Friday, October 11, 2013

Fix Em, Don't Close Em. Or Better Yet, Stop Opening Em!

This comes straight out of the "I couldn't make this &%$# up if I tried" file.
A charter school in Philadelphia announced Friday, via its website, that it is closing its doors effective immediately due to “safety concerns and financial instability.”
Solomon Charter School, located in the 1200 block of Vine Street in Center City, posted a letter on its website Friday by acting CEO David Weathington.
The letter starts off “it is with regret that I announce the closing of Solomon Charter on October 11, 2013.”
Just to be clear.  On Friday the charter's CEO/Principal (I hate school leaders calling themselves CEOs...) announced the school would close on Monday. 

Can anyone even imagine reading a letter like this from their child's school?

Here's a list of things I find peculiar about this particular closure, in no particular order.

1.  Solomon Charter School was approved as a CYBER charter school, so someone has to explain to me how there were "safety concerns." They did also have a "brick and mortar" facility (they annoyingly refer to their delivery model as "brick and click") but if the majority of their instruction was supposed to be online, shouldn't there be an easy way around any such concerns?

2.  Solomon Charter School wasn't just a cyber charter, they were also a language immersion charter, teaching both Chinese and Hebrew language.  A recent report in the Jewish Exponent marveled that Solomon was teaching Hebrew but had not managed to enroll any Jewish students.
Solomon, which opened in September, offers a rare Yin and Yang of Hebrew and Chinese and embodies a fairly new educational model: It’s part cyber school and part bricks-and-mortar academy.

Solomon is believed to be the only public school in the region currently offering Hebrew. In the past, it has been offered in the Philadelphia school district, Lower Merion High School and several other suburban schools.

What it doesn’t have —which may appear odd for a school with a kosher kitchen, a Hebrew curriculum and an early closing on Friday afternoon for Shabbat  — are any Jewish students.

Not being Jewish is one thing the 40 students enrolled in the school’s four Hebrew classes — as well as all 150 students in the school — have in common. Beyond that, they represent an array of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Which makes me wonder - can a Hebrew Immersion charter school succeed without the support of Michael Steinhardt and the Hebrew Charter School Center or Peter Deutsch and the Ben Gamla network?  

3.  Solomon just opened last year, which says to me that this school, as indicated in the title of another Jewish Exponent article, was little more than A Cyber Experiment.
Chinese and Hebrew may seem like an unusual combination but organizers of the new venture point out that both are ancient languages that originated on the Asian continent. 
The Solomon Charter School is an experimental, publicly funded cyber charter school that will focus on Asian culture and history as well as provide an immersion approach to language instruction. 
It will surely face a number of questions in its inaugural year.
Call me crazy, but it seems like there should have been more questions BEFORE their inaugural year...

4.  When Solomon was approved, then Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said:
Charter schools, both brick-and-mortar and cyber, provide families with a viable alternative to traditional public schools. Parents may choose to enroll their child in a charter school for a variety of reasons. Regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, all students deserve an environment that is conducive for their academic growth." (emphasis mine) 
You really have to wonder if guys like Tomalis really believe what they are selling to trusting parents. Solomon was approved and opened in 2012, and abruptly shuttered in 2013. And not shuttered by the state mind you, the school leaders just shut their doors and rolled up the carpet. 

Clearly, Solomon was not "a viable alternative" to anything.  But what does Tomalis care, he's already moved on to bigger and better things.
Former state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, whom Gov. Tom Corbett set up with an advisory job that pays $139,931 and has no office hours, is in the running to become chancellor of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education.
Tomalis, 51, declined to comment through the Department of Education, which he led from 2011 until May, when Corbett replaced him but let him keep his salary and work from home as special adviser to the governor on higher education. (emphasis mine) 
Tomalis is sitting pretty, set up by the Governor himself, in a cushy job with no office hours and a six figure salary. And these kids get booted out of their new school with no notice.

Well, that seems fair.

5.  And I just can't let this go. The Solomon website has an icon on the homepage of a little ninja carving out the name of the school with his sword. While this may just seem whimsical to some, if I saw this on the website of my kids' school I would seriously wonder about the judgement of the school leaders.


Watch this video.

Parents are furious and barge into the school to get answers.

What were the safety concerns?
  • There was a rehab center for sex offenders a few doors down.
What financial instability?
  • The Executive Director is being accused of using the schools credit card for personal use. 
Why was the State trying to shut them down in their second year?
  • Because it was approved as a cyber school and the majority of the instruction was supposed to be on-line.  However, it appears they were more 'brick' than 'click.'
And since there was clearly little to no oversight before this hot mess got off the ground, their 'brick' was plopped next to the aforementioned sex offenders rehab center.

Ya know what, the little ninja has changed his mind.

UPDATE 10/12

Another TV news report:

And this from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I was right, since Solomon was supposed to be a cyber charter school, safety issues seemed an improbable reason for the closure.
"We closed 1225 Vine about a week and a half ago because of what we learned," said Weathington. 
As a cyber charter school, Solomon provides all students with iMacs to use at home. 
"They were not missing any instructional time," Weathington said.
So what was the real reason for the closure??
 Solomon had been fighting the Education Department's attempts to revoke its charter on the ground that it was acting more like a traditional charter than a cyber charter and was even serving lunch. The department alleged that Solomon was not meeting the state requirement that cyber charters offer a significant portion of instruction to students online.
So, long story short, they were in violation of their charter. But don't miss this kicker:
The state said Solomon was only authorized to enroll students from sixth through 11th grades. As a result, the School District of Philadelphia had refused to pay tuition for the 200 younger students who had enrolled this fall. 
"How were we supposed to function?" Weathington asked. "We can't." 
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district had received invoices from Solomon for 343 students. He confirmed that the district had withheld payment for the students in kindergarten through fifth grades because of the state's ruling.
Just to be clear. 

  • The charter was approved for students in grades 6-12 but took it upon themselves to enroll kids in grades K-5 too. I just love that the principal seems put out by the fact that the district wouldn't pay for kids they weren't approved to take in the first place.
  • The charter was approved to operate a cyber school but instead opened a brick and mortar school in the SAME BUILDING AS A SEX OFFENDER REHABILITATION FACILITY.
  • The video makes it quite clear; the facility was not only in the SAME BUILDING AS A SEX OFFENDER REHABILITATION FACILITY, there was water damage, mold, exposed wire and buckling tiles.
And what was the state doing about this? Ya know, they were going to have a hearing in November. 

Hey, since former Education Secretary Tomalis approved this train wreck and he's still on the payroll getting a six figure salary even though he doesn't keep any office hours, don't you think he should get himself down to 1225 Vine and personally help these families find new schools?

UPDATE 10/12

Leave it to Fox to really dial up the drama.

1 comment:

  1. You want whimsical (and not in a good way)? Check out the cartoonish appearance of the state of Louisiana's official web site: I think they're trying to disguise the fact that they're hiding most of the useful information a person might expect to find there. But back to this post. This is an excellent reminder of the fact that adding bad choices to an existing educational landscape does not improve the outlook for anybody, expect for the privateers who take oodles of public money to their banks.