Archive for the ‘Georgia Charter School Commission’ Tag

A school for the kids: It’s still calling me….   Leave a comment

You know how you have this one thing you really, really wanna do? But no matter how well planned your plan is, road-blocks and obstacles always seem to find their way in your way. Sometimes the plan is so grand and the vision so intense that you can’t sleep or you find yourself drawn to it at weird hours of the day.  There may have even been a time (or five) where you thought: “To hell with this; it’s a waste of my time. I could be doing XYZ with those 16 hours I spend researching, writing, making phone calls, etc.” Surely, I can’t be the only person who has felt that way at some point or another, right?

When I get to feeling that way, I start thinking about Langston Hughes‘A Dream Deferred’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It may sound simple, but that poem provides me with some motivation. Why? Because I don’t want to ever get to the point where I sit around thinking, ‘I wonder what would have happened if….’ Life is too short and precious to be filled with ifs. (Can I get an ‘Amen?’) Well, my dream was to open a Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I know there are many people out there who are against charter schools, but for some of us, they are our only option. I will add that I am against these faux, non-profit predators organizations opening-up schools in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, promising parents that their kids will succeed and go to college. Hell, depending on your definition of ‘succeed’ anyone can promise that. Furthermore, I can take a bus load of kids to a college campus, let them step foot on the campus and then proclaim that they went to college. Just when we thought the last thing our communities needed was a liquor store on every corner, but I digress.

Our organization is truly a grassroots group, made-up of parents (Black, White, Latino, etc.), teachers, and community members. We had the passion, purpose, vision, and research bases covered. We had no idea we’d be expected to turn water to wine raise a ridiculously large sum of money in such a short time. We were all discouraged, and rightly so I do believe. No such demands were placed on other groups. That is when I decided to walk away (after I raised more than my fair share of hell, of course). So when I learned of the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on the Charter Commission, here is what I thought initially: ‘Like I always say, God don’t like ugly.’ And by ‘ugly’ I mean the way our group was treated as well as how other grassroots groups were dismissed because they did not have the name recognition of EMO/CMO groups, or because their boards actually reflected the communities they planned to serve. Yep, that’s how it went down. Even uglier, then-State School Superintendent Kathy Cox chose not to address the issues. Charter Commission members ignored emails, as did the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Yep, those organizations created to help charter school developers turned their backs on us. They turned their backs on our kids. I guess because our school model was not controversial enough to garner national attention, we were not worthy of their support or even an offering of mediation. Ok. I see you. But now the entire (education) community sees you and your obvious lack of research and knowledge of the law, even though the individual responsible for drafting the language has a law degree and graduated from TFA. Laughable, but I digress.

So, this whole experience/desire to open a school with a well-developed arts program is coming full-circle now. As I was speaking with a student, who is also a single parent, I learned about the Arete Scholars Fund. As it turns out, people and businesses that owe taxes to the state of Georgia can donate those funds to a scholarship fund to pay tuition at a private school. Hmmmm. This is obviously a well-kept secret, or at least it was until I found out about it. I shied away from opening a private school because I knew that the students I wanted to serve would not be able to afford private school tuition. Now there is a way to open this school, without the bureaucracy and politics of public education. Most importantly, I don’t have to deal with short men with Napoleon complexes who expect me to kiss their arses….as if.

My, how the tides have turned. Assembling a dream team of educators. Time to change the game. Dream not deferred, just re-imagined. Stay tuned.

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Here it is….   8 comments

After a much-needed and long overdue (quasi) social media hiatus, I am back. And I can honestly say that I nearly lost my damn mind…more than once during the past 3 years. I have been working on developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School for my community since 2007. Despite obstacles, mostly political and financial, I kept going. Why? Because I consider myself to be a keen observer. I pay attention to what happens around me, especially the things that other people do not notice, e.g., home value determines both the type and number of innovative programs offered at neighborhood schools. I moved to Snellville (Gwinnett County) 5 years ago when I purchased my first home. I knew that the school district had a reputation for being one of the best in the state (not that that statement says a lot considering the national rankings, but that’s another topic altogether).

