school is nearing capacity, the two charter systems fill the openings with a lottery system. The two charter systems are funded via per-pupil appropriations from the two states, although traditional public schools in Ohio receive one-third more funding than charter schools do.
Given the distance from each EdVantages school, five in Columbus and one each in Cincinnati, Toledo and Springfield, and five more Performance Academies schools in Ohio and Florida, Satow spends many hours driving to schools and meeting with her management team. “I’m a road warrior,” she laughs. But she also flies to Florida once a month to visit the schools there. “I can get to Florida quicker than driving from Columbus to Toledo,” she says. “A direct flight from Columbus to Fort Myers is two hours and one minute. It takes me two hours and 40 minutes to drive from Columbus to Toledo.”
Her management team includes four assistant regional superintendents (one of whom is in Florida) who work with her on curriculum, including special education, supervision and student assessment. EdVantages schools have three psychologists, a guidance counselor, a treasurer and a fitness director. The three Florida schools under Performance Academies collaborate with the Lee County Public Schools and share a special education director. And all the charter schools have fitness instructors.
At each school, Satow says she conducts rigorous walk-through evaluations, while teachers’ lessons are monitored. She looks for the “Marzano 9,” instructional strategies known to help improve student achievement across content areas and grade levels. The students earn points for positive behavior shown toward other students. The prize could be lunch with their school principal or iTunes cards. Every month, the management team holds professional learning community meetings to review student assessments and provide teachers feedback on instruction.
Other than the two Performance Academies that just opened this school year, the charter schools are getting high ratings in Florida and Ohio. And since EdVantages started, the Performance Index Score Trend, which is a measure of academic performance on the Ohio Achievement Test, has increased for grades 3-8 in all schools from an average of 77 out of a total score of 100 in 2007 to 85 in 2011.
“My goal is to ensure every EdVantages school reaches ‘excellent’ or ‘effective’ on the Ohio rating system,” Satow says. Last year, two schools were rated “excellent,” and two were “effective.”
The improvement paid off. EdVantages is in the running to receive the 2012 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, which will be announced at the National Charter Schools Conference in June. The winner will receive $250,000 for college-readiness efforts for low-income students. “The recognition alone that we show strong performance serving an at-risk population of students with our emphasis on college readiness is huge,” Satow says.
Teaching and Learning
The school year in the charter systems is 1,200 hours, compared to 920 hours in a typical public school—and each day includes two hours each of reading, 1.5 hours of math, and one hour each of social studies and science. Physical education in the charter schools is untraditional. Students compete for yellow or black belts in the martial arts, for example, or they often compete in regional and statewide tournaments in soccer and tennis. For the first 10 minutes of physical education class, coaches discuss topics such as heart health, oral hygiene or good nutrition.
Technology takes a back seat. Classrooms have two or three computers, and a few schools have computer labs to use for test preparation or software programs. “It’s a back to the basics curriculum,” Satow says. “I want the students to be able to read, write and do math—that’s my goal. And that’s really where we put our resources.”
Character education and college readiness are other elements of the program. Posted outside every classroom is the year those students will graduate from college. “We are trying to guide them to good high schools,” Satow says. “We tell them, ‘When you go to college …’ not ‘If you go.’”
The eight boards that oversee the eight EdVantages schools ensure that policies are being followed. The boards meet at least six times a year to review the school finances, and approve the monthly treasurer’s report and the monthly budgets. They ensure the students are being educated and treated well. Board members are nominated by other board members for one-year terms.
Gregory A. Hoffbauer, chairman of EdVantages’ Mt. Healthy Preparatory and Fitness Academy and the Middletown Preparatory and Fitness Academy, is impressed with Satow’s energy, commitment and 24/7 schedule. “The things that amaze me about Myrrha is her dedication to the kids,” Hoffbauer says. “She has created a vision, being the founder of this group. And she definitely has a lot of love for the students.”
Hoffbauer mentions the few times parents have visited school upset about their child’s academics or about bullying, but Satow and her staff are trained to minimize outbursts. “Unfortunately, a lot of the students are economically disadvantaged, and they bring a lot of baggage with them,” he says. “You’re dealing with some of the toughest kids to teach. I think it’s almost miraculous.”
- Superintendent and CEO of EdVantages and Performance Academies Charter Schools
- Age: 45
- Tenure: 10 years
- Salary: $144,000
- Staff: EdVantages: 300; Performance Academies: 108
- Schools: EdVantages: 2,000; Performance Academies: 5
- Students: EdVantages: 2,000; Performance Academies: 1,000
- Students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch: EdVantages: 87 percent; Performance Academies: 70 percent
Angela Pascopella is managing editor.