Archive for the ‘Georgia’ Tag

It’s official: Some people really don’t know what they are doing   1 comment

Yesterday (and the day before) I kinda ranted about the latest debacle at South Gwinnett High School (population ~2,800), where my oldest is a 9th/10th grader (will explain that later). He came home Wednesday and started his usual routine: Homework, snack, and asking me random questions that seem to come out of nowhere (he’s a Gemini). So I am sitting on the couch watching tv and he walks into the room and asks:

Boy Wonder: Hey Mamma, do colleges look at whether or not you take the PSAT?

Me: Why?

Boy Wonder: Well, because they took it today and my name wasn’t on the list.

Me: What? (More of a ‘You have GOT TO BE F*&@%$# kidding me’ tone) How do you know your name wasn’t on the list?

Boy Wonder: The teacher asked the class if they knew where they would be during testing and my name wasn’t on the list.

Me: Well, I emailed the school back in August to find out the date and whether or not you would be able to take it. They told me as long as you were there on testing day you would. Don’t worry about it, I got it.

So, in my usual form I started researching and re-reading my email communications with the school. [SIDE NOTE: For those of you who think email communication is too impersonal (or are worried about how you will be perceived by school officials, all I can say is…whateva.) An email paper trail can be the difference between your child(ren) getting screwed or getting the things to which they are entitled. You choose]. Just as I thought: I did send the initial email in August because I wanted to know about both the PSAT and End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) that my son would have to take. Because he was home schooled during his freshman year, the district requires him to take the EOCT for both Algebra and Physical Science in order to get credit. I don’t have a problem with the policy as much as I do the manner in which the counselor spoke to us during registration. Read this post to see what else South Gwinnett got wrong that day.  In fact, when she told us that he would have to take the tests, I looked at him and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You know the material and you can ace those two just like the one you took in 9th Grade Literature.’ Unfortunately, the school couldn’t get their at together: I asked for EOCT testing dates on more than one occasion and was told that they would let him know when he would be tested. Guess what? He was supposed to test in August and September. The school sent home a tint square piece of paper, stating that they forgot to get him for testing and, with my permission, he could test in October. Well, today is October 15 and he hasn’t received any information about testing yet. I sure wish I could make $60k+ for half-arse developing a school-wide testing calendar/system.

Now don’t get me wrong: It may seem like I nit-pick over the little things, but I don’t. If I did, I would have something to blog about everyday-on this particular school alone! I let a lot of little things slide because sometimes it’s just not worth the headache. However, when you speak to me (one of my kids) or interact with me in a manner I deem condescending or disrespectful, you damn well better have your SHAT in order because if you don’t, I will check you. Both publicly and privately. But as I said here and on Twitter, people make assumptions about others based on the manner in which they are dress, where they live, the color of their skin, and especially if their children do not have the same last name as their parents. Yes, petty but people do it everyday…and more so if the mom is not wearing a wedding ring. But that’s o.k. because I enjoy watching people turn five shades of red when I start responding and asking questions using the education lingo…. Then they start fidgeting when I tell them I used to teach (in Georgia) AND I have my Ed.S.; most of them have a Master’s, but I digress…..

Needless to say I copied and compiled all the email communications regarding testing and sent a message to the principal…and the assistant to the superintendent. So I wasn’t very surprised when I received an email at 8:49 PM from the principal, stating ‘…We will then move forward with trying to resolve the issue.’ Not sure how they can resolve it since the PSAT is only administered on 2 days the entire year, but we’ll see.


Do you keep pushing when others can’t (or won’t) ‘see’ your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Do you keep pushing when others can't (or won't) 'see' your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Is 'educational change' on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?

Is ‘educational change’ on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?