As I worked on developing this school, I began to notice a lot of subtle ‘isms’ within this county, especially as it relates to the school district, program offerings, etc. Snellville has become a majority-minority community (mostly African American) during the past 5-7 years. Most, if not all, of the schools are close to 50% African American and roughly 10-11% Hispanic/Latino. I do not have a problem with living in a majority-minority community, but I would prefer that my kids have the opportunity to experience some diversity while they attend school because, well, the real-world is not comprised of all one race. But no matter our educational attainment levels, income bracket, or automobile of choice, one thing has not changed: When we move in, they move out. Yep, White-flight is alive and well in 2010. And yes, that bothers me. Why? Because despite rhetoric and tomfoolery from the ‘experts,’ I know that African Americans do value education. I can say that the few White people I have met through the charter school efforts have remained committed to staying in their neighborhoods and changing the schools, not the demographics. Unfortunately, those people are truly in the minority. No pun intended.

So fast forward to 2010, after being told by Andrew Broy that our organizationm had to raise $1 million dollars in 30 days to ensure approval and several tersely written letters to Georgia State Boad of Education members (no responses), elected officials (no responses), Cathy Cox (no responses), Georgia Charter School Commission (no responses), and Arne Duncan (half-assed response), I am tired. Not tired of trying to improve education, but tired of trying work within (or against) a broken system filled with people who lack the knowledge and ethics to make sound decisions about the kids in my community who look like me. Yes, I said it. Too many people making decisions for kids with whom they have no commonalities. Does that mean they can’t make any decisions? Absolutely not. But representatives for all groups should have a seat at the table and not just for show. They should be invited based upon their experience, education, and potential to make substantive changes to the manner in which Georgia educates children. That is not happening. I think it will be a very long time before we see this level of change here in Georgia, even when we get a new Superintendent of Schools and Governor later this year.

I took the past 2 weeks off to decide on whether or not to continue efforts to open the charter school. Of course this project is my baby so I was torn. I have invested a significant amount of time and effort into researching, writing, etc. I have learned a lot about myself during the past 2.5 years, most importantly that no one expects me to be a superwoman; that was a self-imposed sentence. I now know my limits. I can only deal with so much foolishness, blatant racism, sexism, and classism. I need a break. I want my life back. I am not giving up this dream. It will not be deferred, just reconfigured.

Georgia’s Charter School Law: A Tale of Two (conflicting) Reports   2 comments

There is a saying invoked when a person is obviously in over his or her head in their professional role: It’s not what you know, but who you know. I thought about this when I read that Georgia was ranked #4 for its charter school law, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Center for Education Reform’s recent Charter School Report Card assigned a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia. One of the explanations cited for Georgia’s ‘average’ grade was the fact that the newly-formed Charter School Commission is still, in large part, controlled by the Georgia Department of Education. For further explanation on Georgia’s grade, see ‘Georgia’s Charter School Law receives a ‘C.’

Out of curiosity, I visited the alliance’s site to see how Indiana ranked. According to this report, Indiana ranked 29th. I find that laughable considering the fact that the state has had two independent authorizers: The Mayor of Indianapolis and Ball State University. In fact, Indiana was one of the first states to use the mayor of a major city as an authorizer. Furthermore, all charter schools must be non-profits and oeprate as such. This practice has been called into question here in Georgia, as EMOs/CMOs are making up to $1 million per charter school in management fees, facility leasing fees, and professional development costs. The CER report assigned a grade of ‘B’ to Indiana; again, Georgia received a ‘C.’ How can the results from these two reports be so different?

So what’s really going on? Sometimes, peoples actions and motives are transparent; other times, a little digging and connecting the dots is required. I checked the bios on the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools board of directors. Interesting to say the least. One of the directors has ties to KIPP; another is the CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Believe it or not, former Mayor of Indianapolis Bart Peterson is also a member. Yes, that is the same mayor responsible for supporting and growing the charter school community in Indianapolis. Damn. That almost makes me want to retract the nice things I said about him earlier. I wonder if he actually read the report and noticed that Indiana received such a horrible ranking? Probably not. Oh yeah, Joel Klein is also a member of the board of directors. One thing positive that I can say about the board’s membership is that it accurately reflects the population of students being served by charter schools across the country; that is certainly more than I can say for the Georgia Charter School Commission, Charter Schools Association, and State Board of Education. Minorities are truly a minority in those arenas.

