Once again Josh Moon, investigative reporter for the Alabama Political Reporter, has pulled back the curtain on LEAD Academy, Montgomery’s first charter school, and exposed what he calls a “first-rate mess.”
Go here to read his article of Dec. 17.
Here are portions of what Josh wrote:
“As former LEAD Academy principal Nichole Ivey-Price prepares for another hearing in her ongoing wrongful termination lawsuit against the charter school, a number of current and former LEAD employees have told APR that the environment at the school remains one of near-chaos.
Perhaps most surprising, the employees said that Unity School Services — the management company led by Soner Tarim, the controversial charter school guru with questionable ties to a Turkish religious movement — is no longer involved at LEAD.
According to several teachers, three more LEAD teachers have resigned in the last few weeks causing a significant staffing shortage. So significant, in fact, that several non-certified teachers have been hired to fill open positions.
In addition, LEAD employees told APR that the school’s office is often staffed with volunteers. That isn’t necessarily uncommon for elementary schools, but what is uncommon, they say, is that the volunteers have access to private student records.
“You can’t do what they’re doing and not expect a problem at some point,” said a LEAD teacher. “It is so obvious now that this school was not even close to being ready to open. Whoever approved this never spent a day here.”
LEAD was sold to desperate people as a beacon of hope. But from the start, it appeared to be little better than a scam.
There was never a plan to create a different sort of school. There was never a plan to address specific issues within Montgomery. There was never any indication that LEAD administrators, including board president Charlotte Meadows — who used the publicity of the school as a springboard to be elected to the Alabama House — had a plan for success that extended beyond not following tenure laws.
In one semester, LEAD is already on its second principal and has lost nearly half of its original staff, according to current and former employees. There have been issues with payroll, with employees receiving proper pay, being compensated for training and having their pay cut arbitrarily.
There have also been sickening accusations of LEAD administrators working to push special needs students away from the school.
And none of it should be a surprise to anyone who paid attention to the fiasco that unfolded during LEAD’s application process — when professionals who determine the readiness of charter schools all over the country told Alabama’s commission that LEAD wasn’t fit to open.”
Editor’s note: Living in Montgomery and having many contacts in the education community, I have confirmed much of what Josh reports. In addition, hardly a day goes by without rumors of more problems. For instance, I have been told that principal Ibrahim Lee’s relationship with LEAD staff is rocky at best. But then, Lee was once principal at Bellingrath middle school in the Montgomery system and was not retained. He is also the same guy who was on the state charter school commission and voted to approve the LEAD charter application before taking a job with them. The ethics of this maneuver are highly suspect.
It should also be noted that the same Soner Tarim who is no longer with LEAD is the same guy who is the consultant for Woodland Prep in Washington County. And the same guy who told the Texas school board last summer that he not only prepared the application for Woodland Prep to submit to the state charter commission–but also helped to grade it. Like LEAD, the application for Woodland Prep was reviewed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers who recommended that it be denied.
It is high time that the state superintendent of education step into this quagmire and get to the bottom of what is going on. After all, charter schools are public schools getting public funds and the state superintendent is the overseer of all public schools.