An open letter to the Georgia Charter School Commission   Leave a comment

December 12, 2009

Dear Mssrs. Scafidi & Robinson:

For the past few days, I have been reviewing the charter petitions recommended by the Charter School Commission. I must admit that I am disappointed and quite disturbed. Explanations cited by the Commission are in direct contradiction to the legislative intent of charter school law. Furthermore, either White-owned management companies or affluent community groups submitted those petitions recommended. This continual selective practice places minority grassroots groups at a clear and blatant disadvantage. If the true intent of charter schools is to create school choice options for minority and low-income students, close the achievement gap, and involve parents in the educational process, then should not those same individuals have an opportunity at full participation by way of playing an active role in creating schools within their communities?  

I have shared these same concerns with the Charter Schools Division earlier this year, as the State Board of Education did not approve our charter petition because our group neither secured nor raised the entire operating budget prior to approval, as required by Andrew Broy. The charter landscape has only slightly changed since then, as it appears that Commission is placing the same barriers before more qualified charter applicants. An abbreviated list of charter petition discrepancies follows below. As the Commission made the recommendations, I rest assured you are more familiar with the petitions and deficiencies.

  • Board membership
  • Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education
  • Conflict of interest with a board member being a paid school employee
  • Teacher salaries
  • Leadership competency – Contracting with EMO/CMO

 

Parents as Board Members

If I am not mistaken, the Obama Administration is challenging parents to become actively involved in their children’s education. As a parent and educator, it is my opinion that assembling a board comprised of dedicated parents ensures sound decision-making as it relates to children and a quality instructional program. I assume that this is a recent addition to the state’s charter school law and guidance, as Oglethorpe Charter School’s governing board is comprised mostly of parents. Oglethorpe has received federal recognition for the governance structure that includes a high percentage of parents with enrolled students. It is my sincere hope that the application of this rule applied to all charter schools, and not based solely on the proposed location of the school. 

Inadequate funds budgeted for Special Education

When drafting a charter petition, it is impossible to state with 100% certainty the school’s composition, unless the proposed school’s location is in a community absent of racial and/or ethnic diversity. This holds true when determining the number of students that will receive services through Special Education. At best, the petitioner can make an educated guess based on the district’s percentage of Special Education participants. Even so, determining the actual programs, e.g., Learning Disability, Emotional Behavior Disorder, etc., must wait until students actually enroll in the school. It is clear to me, a former Special Education teacher, that this is an area of confusion for Commission and State Board of Education members. I do suppose that petitioners can model the practices of traditional districts and track 40-50% of the students into Special Education. I digress.

Conflict of Interest of Board Members

The Internal Revenue Service provides specific guidelines on developing a Conflict of Interest policy for non-profit organizations. If the Commission has a policy beyond that of the IRS, it is imperative that petitioners have access before assembling their boards and hiring key personnel. I noticed that several petitioners received feedback regarding the potential conflict of interest of a board member who was also a potential employee of the charter schools. This is especially troubling considering that several charter schools in existence have individuals serving as founding members and employees. These charter schools have been approved by the local and state boards. In fact, one charter school in Gwinnett County has a husband and wife receiving compensation form the charter school. That, to me, sounds like a clear conflict of interest. Furthermore, other charter schools employ founding members. I digress.

Teacher Salaries

Neither the Commission nor the Charter School Division provides any guidance on setting teacher salaries, or salaries for other employees for that matter. I personally addressed this same issue with Andrew Broy, Clara Keith, and Kathy Cox earlier this year. As none of these individuals is directly involved with an organization’s efforts to recruit qualified and dedicated staff, neither they nor the Commission should have the authority to determine appropriate teacher salaries. The benefits of charter schools are numerous. One of them is the ability for teachers to have some creative freedom within their classrooms, as opposed to teaching to the test. Many teachers are willing to sacrifice a few thousand dollars for the opportunity to work in an environment where they will be treated as professionals and adults; traditional schools tend to devalue the importance of those liberties. It is quite possible that several charter school petitioners already secured verbal commitments from individuals wishing to work at the proposed schools; however, Georgia law stipulates that a teacher cannot sign a new contract while teaching under contract with another school system. As Education experts, all Commission members should possess this information.