I guess Indiana should (and probably doesn’t) feel too slighted. Afterall, the CER report is likely more reliable and least likely to be influenced by board members and donation sizes. Besides, it could be worse: They could have received an ‘F’ like Virginia. I guess that explains why Charter School Commission member Gerard Robinson jumped ship and accepted the Secretary of Education position in Virginia. I guess that also explains why he has not extended me the professional courtesy of responding to a letter sent December 12, 2009. Oh well. Upon seeing him interact with the ol’ boys, I knew exactly how to categorize his intentions and motives.

I still don’t know how these two reports could have such disparities in grading charter school laws. But I do know that those who travel in the TFA, KIPP, New Leaders New Schools cults elitist circles certainly look out for each other. Afterall, Andrew Broy is a TFA alumnus. At this rate, I think the charter school movement could put the old-school mafia out of business for good. I guess those who believe that politics make for strange ‘bedfellows’ have never delved into the underworld of public education.

Georgia's Charter School Law: A Tale of Two (conflicting) Reports   2 comments

There is a saying invoked when a person is obviously in over his or her head in their professional role: It’s not what you know, but who you know. I thought about this when I read that Georgia was ranked #4 for its charter school law, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Center for Education Reform’s recent Charter School Report Card assigned a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia. One of the explanations cited for Georgia’s ‘average’ grade was the fact that the newly-formed Charter School Commission is still, in large part, controlled by the Georgia Department of Education. For further explanation on Georgia’s grade, see ‘Georgia’s Charter School Law receives a ‘C.’

Out of curiosity, I visited the alliance’s site to see how Indiana ranked. According to this report, Indiana ranked 29th. I find that laughable considering the fact that the state has had two independent authorizers: The Mayor of Indianapolis and Ball State University. In fact, Indiana was one of the first states to use the mayor of a major city as an authorizer. Furthermore, all charter schools must be non-profits and oeprate as such. This practice has been called into question here in Georgia, as EMOs/CMOs are making up to $1 million per charter school in management fees, facility leasing fees, and professional development costs. The CER report assigned a grade of ‘B’ to Indiana; again, Georgia received a ‘C.’ How can the results from these two reports be so different?

So what’s really going on? Sometimes, peoples actions and motives are transparent; other times, a little digging and connecting the dots is required. I checked the bios on the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools board of directors. Interesting to say the least. One of the directors has ties to KIPP; another is the CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Believe it or not, former Mayor of Indianapolis Bart Peterson is also a member. Yes, that is the same mayor responsible for supporting and growing the charter school community in Indianapolis. Damn. That almost makes me want to retract the nice things I said about him earlier. I wonder if he actually read the report and noticed that Indiana received such a horrible ranking? Probably not. Oh yeah, Joel Klein is also a member of the board of directors. One thing positive that I can say about the board’s membership is that it accurately reflects the population of students being served by charter schools across the country; that is certainly more than I can say for the Georgia Charter School Commission, Charter Schools Association, and State Board of Education. Minorities are truly a minority in those arenas.

I guess Indiana should (and probably doesn’t) feel too slighted. Afterall, the CER report is likely more reliable and least likely to be influenced by board members and donation sizes. Besides, it could be worse: They could have received an ‘F’ like Virginia. I guess that explains why Charter School Commission member Gerard Robinson jumped ship and accepted the Secretary of Education position in Virginia. I guess that also explains why he has not extended me the professional courtesy of responding to a letter sent December 12, 2009. Oh well. Upon seeing him interact with the ol’ boys, I knew exactly how to categorize his intentions and motives.

