Sunday, April 05, 2015

First Place Scholars Charter School Will Never Close It's Doors to Poor Children

Marselas Owens, First Place Alum with Pres.Barack Obama
When President Barack Obama signed the Health Care Bill, standing with him was First Place Alum, Marselas Owens. He cut his teeth on lobbying decision makers when a 3rd grader. He is representative of the high expectations we have for our students. He  looks wealthy, most of our children look and perform from expectations of excellence.

So what happened that changed this when First Place became a charter school?

First it is important to know that the WA Charter Commission erred and made a drastic delivery to WA State a charter school that was not given time equal to develop as received by the other 7 authorized schools. We are a school that was first dismantled by a team of Consultants, Linda and Ronald McDonald dba Model Schools Project. They changed from the James Comer Model to a Blended model that relies heavily on computer based instruction. Education research tells us young children do not learn best from computers and it is not healthy for the development.

But that is only one egregious thing that the WA Charter Commission overlooked when approving FPSCS proposal. The finance reporting was not in keeping with accounting principles and they overlooked that the school was in financial free fall before the first student was enrolled.

A parent, even a poor parent and all of our parents live beneath the poverty line with their children. In Seattle 54% of African American children are poor, so FPSCS has always been a natural choice for this population of students who do not as a population fair well in traditional schools. Marselas who is shown here is not atypical of what we do to bring poor children to excellence.

Any parent would expect that background checks had been done for every adult on staff. The charter was approved without every adult having one. They would think that the computer systems that were said to be important to the curriculum would be up and going and the teachers trained on how to teach and measure using these newly installed surface tablets. The system did not get rolled out until after the new board and leadership team in November took over the school and turned it around. Now the Commission says they are concerned about measurement. They should have been concerned in September when they signed the contract. We tell them things that we are fixing and then they write us letters of concern, this has been a consistent practice for the five months Dr. Whitehead, our School Leader and an extraordinary education administrator has been putting things right at WA first charter school.

Any who has followed the media articles about First Place Scholars might believe that we are on a fast track for closing rather than a fast track for correcting what was so horribly wrong. What could the Commission and their Executive Director, Josh Halsey be thinking.  In a Februrary, 2015  letter to Mr. Halsey, from a former WA Charter Commissioner and also architect of the original First Place School she reminded him that she had told him the school was not ready and the contract should not be signed. That the school should be given the same time line to get set up as the other schools.

The Seattle Times article and headlines infers that the school could be closed. Well the Commission does have the right to revoke the charter but they own only the charter, not the school. And the state has not released 50% of the funds needed to run the school. Because of the rush to enroll students at a new charter school, no food reimbursement application was in place, transportation reimbursement systems were not structured and no approved special education plan was in place to reimburse for these expensive but necessary costs for any school.  What were they thinking?  I can not answer because after being retired from the original First Place Board and not being part of the start up of the charter, I only returned late October, 2014.  And returned for the sole purpose of saving a treasure of a school. An education jewel supported by thousands of generous and compassionate individuals, foundations, and corporate sponsors in this region. For 25 years we brought children to excellence.

Charters are in place to improve, not diminish education for poor children. The Commission owes our students and their parents and explanation. How have they made the victim the criminal. The students show up everyday, the teachers teach everyday, the parents and volunteers are supportive, the new board keeps its nose to the strategic planning and policy grindstone and Dr. Linda is operating the school during the day and writing fixes to compliances at night and weekends. For this we get only threats and answers to corrective plans that says, this is not good enough. Okay, but really now had they had this kind of brutal oversight and scrutiny before the contract was signed would I be writing this?

Read the next blog for more about what really happened on the way to a threat to revoke the first charter given in WA State. 

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