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Pa. Cyber School: Management Firings Will Not Hurt Students

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UPDATED with Adequate Yearly Progress results from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The CEO of The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, the largest in the state, recently released a statement on its Facebook page, addressed to PA Cyber parents, telling them that the school is financially sound and will continue to run smoothly without disruption.

The statement came after The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School board fired four members of its top management team, as reported by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this week. The fired employees include its director, finance director, personnel director, compliance officer, as well as a longtime lawyer.

A Pa. Cyber spokeswoman confirmed the moves to the Post-Gazette, but would not comment further. The school board approved the firings late Monday and a federal grand jury is probing current or former executives of the Midland-based school.

Just four days after the dismissals, the state Department of Education released test results showing that the cyber school students failed to achieve the state's average yearly progress standards (AYP) during the 2011-2012 school year, reported by Times Online on Monday.

Third to 12th grade students missed 18 out of 19 targets set by the state for mathematics and 11 out of 19 targets in reading, according to the state department's report on the charter school.

Pa. Cyber School CEO Michael Conti said he did not know of a connection between the firing of the four administrators and the 2012 AYP report, Times Online reports.

The Average Yearly Progress standards is a measure under the No Child Left Behind act. Several have argued that they do not believe it is a valid measurement standard.

In July, Pennsylvania Cyber Founder Nick Trombetta was under investigation by the FBI, resulting in the school's administrative office, as well as his own office, being raided. Trombetta has since stepped down as CEO of PA Cyber.

However, the cyber-school's solicitor says the firing of four top administrators has "absolutely nothing" to do with a federal investigation of the school's finances and related entities, AP reports. Solicitor Robert Masters wouldn't say why the officials were fired.

The Midland-based school reportedly pays millions of dollars to for-profit and nonprofit companies that are run by former executives of the school, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from July.

As reported by the Post-Gazette, Pa. Cyber had paid $44 million to the National Network of Digital Schools Management Foundation (NNDS) that provides online K-12 curriculum and management services, according to its website. The nonprofit once shared PA Cyber's top executive and three of its board members, the Post-Gazette reports.

The virtual schools of Pennsylvania have been a regular fixture in the news this year. My colleague Jason Tomassini wrote about the state's authorization of four new virtual charter schools that came soon after the controversy that prompted the closing of another virtual charter in July.

The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and the National Network of Digital Schools did not respond immediately to calls for comment.

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