There is a lot going on in the BoE meeting tonight (5:30 p.m. Education Center – if you can’t make it, watch the live stream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/JeffcoBoardRoom). We have Witt’s Compensation Trojan Horse to start things off, then a review of the Miller contract (eight months late), followed by two new Charter school applications, and then an introduction to School Based Budgeting (SBB). It promises to be a very interesting night!
And the new Charter school applications trouble us. They are very different from the charter schools currently in JeffCo.
The current charter schools in JeffCo are basically run by the same people who banded together to create them. In short, these charter schools are home-grown. Their supporters are truly ‘grass-roots’ people. They may have issues, and we may challenge them on various grounds, but basically they are started, supported, and run by JeffCo people for JeffCo students.
Not so Alexandria Innovation or Golden View Classical.
In both cases, the management of the schools will be done, for-profit, by an outside group. The Barney Charter School Initiative from Hillsdale College for Golden View, and STEM Ventures for Alexandria. Basically, where JeffCo’s charter schools have historically been independent, these two would be franchises run by non-JeffCo people for their own purposes.
Why is that a concern?
Because we have no assurance that they have the best interests of JeffCo, it’s parents, taxpayers, or (most importantly) its students at heart. With Boards that are not subject to parental control, the amount of transparency and accountability diminishes rapidly.
Alexandria School of Innovation
In the case of the people proposing Alexandria, this is especially troubling because of the near disaster that occurred when they opened up the STEM Academy in DougCo a few years ago.
We heard from parents who had enrolled their children there, based on promises made by the Brannburgs, the owners of STEM Ventures, the Charter Management Organization (CMO) that is proposing Alexandria. Promises that they turned out not being be able to keep. Within the first few weeks of the school opening, many children were pulled out of the school and went back to their original schools. The original principal left. There are also reports that the Brannburgs’ children had paying jobs at the Academy, giving the appearance of nepotism. Apparently the Board fights were ferocious, and eventually the Brannburg’s were off the Board. Since then the school has stabilized and grown.
There are other things that bother us immensely. Barry Brannburg boasts of his experience as an entrepreneur with some kind of engineering background, yet his LinkedIn page shows only STEM Ventures and the STEM Academy & High school in Douglas County. No other background is given.
The Staff listing on STEM has no one with any specific professional educational training or background.
Their website continues to say that the Alexandria school will be opening in DougCo (you would think they would have changed that by now). There is no mention of applying in JeffCo.
We also have concerns about the accountability of the school’s Board to the parents. The Brannburg’s Board structure is designed to make sure that they stay in control and that the parents are never able to actually take over the running of the Board.
Section 3.2. Number, Tenure and Qualifications.
(a) The Board of Directors will consist of five directors. Three directors will make up Class A Directors. Two directors will make up Class B Directors elected from the members. Members are defined as parents or guardians of currently enrolled students of ASI as mentioned in Section 2.1. Initially, there will be five appointed Founding Board directors from the original Development Team -two of which have prospective students who will attend the school. On September 1 of the 3nd year of operation, two of these original five directors will be replaced through a general election of the members and will serve a three-year term.
Apparently the Brannburgs’ learned from losing control of STEM High & STEM Academy and have no intention of losing control of Alexandria. It is also apparent that they have no respect for the parents of the children they propose to teach…otherwise why would they make sure that parents can never control the Board?
Another clause that concerns us is found in Appendix E, which is the legal agreement that a Board member must sign in order to serve on the Board:
Board members will not question any decision made by the Head of School – Executive Director (ED) in any public arena.
Since the proposed Head of School – Executive Director is Judy Brannburg, it is apparent that she does not want any decision she makes to be publicly reviewed, much less criticized.
So much for transparency. And with the lack of transparency, we also lose the accountability for how JeffCo tax dollars are spent.
Golden View Classical Academy
Golden View concerns us from other standpoints.
Basically, Golden View will be run as a franchise of Hillsdale College of Michigan, a highly conservative institution. Much like McDonalds, they have stringent rules for how their ‘franchisees’ run their schools.
For example, professional development of the teachers is to be provided by Hillsdale. How will that work logistically? Can teachers only be trained there? If so, how does that work over time when teachers leave? Does our district pay for their private instruction through this private institution?
Golden View and Hillsdale boast how their “Classical” curriculum is so superior. How has it be shown that it has the ability to close the achievement gap? Are there independent reports that indicate this?
The report implies that the curriculum is still being developed. How will applicants know what the final curriculum will look like if they attend? Without that information, how will parents know if their child will be prepared to enter a tier 1 university?
It does not look like this school will prepare students to take AP level classes, nor are they available at this school. Why not? Colleges look upon these favorably. Gifted kids should have them in their portfolio. High schools that do not offer IB or AP classes are not looked upon as favorably by top colleges. They also tend to be more skeptical about the rigor of the students preparation.
Golden View plans to open as a K-10 school, yet there seems to be no plan to make sure that students leaving the 10th grade there will be ready for the 11th grade curriculum in a JeffCo high school. This raises the possibility that the students would likely need to do remedial work in order to achieve their high school diploma at Lakewood, or D’Evelyn, or Columbine.
Finally, there is the emphasis on teaching from a Judeo-Christian/ Greco-Roman viewpoint. In our opinion, this borders on the teaching of religious principals with public taxpayer dollars.
In so many ways, Jeffco has been very lucky with its charter schools. They have been rooted in the local community, run by local people for the benefit of their own children. Now a new phase is starting, one that has been seen elsewhere and is beginning to show an ugly face – the corporatization of charter schools and the running of them for either profit or religious/political indoctrination. Alexandria and Golden View seem to us, to be examples of this forked development. We should tread very carefully, with eyes wide open, and a very skeptical ear.
Show up at 5:30 so we all can
Keep Fighting, JeffCo!