Leadership Competency

“Neither does (insert charter school name here) propose to contract with an educational management organization for the provision of experience in educational services.” Again, if petitioners are required to contract with educational management organizations, then the Commission should make that information available to petitioners before they dedicate months and years to community outreach, marketing, researching, and writing the petition. Furthermore, many grassroots organizations oftentimes spend their own money to cover expenses associated with creating a charter school. If it is the intent of the Commission, legislators, Charter Schools Division, and Kathy Cox to create an  EMO/CMO-only charter environment in Georgia, please extend a professional courtesy to students, parents, and educators and make those intentions known locally and nationally.

In closing, I would like to point out the fact that for-profit management companies masked as non-profits have the upper hand here in Georgia. This is evident in their policies of locating schools only in districts where 60%+ of the students qualify for Free and Reduced priced meals, yet none of the parents are directly involved in the creation, management, or daily operations of those schools. That smacks of blatant racism. The laws, State Board of Education members, and Charter School Commission members are perpetuating the unspoken belief that minorities are not qualified to educate their own children, let alone anyone else’s. Spare me the rhetoric of your best friend being (racial/ethnic) or being married to a (racial/ethnic minority), as anyone who recognizes these policies, but says nothing to change them, is just as guilty as those who wrote them.

I have written this letter with an open mind and clear conscience. I am expressing concerns on behalf of those who still have an interest in resubmitting their petitions for future consideration. After spending more than 2 years of my life and time researching and developing a petition, I have accepted that changing Education from the inside may not be correct choice for me. As long as my principles and integrity remain non-negotiable, I am confident that the kind of radical change necessary for Georgia’s families must come from the outside. The Center for Education Reform was obviously extremely lenient in assigning a grade of ‘C’ to Georgia’s charter school law.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these observations.

Good day,

Monise L. Seward, Ed.S.

Parent-Educator

Have Charter Management Organizations run amok?   3 comments

More than a decade after the first charter school was created to foster an environment of teacher autonomy and school choice, ‘charter school’ has become a household phrase. Even television sitcoms such as ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ have given shout-outs to charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools have more flexibility with regard to educational model, school calendar, uniforms, and requiring parental involvement through mandatory volunteer hours. The Obama Administration’s push to improve public education by supporting charter schools through replication and conversion of failing public schools has catapulted the free school choice option to the forefront of the Race to the Top competition.

Some entrepreneurs have discovered that providing free school choice is a lucrative business. Charter Management Organizations (CMO) such as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Imagine have demonstrated that students from low-income backgrounds, typically minority, can succeed if given the proper learning environment. While I do not discount the accomplishments of such organizations, I do question the method used to select where the charter schools will be located. For example, some companies only open schools in districts where 70% or more of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Meal Programs. Does that mean students in districts where only 50-60% of the students qualify for those meals are less worthy of a research-based school choice option?

Upon reviewing the list of charter petitions awaiting approval by Georgia’s Charter Commission, many red flags went up. Charter Schools Administration Services (CSAS) has two petitions under review: one for Academy of Fulton County and another for Academy of Lithonia. CSAS presented budgets for both schools with management fees of $609,000 per year, per school. An additional $300K and $400K were added for the leasing of the facilities, respectively. Each school would also pay $56,000 in interest on funds loaned through CSAS. These figures are especially troubling when one considers the fact that only 500 students are or will be enrolled; the average per pupil revenues in the metro-Atlanta area are roughly $8,000. Regardless of additional, unforeseen expenses, the charter schools would have to pay CSAS first. It has been reported that CSAS and other CMO’s are currently under investigation by the IRS, as they operate as non-profit organizations; however, their profit margins say otherwise.

If school districts are genuinely concerned about ‘losing’ students to charter schools (Read: Losing the money), common sense should prevail: Create charters and convert some of the existing schools to charters, thereby providing parents, regardless of income or zip code, equal access to school choice options. Instead, some districts make it impossible for grassroots groups to create charter schools by denying all applications and challenging the state’s ability to authorize additional schools.