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Marc Sternberg Deputy Chancellor Division of Portfolio Planning Recy Benjamin Dunn Executive Director Charter Schools Office

52 Chambers Street New York, NY 10007 +1 212 374-5419 tel +1 212 374-5761 fax

December 7, 2011


Johnny Celestin, Chairperson New York French American Charter School Board of Trustees Recy Benjamin Dunn, Executive Director New York City Department of Education Charter Schools Office Notice of Probation Marie-José Bernard, Principal, New York French American Charter School Sonia Park, Senior Director, NYC DOE Charter Schools Office Etzer Botes, Keisha Womack, and Bert Wyman , NYC DOE Charter Schools Office


Subject: CC:

In August 2009, pursuant to the New York State Charter Schools Act, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) approved the New York French American Charter School (NYFACS) to operate a standards-based educational program to improve learning and achievement for students. A Notice of Concern was issued to NYFACS, dated August 29, 2011, based on conditions observed during the school’s annual site visit in May, 2011. Probation: Because the prior Notice of Concern and site visits conducted during Fall 2011, documented ongoing material and substantial violations of NYFACS’s Charter Agreement and serious violations of New York State Charter Law, the NYCDOE, as the charter authorizer for New York French American Charter School, is putting the school on probationary status pursuant to N.Y. Education Law § 2855(3). The probationary status is effective as of the date of this letter, and will expire as of August 31, 2012 unless (1) extended or shortened in writing by the NYCDOE based on NYFACS’s compliance with its charter, applicable laws and regulations, and the Remedial Action Plan outlined below or (2) NYCDOE or New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) takes further steps to terminate NYFACS’s charter pursuant to N.Y. Education Law § 2855(2). The conditions that will need to be redressed are identified among the Areas of Growth included the Annual Site visit report and observed during the Fall 2011 visits to the school, further described below. Material and Substantial Charter Violations School Policies and Procedures The NYCDOE Charter Schools Office (CSO) conducted the annual site visit in May, subsequent visits during Fall 2011, and collected documents from NYFACS. The visits and documents revealed that NYFACS is in material and substantial violation of its Charter Agreement and School Monitoring Plan (2009). NYFACS has not abided by the conditions of the Charter Agreement and the School Monitoring Plan by failing to establish and comply with internal policies and procedures, notably regarding performing required background checks, discipline, and hiring of personnel. CSO is primarily concerned with student safety. During the Fall site visits, the NYCDOE became aware that a parent volunteer had assumed significant responsibilities and access in the building facility, including possession of all external and internal keys to the school. It was


also discovered that he has reportedly been spending nights at the school. This puts into question student safety and confidentiality of student records. NYFACS has no stated policy on volunteers and has not issued background checks on those volunteers, violating of section D.8 of the Monitoring Plan and section 4.4 Criminal History Checks of the school’s Charter Agreement, which states that background checks are required for “all other individuals who have regular access to the students enrolled in the school” including volunteers. NYFACS is non-compliant with section 2.8 Discipline Code of its Charter Agreement and Section D.15 of the Monitoring Plan. NYFACS published code of discipline, as delineated in the Parent Handbook (2010-11, the most recent available) does not contain guidelines for suspension and expulsion, requirements of due process, and provisions of alternative instruction with federal laws and regulations governing the placement of students with disabilities and implement the provisions of 34 CFR Part 300 relating to the discipline of students with disabilities. It is not clear if parents, staff and school leadership are aware of students’ rights to due process and alternate instructions. NYFACS does not adhere to Section 4.2 Personnel Policies of its Charter Agreement. The school’s published Employee Handbook (2010-11 the most recent available) does not contain hiring and personnel policies and procedures; the qualifications required by the Board in the hiring of teachers, school administrators and other school employees as well as a description of staff responsibilities. With the policies that do exist, the school is inconsistent following those policies, especially in regards to hiring employees. It has been reported that employees have been hired without adequate vetting and process. Compliance NYFACS has not complied with section 5.3 Audits of its Charter Agreement by providing its Annual Audit as required. As of December 5, 2011, the audit for 2010-11 has yet to be provided to CSO. During the CSO’s review of the school’s unaudited 2010-2011 financial statements, inconsistencies emerged with the school’s daily attendance procedures. According to NYFACS, teachers were inconsistently reporting on the daily attendance of students at the school. As a result, there are inaccurate and missing records of student daily attendance from the 2010-2011 school year. These inconsistencies have jeopardized the quality of the school’s financial audit and violate section 5.6 Funding Procedure of the Charter Agreement because they have caused the school to not maintain accurate enrollment data and daily records of student attendance.

