Dixon and the District and the ‘Steep Hill’

School district officials wanted to shut it down. It was $100,000 in the hole and labeled as “failing” by the state.

But a semester down the road, A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence is still striving toward its goal. The Escambia County School District gave the charter one academic year to tidy up its finances and get its students to pass the FCAT.

“I do know the school has made drastic improvements,” said Rev. Lutimothy May, who took over the reins of the charter’s board of directors this past summer. “I hope the district can do what they can to support these improvements.”

May concedes that the school—with many of its students coming from district facilities and already performing below their grade level—has a “steep hill” to climb.

“Not all the way there yet,” he said.

But as the charter heads into the second semester, there are things to smile about. For example, the school managed a positive fund balance during the last two months—a first in the charter’s history.

“We would love to see some cheering and applause from the district,” May said. “I just think the district could do more—‘we want you to be successful, we want you to win’—not saying it quietly, but saying it just as loud as you were saying ‘this is the last week of the school’s existence.’”

Recently, the Reverend made a trip to an Escambia County School Board meeting to discuss the charter with board members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. He asked the district officials if they had visited the charter.

“When most of them didn’t even raise their hand, I got livid,” May said, adding that he had assumed they all had made a visit “because they had been so aggressive.”

The charter’s chairman compared the officials’ lack of involvement to a doctor who refuses to operate on a wreck victim because he’s already seen news coverage of the accident on the waiting-room television.

“That got me. You want this place dead, but you haven’t even been there to diagnose the life that’s left,” May said, dipping into the heartless-doctor’s voice: “‘see what he wants, see if he wants a Pepsi. What’s his last wish?’”

With a semester to go, how helpful will district officials be in assuring that students attending Dixon meet their prescribed goal? May’s holding out hope that it’ll be more than it has been.

“The relationship with the district,” May said, before venturing a long pause to find the appropriately optimistic words, “—is getting better.”