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

Monday, August 06, 2012

KIPP at Center of Corruption in Camden

KIPP, Inc. has joined forces with the most corrupt and ruthless charter school operator that Philadelphia has to offer, in a takeover bid for large chunks of one of the most vulnerable school communities in America.

Find on this money train, too, a posse of political predators and hungry hangers-on eager to fill their pockets from bleeding dry the public funds for Camden schools. And don't forget the other partner in this business deal, the Cooper Foundation, headed by George Norcross III, whose medical complex sits next door to where the planned KIPP incarceration camp is to be built.

 Norcross's brother, Donald Norcross, sponsored the legislation in Trenton to make the whole deal possible.  Oh, yes, something not in the excellent report below--the "operators" behind the plan are offering $500,000 to the Camden Schools for this property, which is worth millions to a sprawling hospital corporation looking to expand.

So if the whole deal goes bust after 5 years, which has been KIPP's history in Camden, Norcross's corporation will be standing be to do something with that property, yes?

Here is a terrific piece of reporting by the Courier-Journal of Cherry Hill, just down the road from Camden, NJ.  The reporter is Kevin Shelly.

CAMDEN — The school board is weighing Hope Act school proposals that, if approved, could cause thousands of students and tens of millions of dollars to leave the public school system.
The proposals would put schools in three neighborhoods:
• In North Camden, at a site bound by 8th and 9th streets and Linden and Pearl streets. This site is controlled by billboard businessman, lawyer and educational entrepreneur Vahan G. Gureghian, who operates the Chester Community Charter School, Pennsylvania’s largest. A project representative won’t comment on the proposed Benjamin Franklin Academy, which would initially serve 400 students in grades K-6. It would add a grade every year until it reaches grade 12.
• In the Gateway area, at 7th Street and Kaighn Avenue. A K-12 school for 1,200 students is proposed by Philadelphia record producer Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies, a charter school operator in Philadelphia.
• In Lanning Square, at the site of a former public school at Broadway and Washington Street. A partnership of charitable foundations and a California-based charter operator, have proposed a campus of five schools eventually serving more than 2,800 students. The foundations are affiliated with George E. Norcross III, chairman of Cooper Health System.
Here is a look at the applicants:
• Little is known about the planned Benjamin Franklin Academy, the only applicant to keep its submission private. Camden’s planning board approved the North Camden site as a conventional charter school location for Gureghian in December 2011, before passage of the Hope Act.
Morris Smith, a Collingswood attorney and project spokesman, said he wants the school board to vet the proposal before going public. Smith also refers repeatedly to his “client,” rather than using Gureghian’s name.
But much has been written about Gureghian, whose for-profit education management firm runs the Chester charter. His otherbusiness is a billboard firm, Matt Outdoor.
Gureghian is a power broker and major GOP donor in suburban Philadelphia. He was the top donor to Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. He began his career as a lawyer, moved on to the billboard business and added education.
He is the founder and CEO of Charter School Management Inc, which operates the non-profit Chester Community Charter School.
Critics see the charter, which educates the majority of Chester’s K-8 students, as a drain on the troubled Chester-Upland school district. More than a third of the district’s budget goes to the charter school and its nearly 3,000 students.
The charter school is known for giving incentives to students, families and teachers in the form of vouchers and even a trip to Disney World.
The reward system — funded in large measure by Gureghian — extends to Pennsylvania’s mandatory statewide math and reading tests, with coupons handed out for high performance,
But the school’s results on those tests are under scrutiny as a result of an examination of erasure patterns where most or all corrected answers were switched from wrong to right. As a result, the charter is prohibited from monitoring its own testing.
• Kenny Gamble, who wrote “Love Train” and dozens of other early 1970s hits with Philadelphia International Records, is the chairman behind Universal’s application.
Universal began as a community development organization, building affordable homes, acquiring real estate and providing health and wellness outreach. It has branched into high-end housing and charter school operation and management.
Universal’s education management is done in-house and is non-profit, as is the parent company, said Rahim Islam, who runs Universal on a day-to-day basis.
Islam said Universal selected the Gateway site because it is vacant land owned by the state School Development Authority, which could make its acquisition simpler. But he said Universal would move if the school board prefers another site.
Islam said Universal “cut its teeth” running K-8 schools in Philadelphia, but that he prefers the K-12 model because it assures a continuum for students and offers better results.
Some critics have questioned whether Universal is an Islamic organization — Islam and Gamble are both Muslim. Islam said their religion sustains them as individuals, but Universal believes religion is a personal choice and is not a part of their business plan.
Universal, which played a role in developing the Catto School in Camden, sees the Hope Act as an opportunity.
“We stand on the concept there are no easy fixes,” said Islam. “Fixing requires fixing the core and that means bringing in stakeholders.”
• Cooper Lanning Square Renaissance School — also known as KIPP Cooper Norcross — is at once the most ambitious and the most controversial.
Ambitious due to its scope and its linkage with Cooper Health System — but also because of George Norcross’ desire to use the school as a model for Camden’s rebirth.
Controversial, in part, due to the names associated with it.
Norcross’s brother, state Sen. Donald Norcross, was a Hope Act sponsor, so it’s no surprise the Lanning Square plan takes full advantage of the law by proposing a cluster of schools as just one application.
And at a press conference announcing the application, George Norcross said he’d like to see more such projects in the city and across the state. He suggested that eight Hope Act schools permitted in Newark and Trenton could be reallocated to Camden if those cities don’t act on the opportunity.
Norcross’ plans for Lanning Square — adjacent to Cooper’s new medical school — circulated in the city even before the Hope Act legislation was signed in January. The reaction hasn’t always been favorable.
The Lanning Square site once held a city school, that was closed and demolished due to structural defects. Some residents want to see a city school return.
The state and city have spent around $10 million on the site, with plans for the School Development Authority to rebuild the Lanning Square School. But those plans remain in limbo, with the SDA having taken the site off its priority list.
One public school advocate, Mo’Neke Ragsdale, recently warned the SDA she intends to sue if the agency does not move forward with its plans for Lanning Square.
Cooper has asked the SDA about acquiring the site; the state agency owns about 60 percent of Lanning Square.
The school district rebuffed a request to have its portion appraised and told lawyers for Cooper it had no interest selling its portion. Susan Bass Levin, leader of the Cooper charitable foundation, has expressed hope that the board will change its mind once it has a chance to absorb the proposal.
KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, is a well-established charter chain operator that’s already stumbled in Camden.
The nonprofit operated a charter school here, but eventually took its name off Freedom Academy Charter School. The school has continued to falter and is in jeopardy of closing later this month.
KIPP has said it is proposing a new cluster school model known as TEAM, which is in place in Newark, where the state Department of Education has a long history of oversight.
Like many charters, KIPP has a reputation for hiring young inexperienced teachers at modest salaries, but often being heavy on well-paid administration.
Many of its teachers are graduates of the Teach For America program, which trains college graduates to be teachers in return for a two-year commitment to teaching, mostly in urban settings.
TFA’s founder, Wendy Kopp, is married to Richard Barth, KIPP’s CEO.

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