I still don’t know how these two reports could have such disparities in grading charter school laws. But I do know that those who travel in the TFA, KIPP, New Leaders New Schools cults elitist circles certainly look out for each other. Afterall, Andrew Broy is a TFA alumnus. At this rate, I think the charter school movement could put the old-school mafia out of business for good. I guess those who believe that politics make for strange ‘bedfellows’ have never delved into the underworld of public education.

Higher Ed takes notice of Georgia’s preference for privatizing Education   Leave a comment

Monday’s AJC will feature an Op-ed piece by University of Georgia professor William G. Wraga regarding the obvious (my word) move towards privatizing education in Georgia. Wranga acknowledges the ‘intent’ of charter schools, i.e., curricular innovation and greater autonomy for teachers; however, he also addresses an issue of late for the charter community: More charters are increasingly being controlled by for-profit or faux non-profit (again, my word) management companies. I have shared my opinion on this all-too-common practice here in Georgia in this blog as well as this one.

What’s really interesting are the posts from people who, appear to be charter supporters, but do not really read what Wranga has written. They only ‘see’ an ‘attack’ on charter schools. I do not believe that was Wranga’s intention. If I am not mistaken, his concern is the fact that money, and lots of it, has become the main motivation for furthering the charter school movement in Georgia. I will admit to being a supporter of charter schools, but I am also a vocal supporter of quality education, school choice, and including parents in the education decision-making process. Charter schools are supposed to be governed by parents, teachers, and community members; however, many of us know that does not always happen. If you don’t believe me, just Google Imagine Schools and Dennis Bakke. Let me know what you find. It also appears that some people with a great deal of technical knowledge about charter schools are posting comments to the blog, under fictitious names. How do I know this? According to the Charter School Commission, a majority of the groups that submitted petitions did not have the technical knowledge or experience necessary to govern schools. By process of elimination, if the petitioners are not knowledgeable then that leaves the Commission members themselves, as well as the members of the Georgia Charter Schools Association and the state’s Charter School Division. Not a conspiracy theory, just common sense and basic observation. Man-up! Post your rebuttal or argument using your real name, since you attempt to sound like an expert on charters.

Higher Ed takes notice of Georgia's preference for privatizing Education   Leave a comment

Monday’s AJC will feature an Op-ed piece by University of Georgia professor William G. Wraga regarding the obvious (my word) move towards privatizing education in Georgia. Wranga acknowledges the ‘intent’ of charter schools, i.e., curricular innovation and greater autonomy for teachers; however, he also addresses an issue of late for the charter community: More charters are increasingly being controlled by for-profit or faux non-profit (again, my word) management companies. I have shared my opinion on this all-too-common practice here in Georgia in this blog as well as this one.

What’s really interesting are the posts from people who, appear to be charter supporters, but do not really read what Wranga has written. They only ‘see’ an ‘attack’ on charter schools. I do not believe that was Wranga’s intention. If I am not mistaken, his concern is the fact that money, and lots of it, has become the main motivation for furthering the charter school movement in Georgia. I will admit to being a supporter of charter schools, but I am also a vocal supporter of quality education, school choice, and including parents in the education decision-making process. Charter schools are supposed to be governed by parents, teachers, and community members; however, many of us know that does not always happen. If you don’t believe me, just Google Imagine Schools and Dennis Bakke. Let me know what you find. It also appears that some people with a great deal of technical knowledge about charter schools are posting comments to the blog, under fictitious names. How do I know this? According to the Charter School Commission, a majority of the groups that submitted petitions did not have the technical knowledge or experience necessary to govern schools. By process of elimination, if the petitioners are not knowledgeable then that leaves the Commission members themselves, as well as the members of the Georgia Charter Schools Association and the state’s Charter School Division. Not a conspiracy theory, just common sense and basic observation. Man-up! Post your rebuttal or argument using your real name, since you attempt to sound like an expert on charters.

