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Morrison Issues Plea For Charter Opening

by Melissa Bailey | Jul 9, 2014 11:50 am

(16) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, School Reform

CTN Rev. Eldren Morrison trekked to Hartford Wednesday to issue an urgent appeal to the state to let him open his new charter school next month—with a last-minute change in management.

Students are “waiting for us to open the doors,” pleaded Morrison, speaking in the public comments section of a state Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

Morrison asked the board to convene a special meeting to consider a new proposal he has submitted to the state concerning a charter school, Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA), which he plans to open in August with 225 students and $2.5 million in state money. The proposal calls for hiring a new partner to replace Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), a charter management organization that was supposed to run the school—but which BTWA fired amid an unfolding scandal involving the undisclosed criminal record and false education credentials of FUSE’s CEO, Michael Sharpe.

When the news broke of Sharpe’s deceit and subsequent resignation, “our board members did not have time to sulk or even to ask why,” Morrison said Wednesday in his appeal to the state. “We went back to the drawing board.”

BTWA came up with a new plan to hire Yardstick Learning, a consulting firm, to help start up the school this August. The proposal needs approval from the state Board of Education, because charter schools are monitored and funded by the state.

Board members and education Commissioner Stefan Pryor have suggested delaying the start of the school. Morrison said he’d prefer not to. Over 160 students have already signed up, he said.

“They believed in the vision. They believed in what Booker T. Washington Academy would offer their kids for the school,” he said. BTWA wants to deliver on that vision, he said.

He asked for a special board meeting, and for the state to give him the “green light” to go ahead.

“I’m here to ask you that you will consider this plan, that you look at it, and that you vet it out for us, so that we can start the school this year,” Morrison said.

A previous version of this story follows:

Melissa Bailey File Photo Pastor Eldren Morrison has proposed to stick with plans to open his charter school in August with 225 kids—with a new partner to replace an original partner, which he fired in a cloud of deceit.

Morrison (pictured) made the proposal in a revised charter application to the state, released to the Independent Tuesday through a Freedom of Information request.

The plan calls for Morrison’s charter school, Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA), to open in August with $2.5 million in state money. BTWA had hired Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE), which runs the Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford, to recruit students, hire staff, design the curriculum and run the day-to-day operations of the school. Then BTWA cut ties with FUSE in the wake of an unfolding scandal involving the undisclosed criminal background and false claim of education credentials of its CEO, Michael Sharpe.

 

BTWA has been scrambling to put together a backup plan that will allow it to open this fall without FUSE.

At a recent state Board of Education meeting, state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor suggested the school might have to open with fewer students, or delay its start, given the last-minute change of management. But he said he was open to hearing BTWA’s proposal before making a decision.

Update: State education department staff “are beginning the internal review of this proposal,” said spokesperson Kelly Donnelly Tuesday evening. “We look forward to discussing this preliminary submission with the Booker T. Washington Academy board. Among the areas for further discussion are the size of the initial student body and the plan’s overall viability.”

Under the proposal, BTWA proposes bringing in a management firm, Yardstick Learning, to recruit students and staff and help run the school.

Yardstick Learning is run by Ebbie Parsons III, who served as acting chief operating officer for the Hartford Public Schools while he was a Broad Resident in Urban Education. He has a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from UPenn and an MBA from the University of Minnesota, according to the proposal.

Yardstick’s “flagship product” is the Parsons Teacher Index, a tool that “predicts and enhances teacher effectiveness.” The tool claims to “quantitatively predict—with statistical significance—the likelihood of teacher effectiveness.”

Yardstick is experienced in “intervening in troubled or turnaround circumstances” at charter schools. It typically helps recruit students, trains teacher, staff and board members, and provides interim CEOs and COOs for organizations that need them, according to the plan.

The organization won’t be the official “charter management organization” running the school; it will provide support to the school administrators and governance board, which is headed up by Morrison, according to the plan.

