Why It matters: Cities In Schools is an after-school literacy program funded partially through grants. The program must now make critical changes  to remain compliant with grant requirements.

By Stephen Lamar
In mid-July, alumni parents of Cities In Schools (CIS) students received a letter specifying changes that were being made to the After School Program, which will begin in September. The letter states the changes were made “To maintain all our grant requirements and to provide the best possible program for our students.” The major changes include enrollment in the program targeting students who are “under-performing in literacy,” parents needed to sign a document allowing CIS to see their student’s test scores to determine their literacy performance and various security and programmatic changes.
Alumni parents expressed concern over the changes, particularly the requirement of under-performance in literacy. In the past, CIS has had an “open-enrollment” policy, meaning that students could be a part of the program without any prior stipulation. With the changes, CIS announced they can only accept the students underperforming in literacy, potentially leaving some alumni students out of the program.
With questions brewing as to why the changes were made, The Ardmoreite began investigating the cause of the seemingly sudden changes, with the following findings.

March 2016
CIS was introduced to a catalyst of potential changes to the program. During a site visit by AmeriCorps, who CIS is partially funded through, CIS was informed that parts of their programming were “out of compliance” and that due to this the program could potentially lose a portion of its funding, according to CIS board president Mike Whitson. Problems existed on the application that was submitted in December 2015.
According to Whitson, the elements that caused the application to be out of compliance included: the open enrollment policy and the testing process/reporting used at CIS in past years.
Malinda Points, of AmeriCorps, confirmed that the “purpose of funding” through AmeriCorps’ grants is to target “at risks kids in reading” and students whose families are at economic risk (low income). The open enrollment policy CIS previously had, therefore, was a compliance issue with the purpose of the AmeriCorps’ grant. Whitson said the CIS board and current staff were unaware of the compliance issues until March.  
In addition to the enrollment, problems with testing and the verification of testing existed. Whitson said AmeriCorps reached out to the previous executive director of CIS Sara Orellana , who resigned in December 2015, to ask about numbers regarding test results. Whitson said it was reported that there was “no verification of test results,” raising questions regarding the tests.
“Due to actions of our former director, the reporting changed to AmeriCorps,” Porter said. “Due to those actions we’ve become under the microscope. The director was not reporting things the way she said she was going to.”
Orellana, when asked by The Ardmoreite, chose to not comment.
The compliance issues came as a shock to Whitson, Porter and the board.
“It was a wake up call,” Whitson said of hearing the program was out of compliance. He said CIS was informed a council meeting was set to meet on April 20 to determine the results on the findings. In the meantime, CIS and Porter started working toward structuring the program to meet the grant requirements.
During this time, the organization also began considering its options with the Summer Camp Program, the portion of the program that operates in the summer months. The program was pending after CIS didn’t have a facility to operate in following events earlier in the year. The summer camp has taken place in several different locations, though the most recent location was St. Mary Catholic Church. At the time when CIS typically ensures a summer location for the camp, miscommunications between the previous director and St. Mary’s led to CIS being without a facility, according to Whitson. The issues regarding the summer facility were previously reported in the Ardmoreite on February 28, 2016.
With that in mind, CIS was left looking for a facility.
“We were in a position where we were told we were losing funding and we didn’t have a building,” Porter said. “So there was just no way we could do it.”
Whitson said with no location and the potential loss of funding still pending, they had to make a decision to suspend the 2016 camp. CIS announced the suspending of the campaign in April, citing changes within the program and the lack of a location as reasons.
At that point, CIS was unsure of not only the summer program, but the potential changes to the after school program.

Summer 2016
On June 2, the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce announced a summer camp (for the summer of 2016 only) for children Pre-K through second grade and third through fifth grade. Enrollment into the camp was a first come, first serve basis, with three potential sessions running from June 6 to Aug. 12. The camp offered child care during the summer months, with fees for the camp based on income. The camp was held to help alleviate some of the potential issues parents may have had with child care following the announcement by CIS.
During the Ardmore City Schools’ regular Board of Education meeting on June 21, CIS and ACS agreed to terms for a lease that began on Aug. 1 and ends May 31, 2017. The agreement can be extended on a yearly basis, according to the document. The agreement established the Old Charles Evans Elementary building to be the facility for CIS. The agreement was for a total sum of $18,000, which includes eight classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria and an exercise room.
Importantly, the agreement meant CIS had a facility for the after school program.
In June of 2016, a new application for AmeriCorp granting was submitted by Porter, with the changes made in order for the program to be compliant. Porter said the status of the funding and application “is still pending,” though she is “confident” the application will have no issues. Porter said she and her staff are working to ensure all parts of the program are compliant with all their grants and that all reporting is done correctly.
“We’re making sure we do everything to be sure we’re completely compliant with not only AmeriCorp but with all our grants,” she said. “But also we know we need to take care of the kids in Ardmore. So we’re doing everything we need to do to be compliant but also take care of the people that we can in this town.”
CIS, which serves Ardmore and Plainview students from Pre-K to fifth grade who qualify for the program, announced they will accept siblings of a student who qualifies for the program (though the number of siblings they can accept is limited, according to Porter). Porter said parents who have one student that qualifies for the program and has siblings can talk with CIS to determine if the siblings can be enrolled in the program.
All of the new requirements for the program came about in order to align CIS with grant requirements. Porter said the upcoming year serves as a “transition” year, working on honing down the foundations of the organization, something she said was previously “faulty.”
“Start from the basics and build back up,” Porter said of this year. “We want to make sure we’re making a true difference in their academic lives.”