Dear Celebrities: Public education needs your ‘celebrity’   1 comment

Gazillionaire Oprah Winfrey recently donated $1.5 million dollars to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, GA. I applaud Ms. Winfrey’s commitment to improving educational options, especially for students from low-income families as they tend to get fed the short-end of the stick. There has been a great deal of fanfare around Ms. Winfrey’s donation, as there was this time last year when she sent Ron Clark a check for $365,000. I will admit that I was a bit envious: Of the donation, not the donor. As a staunch advocate of quality education, school choice, and increasing access to the arts, I would have been so gracious that I may have actually broken out in song-and-dance (the sarcasm is back). Seriously, this time last year our organization was nearing the 30-day deadline we were given to raise $1 million dollars if our charter petition was to receive consideration for approval. That’s an entirely different blog in and of itself…Any way, I can truly understand Mr. Clark’s enthusiasm upon receiving that check, but more so the one he received this week. I would like to attempt to explain some of the criticism surrounding Ms. Winfrey’s donation.

First, Ron Clark Academy is a private school, which means not everyone living in the school’s vicinity is afforded the opportunity to attend. As a private school, a limited number of students are able to attend. Furthermore, the ‘cost’ for educating each child is roughly $14,000, almost twice the amount alloted for public school children. I completely understand the school’s leader wanting to give children the best education possible, but I do not believe that it requires more money. Someone with Ron Clark’s connections could just as easily have started a public charter school and still received the same levels of donations and fundings as the private school. Why do I believe this? Well, the first reason is obvious for obvious reasons. Another reason is because Ron Clark was shown how to properly network and raise funds, as he traveled in the ‘right’ circles. For many grassroots educators, it has never been about the money or the recognition for that matter. It has been about giving back to their respective communities, leading by example, giving hope to students who may not otherwise have any or reason to believe they can change their circumstances through education.

Another issue of concern is this image of students singing and dancing all the time. As a lover of the arts, I completely understand the benefits of an arts-based education; however, art should not be limited to rapping. I have often vented about exposing kids to Mozart, Beethoven, or Vivaldi (my favorites). Better yet, why couldn’t the kids go to D.C. and recite a speech by W.E.B. DuBois or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Could they not have performed ‘We Shall Overcome’ or ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing?’ Either selection would have been more appropriate. Why, you ask? Because Blacks are always (or at least 99% of the time) portrayed in commercials singing, dancing, or jive-talkin’ Sadly, that is how many people outside of our race perceive us. I can’t speak for every Black person in America, but I am tired of being stereotyped!

Lastly, I would like to offer my opinion (because I know it only matters to me, no one is going to consult me before making any major donations): There are a lot of kids who could have been served by a $250k donation from Ms. Winfrey. Recently, the Georgia Charter School Commission approved 7 of 21 charter petitions received from organizations. Of the 7 approved, I believe only 2 were submitted by grassroots organizations. What exactly does that mean? It means that management companies stand to make at least $1 million dollars for the first year that each of those other charter schools is in operation. That means approximately $5 million of Georgia tax-payer dollars will leave the state during the 2010-11 school year. As someone who has been unemployed, I know for a fact that if that money remained in Georgia a few more people would be able to return to work next year. Instead, those funds go to CEOs of those organizations, located elsewhere. Many of the grassroots organizers were told that they should seek the services of a management company, as the Commission did not think they were competent enough to handle school operations. If Ms. Winfrey (or some other celebrity) had donated $15K to each of those 14 organizers (non-profit), they could have used those funds to attend training on opening and operating a charter school, offered by the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Then she could have happily donated the remaining funds to the Ron Clark Academy which, by the way, charges for site visits. So much for ‘best practices,’ but I digress.

So what am I really trying to say? Well, in a nutshell: Celebrities, if we are to fix what is wrong with public education, we (the everyday, average Joes & Janes) are going to need your help! Now I know all of you can’t give $1.5 million like Oprah, but giving your time and lending your name (and face) would certainly help bring focus to our educational system. Better yet, the next time you are at the White House rubbing elbows with the Obamas, please tell them that there are everyday educators out here, like Dr. Steve Perry and Baruti Kafele, who are getting things done, sans the fanfare and million dollar donations. I am sure the students at their respective schools could use those funds wisely.