"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Imagine MASTer Academy: On Probation

Looks like things aren't all red and rosy for Dennis Bakke's Imagine Schools. The Imagine MASTer Academy, which has already been through its fair share of scandals, has finally been placed on probation. Ball State University, the sponsor of the school, practically admits they were oblivious to the problems at Imagine, claiming most schools with good test scores rarely have governance issues (might want to double-check that line of thinking, folks). Readers should note that none of this would have happened without the fine work of the Journal Gazette and a few knowledgeable citizens. From Kelly Soderlund at the JG:

Wells St. Imagine placed on probation

BSU cites issues from JG report

Kelly Soderlund
The Journal Gazette

Ball State University has placed Imagine MASTer Academy on probation after a nearly three-month investigation into violations of state law and a lack of local control by the charter school’s board, officials announced Monday.

The Imagine MASTer Academy board must take a number of corrective action steps this year, otherwise the school’s charter will be revoked, said John Jacobson, dean of Ball State’s Teachers College, which oversees the university’s charter school office.

If the school meets the goals set forth by Ball State, it will be released from probation, he said.

“It is our hope that this is the outcome with Imagine MASTer Academy,” said Jacobson, who said only the Wells Street school will be placed on probation, not Imagine Schools on Broadway or the yet-to-open Imagine Bridge Academy.

Board President Don Willis was sent a letter from Larry Gabbert, director of the charter schools office, Monday morning detailing Ball State’s concerns and recommendations. Willis could not be reached for comment.

Ball State’s investigation was prompted by a series of stories in November by The Journal Gazette that detailed a lack of local control over the MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway. The newspaper’s investigation found that the MASTer Academy board approved a series of measures outside public meetings that allowed the school to own and open two charter schools in Texas.

Indiana’s Public Access Counselor later determined the board violated state law by not voting in a public meeting.

“As we dug deeper into the governance concerns raised in November, we determine that the board is not yet providing satisfactory oversight of the school, adhering to Indiana’s Open Door Law and not yet fulfilling its fiduciary duties,” Jacobson said.

A panel of Ball State officials interviewed six of the seven Imagine board members and used information outlined in The Journal Gazette articles, Jacobson said.

Concerns detailed in the letter sent to Willis on Monday include:

•Board members were not aware or were not accurate in what the board’s role should be or how it should interact with Imagine Schools Inc., the for-profit company based in Alexandria, Va., that owns the schools.

•Several board members had not read the charter, bylaws or contract with Imagine Schools and didn’t know the length of their terms as board members.

•Several board members said they weren’t involved in the decision to share the board’s non-profit status with the Texas boards. Gabbert scolded Willis saying it was “unacceptable” for him to make the decision by himself without board members’ input and away from the public view.

•Board members were confused by the structure of the board meetings for the three schools; weren’t clear who the boards’ attorney is; and could not say whether the board had officers, with one member saying she “thought she was the secretary of the board but was not certain,” Gabbert wrote.

[Continued here]

Amazingly, this isn't the only Don Willis-affiliated school to run into trouble this month. Willis, the president of the Imagine's MASTer Academy board, also runs the Keystone School, a private religious school also located in Fort Wayne. Facing financial difficulties, Keystone will be forced to shut down unless someone comes up with nearly half a million to continue operations. Parents could be asked to pony up an additional $2,000 to keep the school afloat.
Oh - and what happens to those kids if Willis' school is shuttered? I'll let the good folks at the JG explain:
Keystone is not required to notify the Indiana Department of Education of its closing, spokeswoman Lauren Auld said. Public schools in the area would be required to enroll Keystone students but would not receive additional funding for them, she said.

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