Serious Violations of Laws and Regulations Teacher Certification Site visits in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years have revealed problems with recruitment of fully certified teachers at NYFACS. In accordance with the 2010 amended Charter School Act, no more than 30% of NYFACS’s teaching staff (or five teachers, whichever is lesser) can lack state teacher certification. At the time of the CSO site visit in June 2011, the school reported that 7 of 12 teachers (58.3 %) were not state-certified. However, this apparent improvement was offset by the departure of 3 certified teachers. For the 2011-2012 school year, the school reports that 6 of its17 teachers (or 35%) are not


certified. This represents the second year in a row of continued non-compliance with charter law concerning teacher certification. Parent Association The CSO’s review has led it to conclude that NYFACS is in material and substantial violation of Education Law sections 2590-h(15)(a) and 414(1)(c). Those provisions require that all located in New York City establish Parent Associations and that parent association meetings are, among other things, open to the general public. NYFACS has not demonstrated to CSO’s satisfaction that it is meeting those requirements. NYFACS should continue to strengthen parent participation and engagement via the establishment of a Parent Association which is formally organized and meets regularly. As a result of the violations of law and charter described above and pursuant to Education Law Section 2855 (3), the NYCDOE places the New York French American Charter School on probation beginning on the date above and continuing through the end of August 2012. In addition to legal violations, the CSO has concerns regarding NYFACS financial policies and stability. The school has no established financial controls and operational policies; the termination of one Operations Director and the hiring of a replacement has left the school in operational disarray. For example, staff payments had been disrupted and vendor contracts to perform necessary work, such as custodial, were never approved or signed. It appears that the school is also struggling to be viable on its per pupil allocation and has to be supported by active fundraising. As of November 2011, data reflect that the school’s actual enrollment of 189 students is below its projected amount of 205. The school has a 5-year lease which is automatically renewable. Leasing costs (rent and utilities) was budgeted at over $559,865 for 2010-11, nearly a $100,000 increase from the previous year’s actual spending. Future increase in rent and utilities is expected to increase significantly annually. As of the 20112012 school year, teachers have expressed frustration with the lack of teaching and classroom supplies. Classrooms were observed with few books for students. The NYCDOE has concerns relating to NYFACS’s academic program and the school’s ability to deliver quality instruction. During the visits, consistent instruction and academic rigor across classes was not observed. In some observed classes the pacing was slow, leading to student disengagement. Observations also revealed that higher order thinking questions were infrequent and most lessons were teacher directed where students recited answers to teachers’ questions. Few examples of groups work or collaboration were observed. In addition, some students questioned were unable to identify the point of the lesson or the directives they were supposed to follow. Based on the lack of internal assessments and data, it was unclear if students are performing on grade-level and are being adequately prepared in either English or French. Among the terms and conditions of NYFACS’s probation are the requirements that: NYFACS take immediate action to remedy Items 1 and 5 below, and No later than December 31, 2011, the NYFACS’s Board of Trustees agrees to the comprehensive Remedial Action Plan that will remedy the violations of law and charter. The deliverables described in the plan must be submitted to CSO for its approval. 1. Develop a comprehensive policy regarding volunteers and background


check requirements. 2. Produce verification that all employees of the school have received fingerprinting clearance. 3. Produce audited financial statements for 2010-2011 academic year. The CSO granted a 30-day extension, which, as of Nov. 30, has been exceeded. 4. Revise school access and key distribution policy to restrict key access to school employees. 5. Develop a comprehensive discipline policy that includes guidelines for suspension and expulsion, requirements of due process, and provisions of alternative instruction. By December 31, 2011 6. Implement an attendance policy that meets appropriate levels of control, checks and balance, and promotes accurate record-keeping. By January 31, 2012 7. Conduct an in-depth review of contracts and agreements with the School's landlord and vendors (i.e. accounting firm, janitorial services provider, etc.) to ensure that business partnerships are providing maximal value to the school. 8. Develop a plan to improve the teacher certification rate. 9. Develop a comprehensive Employee Handbook that include hiring and personnel policies and procedures; the qualifications required in the hiring of teachers, school administrators and other school employees as well as a description of staff responsibilities. By February 29, 2012 10. Develop comprehensive Financial and Operational policies that include financial controls and procedures. Ongoing 11. Submit Board of Trustees meeting agenda, information packets, and minutes to CSO on a monthly basis. The measures and ongoing monitoring to be detailed in the Remedial Action Plan above must be approved and implemented by NYFACS’s Board of Trustees. The CSO will attend between 9 and 12 Board of Trustees meetings during the term of the probation and conduct site visits and monitoring activities as it deems appropriate to ensure progress on the Remedial Action Plan. If at the end of the probation period, NYFACS has demonstrated full compliance with applicable law and charter terms, it will be removed from probation. Alternately, if the school’s Remedial Action Plan is inadequate or its implementation ineffective, in violation of the Charter Law and Charter, the probation period may be extended or the school’s charter may be revoked at any time during the probationary period. NYCDOE will lift the probationary status only when the NYCDOE can report to the NYSED that the corrective actions have been fully implemented and satisfactorily met, and that NYFACS is no longer in material and substantial violation of its charter or in serious violation of any other applicable law or regulation.