The BTWA board considered hiring Yardstick in 2011 and “is excited to return to the original management plan,” the proposal reads.

BTWA has already hired a school leader named John Taylor. Taylor founded Green Tech High School, an all-boys charter school in Albany. He holds a master’s in educational leadership from Duquesne University and a “certificate in strategic design for charter schools” from Harvard, according to the plan. He has run charter schools for over 15 years, including as the “regional vice president of operations in charge of school startup” for Mosaica Education, an educational management company where Parsons also worked.

The proposal sent to the state is a working draft that is subject to change.

At a recent state school board meeting, several board members raised concerns about BTWA starting up in the fall.

“I am concerned about a charter school that plans to open in Fall 2014 that will come now in the summer with a plan. I’m concerned because opening a school is not something one does in a month,” said board member Estela Lopez.

“I’m concerned that we would hurry to approve something that is not ready,” she said.

The proposal will likely be voted upon at a special state board meeting, at a date not yet determined.

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posted by: Threefifths on July 8, 2014  5:58pm

BTWA has already hired a school leader named John Taylor. Taylor founded Green Tech High School, an all-boys charter school in Albany. He holds a master’s in educational leadership from Duquesne University and a “certificate in strategic design for charter schools” from Harvard, according to the plan. He has run charter schools for over 15 years, including as the “regional vice president of operations in charge of school startup” for Mosaica Education, an educational management company where Parsons also worked.

I hope the good rev did a back ground check.

Failed promises at 2 schools
Albany taxpayers fund alternatives, but mixed results imperil futures
By Scott Waldman
Updated 6:42 am, Thursday, September 26, 2013
Albany

A few years since they were founded, the city’s two charter high schools have mixed results that ultimately are not better than Albany High School.

Green Tech Charter High School and Albany Leadership Academy for Girls are among the first single-gender public high schools in the state. Both were touted as a better school choice than Albany High, which has long suffered from dismal graduation rates.

State Education Department records show both charters are struggling.

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Failed-promises-at-2-schools-4844522.php

posted by: Razzie on July 8, 2014  7:09pm

for info on Green Tech High School [John Taylor] 

http://projects.nytimes.com/new-york-schools-test-scores/counties/albany/districts/albany-city-school-district/schools/green-tech-high-charter-school

It would be interesting to see the draft proposal that was filed with DoE. This summary provides very little detail on the proposal. And the links provide very little info on the qualifications of the personnel proposed to be hired, or the duties they will perform.

If DoE intends to have a hearing on this Charter Application Amendment, it is incumbent upon them to make the final Application available for review upon reasonable notice and review of those interested.

It all seems very rushed and haphazard.

              The proposal sent to the state is a working draft that is subject to change.

            At a recent state school board meeting, several board members raised concerns about BTWA starting up in the fall.

            “I am concerned about a charter school that plans to open in Fall 2014 that will               come now in the summer with a plan. I’m concerned because opening a school is not something one does in a month,” said board member Estela Lopez.

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 8, 2014  9:04pm

I call on Stephan Pryor and the CTDOE to deny this ill-thought school experiment by Rev Morrison.

If Rev Morrison were to be the hands-on force behind this new school, I would be more inclined to give him a chance.

However, he has hooked up with Yardstick Learning, a neophyte charter school management company that has no track record and boasts of a teacher tracking system that if were really producing results as claimed would be the educational equivalent of curing cancer.

All should go to Yardstick Learning’s website and see for yourselves how insubstantial it is. Unless of course you are viewing it as a student marketing project.

And Rev Morrison, you should stop before your credibility as a teacher of the Word is compromised any further.

posted by: Threefifths on July 8, 2014  9:54pm

Mosaica Education, an educational management company where Parsons also worked.

