This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
DEINES LETTER TO NICHOLS
Tom Nichols, Senior Coordinator Innovation and Charter Division Los Angeles Unified School District 333 S. Beaudry, 25th Floor Los Angeles, CA 90017
April 22nd, 2013
Re: Citizens of the World Charter Schools, Special Needs & Governance Dear Mr. Nichols, Following a suggestion made to me in person by Mr. Jose Cole-Gutierrez on April 16th during the School Board meeting, I am bringing to you a few of my concerns regarding Citizens of the World (CWC). At the School Board meeting I raised specific concerns regarding the delivery of services to Special Needs children, including English Language Learners (ELL). As you know, CWC was granted a lottery preference for Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) applicants to ensure its socio-economic diversity goals, as well as a preference for children from Grant ES, where there are well-defined services in place for these students’ needs. As I stated at the April 16th meeting, I am a parent at CWC Hollywood where my daughter, Xochitl, has attended for two years. I was an instrumental part of the Outreach program at CWC last year, creating Spanish pitch materials and helping organize a very successful FRL event, in coordination with Hollywood Police Division’s holiday toy giveaway. I am a Spanish speaker, our family being of mixed race, and vastly differing socio-economic histories. As such, I have a personal connection to the Spanish-speaking FRL population, and ELLs in particular. In conversations last year with parents of CWC ELL children, I heard frustration with the quality and frequency of services being offered. I encountered Spanish-speaking parents who felt their children were not progressing at CWC, and had doubts that the Assistants employed to help their children were qualified Specialists. Two Spanish/FRL families reported to me last year that special needs requests were being met with delays, poorly articulated action plans, copious meetings and paperwork, the cumulative effects of which caused such a burden to these parents that they were considering leaving the school. This year those families did not return. It is worth noting that CWC Hollywood began in September of 2010 with 40% FRL enrollment (per ConApp), today it is 26%. The ExED analyses document the departure of FRL families over time. These students were enrolled, and then chose to leave. CWC has an excellent curriculum, so it does seem counterintuitive that this sub-group opts out, when they’ve won the lottery that so many non-FRL families desire. This year, these issues have resonated further. The children are older, the school is larger, and the problems are more complex. Episodes of student violence and bullying caused parents to unite in their concern over CWC’s lack of Parent Handbook and Discipline Policy. A parent petition was submitted to the CWCLA Board of Directors (12/12), with 29 families joining together in their overwhelming concern that children with special needs are under-serviced. I personally contacted Ms. Edlis in November, 2012 regarding the violence that Xochitl experienced at the hands of an emotionally disturbed special needs child. I also relayed my concern that promises outlined in the 2010 Charter have never come to pass: Namely, comprehensive services for special needs children, a Parent Handbook, a Discipline Policy, a Principal’s Council with an advisory role for elected parents and teachers, an elected School Site Council, a PTA or PTO, or any forum whatsoever for meaningful parent input. The omission of these essential elements of school culture have had devastating effects on morale, student retention and, ultimately, fundraising. Both schools are substantially behind in their
current fundraising efforts, coinciding with the lottery preference for FRL students and CWC’s 2013/2014 aspirational goals for achieving the 50% FRL threshold, gaining access to previously-unavailable grant funding. Five months have passed since I first alerted your office that CWC lacks many of the critical infrastructural elements laid out in the Charter. For three entire years CWC has operated in non-compliance with its Charter, and it continues to do so. Ms. Edlis did make contact on the Handbook issue, but the results have not been felt. Progress has been slow, with draft versions of school policies still awaiting approvals. Please read the latest CWCLA Board Minutes for an abridged version of events, and demonstration of both parent and teacher concern. Recent Minutes, ExED Analyses and e-mail communications from our Executive Director, Ms. Held show a concentration of parent concern around school safety, cleanliness, acute student health concerns, special needs issues, legal proceedings and the Licensing and Servicing Agreements, with which you may be quite familiar. Parents are told CWC does not have the funds to hire additional qualified staff. Hourly assistants