Sunday, April 05, 2015

Parents Believed that the WA Charter Commission Had Done their Due Dilligence

Parents had no reason to question the decision of the WA Charter Commission they thought they knew what they were doing when they approved First Place Scholars Charter School for student enrollment. By December of the first year the school had 38 out of compliance issues. An unheard of number for any school district and surely for any one school. Actually, upon taking over the school as a new board and school leader, there was little we could find right with the school. Today five months later our doors are opened to daily visitors and they are pleased with what we have done. Even the light bulbs have been replaced, and the after school program finds children in a fun and energetic experiential program of technology, math, arts and science. Building robots, doing karate, and learning conversational Japanese and Spanish.

The Washington Charter Commission signed the charter contract with former board President, Daniel Seydell, II  Mr. Seydell presided over the transition board, a board that was not in compliance as to structure based on the Commissions own rules. On October 28, 2014 after the majority of the transition board resigned and he was voted off the board after refusing a request that he resign,  a new board was established.  in November. An assessment was done by School Works after a two day site visit. The new board which is now made up of 9 new board members including me as the new Board President used the outcomes as our roadmap to get FPSCS onto a better course. This was the demand of community, teachers and parents and even students spoke at a standing room only FPS Charter School Board meeting in mid October. Their school was in major conflict, out of compliance, it was not safe.

The first thing that the new board did was accept an amicable resignation from the existing School Leader she agreed we needed an education administration specialist to do what we needed to do to get the school turned onto a better course while assuring that our students and teachers daily experience was without disruption.

We hired Dr. Linda Whitehead who had been an education administrator in Camden NJ, one of America's most challenged districts, and in Redmond, WA located in one of the top school districts the educators of the children of Microsoft employees. She had been a School Superintendent in Marysville, WA and a Director at Casey Family Programs. It took one look for her to know that the school had major problems to its structures and systems. The consultants had totally dismantled what has made the former school work well. New teachers were hired, and the Special Education teacher that had been employed for 13 years was let go without a replacement. By the time the dust settled 38 out of compliance issues were discovered partly by the Commission who did not write the first letter of correction until after the new Board was seated and the assessment ordered. In other words, they did not get concerned until after we expressed our concern as to how they could have signed a charter contract with a school that needed time to put its structures and systems into place. But that is why the board hired someone who could run a school while simultaneously building one. This was more then fixing systems, most were not in place at all.

A normal parent believes when they enroll their child in a school that has been approved to enroll students and receive state funds that the school has met all assurances that it is ready to receive students. Also the predecessor school had been an award winning model for educating children with challenges associated with sustained poverty. But they were not told that the approved proposal had dismantled the James Comer Model and replaced it with one that was quite different. How would a parent know that the Commission that was appointed to usher in charter schools and sign contracts with individual schools would approve a school that had no safety plan, no special education policy, incomplete background checks, no approved application for reimbursement for free and reduced lunch program with OSPI, and 38 other public school structural and systems either not existing or flawed?

So for five months Dr. Linda Whitehead, her staff and I and our board have kept our noses to the grindstone building the school our students and parents deserve. A herculean task but one that had to be done. The WA Commission did a rush job on FPSCS in delivering it prematurely. Then they did a rush job of placing not the team that botched the delivery but the specialists who turned the school around immediately onto safe waters for our students and parents. The first thing we did was put the board into compliance as to members, got trained as a Charter School Board and WA Charter Association staff, including learning how to govern under the Open Public Meeting Act.  We worked with a community advisory team headed by Keisha Scarlett, Washington's Middle School Principal of the year to put into place a 30, 60, 90 day plan. We hired Dr. Whitehead and made assuring that our students were physically, emotionally and educationally safe and that their teachers had the support systems they needed. It baffles us that the WA Charter Commission has shown so much bravado, even suggesting that their concern for our brown, black and poor children trumps ours. They are not a different body or Executive Director from those who thought it okay to approve a school that had no curriculum or systems for academic measurements and no industry approved finance and audit practices. Now they say they are concerned about our finances. Well so were we and now that we have put into place finance and audit structures to safeguard state and donor funds, they have much to say about the damage to this ill fated delivery of a school they approved.

So when you read anything that they have to say to the public about First Place Scholars Charter School know that they either learned it from us as a report of a material finding, or that we have already begun the work of fixing it.

What we have asked for and may or may not get depending upon what measure of responsibility they take for the mistakes they not our our current board and school leader made. They signed the contract and we are living up to it and fixing what they allowed to be the first charter school in Washington State.  As of Friday we are told they are working more diligently on trying to be better team players with FPSCS leadership. That will of course mean they have to give us time to raise funds, test the new systems, stress test the structures, train our teachers to the measurement systems. They put the most negative things about the school and our ability in the press and then say "We are concerned about your ability to raise funds."  Well they approved a fund raising plan that makes sense to no one. One that we have to rewrite. The entire budget they approved has to be re-written.

This is the same team that approved the proposal and signed the contract. We are a different leadership team. We are the result of what can happen with charter schools, the community was not happy a change occurred immediately. The WA Charter Commission does not have to answer to the public, they are appointed. So we will see if the Governor will step in and help. We did elect him.

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