My bad.Mosaica Education, Inc. and the Lack of Parent/Local Control
From D. Aileen Dodd at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Here’s a classic example of the kind of corporate-driven charter chain that is neither educationally innovative nor locally controlled: the Math & Science Preparatory Academy of South Fulton. The charter schools proposal - developed by the for-profit Mosaica Education, Inc. - illustrates just how much the charter movement has evolved (err, been bastardized) by entrepreneurs, profiteers, and corporate hucksters looking to turn a buck. Local control? Nah. Teachers permitted to experiment with new teaching techniques and approaches? Nope, not here. This is all about profit, baby, and expanding the privatized version of public education.Mosaica Education is not your typical school district. It runs a global empire like a corporate giant from chic offices in Lenox Towers, overseeing classrooms from Atlanta to Abu Dhabi.Its top executives see Georgia as fertile ground for planting new public schools.But the state is cautious about its advances. Mosaica’s international growth seems to have hit a roadblock in its hometown.

http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/04/mosaica-education-inc-and-lack-of.html

Mosaica out as manager of Muskegon Heights charter schools; new firm being sought

http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2014/04/mosaica_out_as_manager_of_musk.html

Looks like a trainwreck coming.

posted by: Callisto on July 9, 2014  6:31am

Wow. More of the same vapid corporate taxpayer-supported “reform”. This is an Atlanta based charter corp with their hands in the Louisiana charter system. How long will New Haven residents foot the bill for Eli Broad’s acolytes? Malloy and Pryor must go. This rampant takeover of our schools and tax largesse must end. We’re throwing our money away to out of state consultants and fund manager mountebanks - not educators. Read about “yardstick learning” and their “products” and their involvements with Christian media businesses. What a joke except it’s not a joke. We really have investors and consultants being given carte blanche to play with our money (and kids’ education). Very bad times for New Haven schools and for teachers whose complicit union is yet again silent as this chicanery continues.

posted by: robn on July 9, 2014  7:20am

Slow your roll. This is starting to sound more and more like a money funnel masked with good intentions.

posted by: Noteworthy on July 9, 2014  9:24am

The only reason to approve this revised charter school, and frankly, the original proposal as well, is so Gov. Malloy can try to buy more votes in New Haven. Any thoughtful, professional, arm’s length non-agenda driven review of this charter application will find a myriad of problems and an overall lack of maturity, educational and general management experience. This latest submission has an definitive air of desperation which reminds me of the Eagles….

“Desperado, why don’t you come to your   senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow ...”

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on July 9, 2014  9:51am

I feel sorry for families who may have given up their seats in magnet schools or neighborhood schools to take a chance on BTW. You can’t pull together a school in less than a month no matter how good you are. It certainly isn’t enough time to hire and train a COMPETENT staff as those who would be most qualified have already been hired elsewhere.  What a shame. I’d regain some respect for Morrison if he simply acknowledged the FUSE revelation was a major blow but in the best interest of the children it’s important to delay for a year. At least

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on July 9, 2014  10:36am

When Rev. Morrison and Varick Church members proposed starting a charter school in the Dixwell community, many people assumed that this was a noble plan to provide a quality education for the youth of this community. Many also assumed that this school would be managed and operated by educators from this area, not some “professional” educational management firm with no ties to the community.
Why would any group propose to establish a charter school with state funding and then surrender control to “professionals”?
Maybe I am uninformed and naive, but I think if a group proposes to start a charter school, the state law regulating charter schools should require those groups to have the experience and expertise to run a school. Using state funds to hire out of state companies to run our charter schools does not sit well with me. Is teaching and learning in the 21st century now so complex that we have to import businesses into Connecticut to run our schools and develop curriculums?
I feel the Booker T. Washington charter should be revoked. This group is not prepared for this task. The entire process of obtaining state grants for charter schools needs to be reexamined. The whole idea of getting tax dollars to start a school and then have some out of state firm run it does not seem wise.
This passage in this story about the new group the Varick team has selected to run their proposed school troubles me:
“Yardstick’s “flagship product” is the Parsons Teacher Index, a tool that “predicts and enhances teacher effectiveness.” The tool claims to “quantitatively predict—with statistical significance—the likelihood of teacher effectiveness.””
What tool can predict student achievement as linked to teacher effectiveness? What “flagship product” can predict student success or failure based on the teachers? Teachers and students are human being not robots! Teachers work with the students they have in their classrooms, but the students ultimately must be responsible for learning.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on July 9, 2014  11:03am