are hired on in moments of crisis to quell parent fears, exemplifying “quick fix” efforts that are later abandoned. CWC Silverlake has experienced a number of challenges related to staffing shortages. Bathroom violence, bullying, and the inability to meet the wide range of student needs, has resulted in many mid-year departures and legal action. With great sadness, I also plan to remove Xochitl from CWC, providing our SAS transfer is accepted. I simply do not have confidence in the long-term sustainability of the CWC model, or its financing. Silverlake is notably under-enrolled vs. projected budget (242 vs. 384), and Hollywood has at least 6 open spots. Despite the excellent curriculum, friendly Principal and outstanding 928 API, even Hollywood has difficulty filling its roster. Perhaps parents are realizing that these schools’ resources are stretched too thin, and that test scores might not be more important than a nurse, a psychologist, or even a janitor. Considering the $850k “gift” to CWC from our ‘Angel,’ Mark Gordon, the to-date start up funding of $453k from the CWC National Network (CWCNN), the $1.3M in start up grants, the roughly $500k aggregate parent fundraising, in addition to our State and Federal funding, it confounds a reasonable observer -- where has the money gone? When these figures are divided between the number of children served annually, CWC has spent roughly $4000 per student, each year, beyond regular public school per pupil revenues. These have been primarily high-achieving small children housed in inexpensive prop 39 sites. It’s a mysteriously costly education indeed; we can’t afford to clean the floors or properly lock the gates, yet we pay expensive rent on an empty building and extraordinary administrative salaries. It may have come to your attention that I conducted a PRA request (0023534) for all documents and correspondence to/from CWC and LAUSD. This request yielded interesting results. It appears the governance structure in place during the Chartering process was quite different from the language your offices approved in the Material Revision dated 6/12/12. Were you aware that these governance changes were deceptively communicated to parents? Were you aware that the proposed Licensing and Servicing Agreements would include a fee, charged back to each site, in the form of a percentage of per pupil revenues? Are you aware that we have had nearly a dozen parent meetings and Town Halls, brimming with concerned parents crying foul over these authoritarian demands? How can it possibly be in the best interest of the children in CWC schools to hand over precious tens of thousands of dollars to extremely well paid Network executives, who have appeared out of nowhere, and now control our Board? You personally responded to legal affairs on 4/15/2013 that you have no documents or correspondence regarding CWC, and that dealings with CWC have been conducted by phone. That a 25 page Material Revision was negotiated and revised entirely through phone
conversations is strikingly irregular. I would like to remind you of a letter sent to you dated October 27, 2010 from the CWC Board of Directors. That letter was a formal response to another letter, also sent to you, dated October 12, 2010 from Ms. Devy Schonfeld regarding her resignation from the CWC Board, and her rationale for doing so. These letters were within the scope of my PRA, yet were missing from the final production of documents. As you may remember, there was much controversy surrounding CWC at the time of the Schonfeld resignation. In fact, there were accusations of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, violations of the Brown Act, opaque fiscal practices and questionable efforts by former Board member and current National CEO, Ms. Kriste Dragon to enrich herself with school funds. After what appears were many meetings with you and Mr. Cole-Gutierrez, these unsound contracts and the proposed ‘sole member’ governance were tabled. Then these same issues came in front of you again, just ten months ago. This time, Ms. Schonfeld wasn’t there watching out for school interests, so these changes were quietly passed by CWCLA’s entangled Board, and your office, without full disclosure to stakeholders. Considering the warning signs during Fall of 2010, one would assume that the Charter Division would be sensitive to any proposals that would attempt to revisit earlier controversies. Ms. Schonfeld states that both she and fellow CWC Board member (and former LAUSD director) Dan Nieman, came to you and Mr. Cole-Gutierrez with deep concerns regarding two August, 2010 CWC Board proposals made by Ms. Dragon. These proposals were 1) a $5.2M Administrative Services Contract to place Ms. Dragon’s embroiled library building entity Wonder of Reading, as CMO for CWC, and 2) a proposed change to the CWC governance and bylaws, replacing the original self-appointing Board, with a ‘sole statutory member’ benefiting