So how did this happen? How did Regis Academy get approval to open a charter school when it seems that their foundation is so unstable?
Allow me to digress for a moment and I may be able to provide a bit more clarity on this.
When I was working to oppose the Tikun Olam Hebrew Language Charter High School, I came across the NAACP's National Policy on charters. It was so on point that it made me weepy:
I reached out to our local branch of the NAACP and received a fantastic letter of support which was published in the New Brunswick Patch.
See, it turns out that the leadership of the Camden County East NAACP which has jurisdiction over Cherry Hill didn't get the memo about the NAACP national policy on charters. In fact, the President on the branch, Lloyd Henderson, is on the Board of E3, and the Vice President of the Branch, Keith Benson, is an outspoken school choice advocate.
He is also the President of an organization called Save Our Children NJ. The organization's website is pretty thin on content and there seems to be very little information out there about them other than that they support the OSA.
And now here's where it get's really interesting. Keith Benson was also a charter school application reviewer. In fact, he reviewed applications in the controversial October 2010 Expedited Application Cycle along with E3 notables Shelley Skinner and Derrell Bradford. This was the cycle when five members of the Black Minister's Council, including Rev. Reginald Jackson, applied for the first time. And let's not forget that Rev. Jackson's wife, Christy Davis Jackson, now heads up E3.
Man, I'm already dizzy. But let's keep going.
Also on the list of reviewers was Lester Washington, and it seems that Washington and Benson worked together to review applications:
Keith Benson and Lester Washington
While I can't find too much else about Reverend Washington, a quick Google search does turn up an interesting press release. It's titled Alliance of New Jersey African American Ministers Urges Support for the Opportunity Scholarship Act, and it is signed by Amir Khan, Lester Washington, Reginald Jackson and Dr. Therman Evans, among others.
Although Amir Khan's Regis Academy was denied in the round that was reviewed by Washington and Benson, Reverend Reginald Jackson's Arete Charter School and Dr. Therman Evans' Promise Charter School of Excellence were approved.
Regis Academy was approved in the very next round in September of 2011.
Perhaps the NJDOE didn't want to be so obvious as to hand out approvals to too many of the charters members of the Black Ministers Council applied for in one round. Instead, they spread them out over a couple of rounds. And while Derrell and Shelley claimed that applications were vetted for conflicts and decisions were ultimately made by the Department, it's awfully hard not to notice how reviewers and applicants all seem to be swimming in the same small pond.
And to tie it all up in with a nice little bow, Therman Evans was in attendance at a November 15, 2011 meeting where Amir Khan answered the many critics of the Regis Academy Charter School. And guess who moderated the meeting? Keith Benson.
Allow me to further illustrate Amir Khan's connections. One of my recent OPRA requests looking for the connection between Amir Khan and the Governor turned up this gem:
Brandon Brice Email
So, it looks like Amir Khan got a hold of an email that went out from Voorhees Schools about the Governor's now infamous Voorhees Town Hall. If you look at the time stamps, he almost immediately shot off an email to the Governor's Office. In the email he defends himself in an almost paranoid fashion, and seems to be preparing the Governor for a possible onslaught at the Town Hall. Notice how quickly the email gets flagged and forwarded around the Governor's Office, ultimately ending up with the Legislative Relations folks, Pete Sheridan and Bridget Kelly.
It's seeming less and less likely that the Governor had NEVER heard Amir Khan's name before, isn't it?
But the email was originally sent to Brandon Brice.
As a former educator and lecturer at Rutgers, Brandon has given lectures at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Baruch College, Princeton University, the Center of American Progress in Washington, D.C. Brandon continues to further "social entrepreneurship" in underrepresented communities across the nation, specifically around quality education reform. (emphasis mine)
Amir Khan's email to Brice does not include a "Dear Mr. Brice" or any other greeting for that matter, which to me implies that there is an established relationship between the two men.
This certainly explains Amir Khan sitting right behind the Governor at the Voorhees Town Hall. Even if the Governor can legitimately say he doesn't know Amir Khan (although I doubt it), Amir Khan certainly has easy access to the right people with the right connections to get a seat under the "Jersey Comeback" banner.
And clearly there is a simpatico relationship between the members of the Black Ministers Council, the Camden County East NAACP, E3, the NJDOE and the Governor's Office which lead to the approval of Khan's Regis Academy Charter School.
And now that I have put Khan's email to the Governor's Office out there, I just have to address some of the content.
Pastor Bills has stated very clearly that he did not write the letter of support.
Pastor Bills Letter
In addition, reports made it very clear that Amir Khan DID have people staying on the property.
Is there any doubt that Amir Khan was given this charter school because of who he knows?
Is there any doubt that Amir Khan needs the income from this charter school to keep his entire operation afloat?
Is there any doubt that if the Governor and Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf allow this charter school to open it will be an unmitigated disaster?
I just keep coming back to Amir Khan's own words.
"It was a thought, and it didn't work."
Let's hope the Governor and Acting Commissioner come to the same conclusion about Regis Academy and deny the final charter.