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Joann Henry, head of Dream Academy Richmond, said she’s giving adults “a second chance they didn’t think they’d get.”

An adult education center in Richmond is ending its pursuit of another partnership with the city school system after the state Education Department told city school officials to end its agreement with the organization.

“I am moving on with my school,” said Joann Henry, the head of Dream Academy Richmond on Chamberlayne Avenue.

The school helps students older than 18 who have not completed high school get their diplomas — not a General Educational Development certificate. Dream Academy has helped more than 250 people get their diplomas.

Virginia Department of Education officials said recently, though, that the school does not have the power to do its work through Richmond Public Schools because Dream Academy is a private organization. Dream Academy provides the instruction for students, then Richmond Public Schools reviews their transcripts and authorizes the diplomas.

The North Side learning center pays the school district to review the transcripts. Students pay $750 in tuition, according to the Dream Academy website.

“Students enrolled in private entities, such as the Dream Academy, are not permitted to take the SOL tests so it is not clear how students would have earned the required verified credit,” Virginia Department of Education Chief of Staff Donald Fairheart said in a Feb. 19 letter to the school district.

After roughly two months of debating the school’s merits, Henry said Wednesday that she was dropping her bid to sign another agreement with Richmond and will work with a private accrediting body so Dream Academy can issue its own diplomas.

“We’re just moving in our own direction,” she said.

The city School Board was told of the state’s advice at its March 4 meeting. Superintendent Jason Kamras had sought state guidance over whether the city school system, which is under heightened state oversight and has had extensive issues with its own transcripts, should enter into another agreement with Dream Academy, as it had done in past years.

The issue will not impact the diplomas of any students who have graduated from the academy.

At the March 4, March 18 and Monday night board meetings, residents proclaimed support for the school that “gives people a second chance.”

Viola Lambert, who dropped out of high school in the 1980s, praised the school’s personal learning program.

“Being an older person, it just worked for me,” she said during the public comment portion of Monday night’s board meeting, adding that her own graduation inspired her daughter to do the same. “The Dream Academy has opened up doors for me that I never thought were possible.”

School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page and Vice Chairwoman Liz Doerr met with state officials earlier this month to discuss the school’s future, reiterating that the school’s private status prevents the city school system from partnering with it. Minutes from the meeting say VDOE asked Page and Doerr “why RPS would want to operate an illegal program.”

Henry reiterated Wednesday that the school would embrace its private status. If it gets accredited, it could issue its own diplomas like other private schools.

State Government Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers Virginia politics and policy. He previously covered education. A northern New York native and Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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