Postscript.
The current State education department policy regarding charter schools appears to be that any group without any experience in running a school can propose an idea to establish a charter school and then hire some professional education consulting firm to run that school for them. The firms make millions, local folks get a few crumbs, and hopefully the students get a quality education better than that which would be received in the public schools.
Something appears rotten in the whole state of affairs concerning charter schools if this is how all of them operate!
This is a big industry with these “educational consulting firms” popping up all over the country! Get a PhD and some slick talk and slicker educational jargon and you too can be an expert in urban education. Yes, you can CONvince state education departments to give you millions to run schools by getting local community and religious leaders to obtain state grants for you!
I tremble for my nation when our children’s education has come to this!

posted by: JohnTulin on July 9, 2014  11:23am

“many people assumed that this was a noble plan”

````

no, most people didn’t - certainly no teachers

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 9, 2014  12:34pm

You know what, this is ticking me off…

Not so much because this is an affront to any modicum of intelligence that con artists are lurking about this start-up and stand to make millions…

No, it is more because the Church, the trust folks put in our/their Pastors, the Word,and our Lord and Saviour is being hitched to a half-baked scheme to take PUBLIC funds and make money off of the backs of our most vulnerable citizens and our/their kids….

Now the story where Jesus went into the money-changers temple and freaked out takes on more modern meaning…

posted by: Razzie on July 9, 2014  1:26pm

“The proposal sent to the state is a working draft that is subject to change.”

This whole episode is beginning to STINK! If Rev. Morrison hasn’t filed a final revision, what is there for the DoE to approve? Or does he just expect Malloy to write a check for $2.5 million of taxpayer money and leave the details to be filled in whenever Rev Morrison gets around to it?!! And where are the parents of the so-called 225 students who are waiting for the doors to open in little more than 2 weeks? At a minimum, any vetting by the DoE should also include financial histories as well as criminal background checks on all officers and agents involved.

I find TAP’s comments directly on point, so I will not repeat them. But also, I’m beginning to feel that the BTWA charter application is a very cynical statement on the condition of urban education here in CT. Where else would a Charter Application as weak as this be given any serious consideration for a $2.5 Million grant?!! And this being an election year, we will now find out how desperate Malloy is to pick up a few votes in New Haven.

posted by: middle on July 10, 2014  9:27am

Does anybody know any specifics of the school? Does it have a theme, a curriculum, projects, clubs, any described student experience? Does it have a single lesson plan?

What did those “over 160 students” sign up for?

posted by: Razzie on July 10, 2014  2:39pm

middle on July 10, 2014 9:27am

“Does anybody know any specifics of the school? ...”

Apparently, the only one who knows is Rev Morrison. And he’s not saying until AFTER he gets DoE approval! Strange, indeed!

posted by: Razzie on July 10, 2014  3:31pm

For info on Mosaica Education, the for-profit educational management company where John Taylor and John Parsons worked, the links provided by Threefifths   gives invaluable insights.

1. There is little, if any, overarching educational philosophy for this project, and kids are merely a commodity.

2. Significant cash flow operational deficits have occurred in Mosaica “charters” requiring state “advances” of funds to sustain operations.

3. Several charters have been revoked by the parent jurisdictions prior to completion of the original term.

Rather than calling a “Special Meeting” to get an approval in the hands of BTWA in time for an August start, prudence dictates that the DoE take a LONG, HARD LOOK at this applicant in order that another mistake like the Sharpe/FUSE debacle is not encountered. Anything else would be a profound disservice to the students and parents that may become involved in this encounter.

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