Mark Gordon’s Olympia Foundation. Ms. Schonfeld states that “passage of either of the two motions brought for approval before the Board would have inevitably prompted LAUSD to revoke CWC’s charter,” a statement that was “confirmed by both your office and later, by CWC counsel.” The 6/12/12 Material Revision included a substantially similar iteration of the proposals that you agreed were detrimental to the Charter in September, 2010. I would like to reaffirm each concern put forth by Ms. Schonfeld in her letter to you, applying them to the current National Network. The CWCNN has not evolved organically, but descended upon CWC families to retool the schools, controlling CWCLA Board membership, staff hiring, fiscal policies and vendor contracts, among many other provisions. In contrast to KIPP and HTH, the CWCNN does not have 15 years in the industry to draw upon. It has no proprietary teaching academies, best practices or unique systems to analyze or evaluate leadership. It has failed to articulate what necessary services it will provide to CWC Hollywood, other than promoting itself, conducting school “evaluations” (currently performed by outside contractors), gathering philanthropic funds for itself, and furthering the growth of the CWC brand. LAUSD is now allowing revenues, reserved for our children’s education, to be diverted toward hollow corporate strategies serving to enrich the Network and deplete our needy schools. The one leader CWCNN has placed, Principal Ramona Patrick, a personal friend of Ms. Dragon, is widely unfavored among parents at the Silverlake campus, providing the catalyst for its declining enrollment. That the Charter Division has allowed a third party corporation, CWCNN, to usurp control of LAUSD public charter schools, has not gone unnoticed. You have approved substantial material alterations that defy findings in the Preliminary Recommendation generated by your own office, published in early 2010. Integral to the approval of CWC’s charter were a set of 16 elements, which all came together to assure approval by the School Board. Substantially altering any of those fundamental elements erodes the integrity of those originally agreed-upon relationships and structures, unraveling the foundation upon which the Charter was built.
According to your 2010 Recommendation for CWC‘s Charter: “The following are the five Innovative Elements that could be considered “best practices” and replicated in other schools:” 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) Mixed Socioeconomic status Curriculum best practices/ teacher development Service-Learning Family involvement in a Neighborhood School Management structure
We have seen both erosion and underdevelopment in 4 of the 5 Innovative Elements. The FRL quotas put in place last week will prefer certain students to CWC schools, where few programs are in place to serve their specific needs. The management structure that you believed a “best practice” in 2010, has met extinction. In direct conflict with elements of our Charter, Family involvement hardly exists at CWC. We are asked to give donations, clean hallways or help in classrooms--- these are task-oriented activities, not vibrant avenues for involvement. ServiceLearning has yet to fully develop at CWC. The singular innovative element that stands strong would be the CWC curriculum. Ironically, CWCNN has suddenly claimed authority over the curriculum that our school has developed over the last three years, and wishes to “License” it back to us for a fee, along with the rights to use the trademark that we gave life. If we refuse to sign this set of Agreements, the CWCNN threats to deny access to the philanthropic funds we will clearly be dependent upon in order to survive. I would like to ask that you please take a serious look into the claims I have made. Charter Schools forming intentional trajectories toward perpetual reliance on philanthropic funding should be subject to remediation. These are not viable models for best practices or widespread replication. Most chain Charter schools are simply substituting one bureaucracy for another, with executives enriching themselves far beyond District standards, and cutting corners with our children’s education in order to do so. If you can find something innovative buried in this Network model, please help me understand what that might be. I’ve attached an array of relevant documents to accompany this letter. I do sincerely thank you for taking the time to consider my concerns, and act upon them, if you feel it necessary. Warm regards, Jennifer Deines Parent of Xochitl Gomez-Deines, 1st grade Citizens of the World Charter, Hollywood cc: Jose Cole-Gutierrez, LAUSD Steve Zimmer, District 4 Bennett Kayser, District 5 encl: Schonfeld Letter CWC Board Letter License & Service Agreements ExED Analyses Recent CWCLA Board Minutes OIM Hearing testimony ConApp Title 1 statement
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.