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

Monday, May 06, 2024

Students Remember KIPP: The "Abusive Caregiver"

Are you a former student or teachers eager to share your KIPP story (anonymously if you so choose) about Charlie Randall or his protege and now-convicted child sexual abuser, Jesus Concepcion? If you would like to share your story, please contact me via email: ontogenyx@gmail.com

A former KIPP student that I will refer to as Kayla contacted me in late February of this year.  The interview excerpt below represents the first 6 minutes of a lengthy interview that was recorded in March.  I am posting it now in hopes that other former KIPP students will come forward and share their own KIPP experiences, whether they were recent KIPPsters or attended during the early days of KIPP--as did Kayla.  Kayla was a student in first class of KIPP Academy, the Bronx, and she graduated from KIPP in 2000 and attended high school at a private boarding school in the Northeast.

I will be posting the entirety of Kayla's interview over the coming days.  In order to understand and appreciate the gravity of the sexual abuse and emotional abuse allegations set forth in her interview, let me introduce the adults who are central to this part of Kayla's story.

From Schools Matter, March 11, 2024:

Straight out of undergraduate school and fresh from two year stints with Teach for America (TFA), Mike Feinberg and David Levin found themselves in 1994 running their own school program in an elementary school in Houston, TX. They called their new program KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), and with the help of the rich white elites who were bankrolling TFA, Levin and Feinberg quickly became media darlings and corporate America's next great white hopes for solving the urban "Negro problem" that white philanthropists had fretted about since Emancipation.

The next year KIPP Houston became a separate school under the direction of Mike Feinberg, while David Levin was handed his own school program in New York City, where the white, privileged, and fresh-faced Yale graduate found himself face-to-face with Bronx indigenous cultures entirely foreign to Levin and the other white teachers who were hired to build the first KIPP franchise beyond Houston.

Hoping to garner public attention to KIPP's program, Levin and the NYC Board of Education brought in the renowned school orchestra director, Charlie Randall, who gained fame from his work at a neighboring school in the Bronx, I.S.166.  Randall, who had been a music teacher since the early 70s and the founding director of the I.S.166 orchestra since 1980, brought Levin a skill set that he would desperately need in order to make it in the Bronx. Randall brought PR skills, charisma, street savvy, and local knowledge that Levin did not have and that he came to depend upon in his new position of leadership.  

Charlie Randall also brought with him an attraction to middle school girls, as well as a bad drinking problem.  According to allegations from an anonymous source interviewed by Gary Rubenstein, Randall openly engaged in lascivious behavior among KIPP students, behavior that would have gotten him fired and reported to authorities under normal circumstances. Instead, KIPP eventually promoted Randall and put him in charge of starting orchestra programs at other KIPP schools around the country.  According to Rubenstein

[t]he source, claiming to have firsthand knowledge, alleges that multiple witnesses, including numerous KIPP teachers and leaders, observed Charles Randall’s misconduct but did not report the egregious behavior exhibited by both Randall and Jesus Concepcion.

One account from the source states, “Randall would frequently arrive at school intoxicated. He kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black in the orchestra room and even offered us shots.” Additionally, the source mentioned, “He would often make sexually suggestive remarks about our bodies, accompanied by licking his lips, and the teachers witnessed this behavior but never intervened. It seemed as though no one cared until he began harassing the teachers. It was only then that he was eventually removed from KIPP Academy and reassigned to a national position.”

After covering some preliminaries, my interview with Kayla began thusly:

Q: Okay, we are recording.

A: I want to start by expressing my genuine appreciation for KIPP. If it weren't for KIPP, I wouldn't be where I am today. Your article about students having to earn their desk rather than being given one really struck a chord with me. It highlighted the importance of earning things in life, a perspective I've always carried, especially growing up in the South Bronx where nothing was handed to me. KIPP instilled in me a sense of grit that I'm grateful for to this day.

I would compare my relationship with KIPP to that of an abusive caregiver—sometimes supportive, sometimes harmful. As an adult, I can appreciate the positive impact KIPP had on me, but I also bear scars and unresolved emotional and mental health issues from my time there. Despite approaching my big age, I'm still grappling with these challenges. Having children of my own has provided me with a new perspective.

I recall a conversation a few years ago with a former teacher where I downplayed the significance of certain experiences with what I experienced at KIPP, brushing them off as not a big deal. However, their question about how I would feel if someone did those things to my own children made me confront the gravity of what I went through. It shook me to my core and forced me to reevaluate my feelings.

In essence, I struggled to reconcile the trust I placed in teachers at KIPP with the possibility of them harming my own children. It made me realize that what I experienced wasn't okay or normal, despite my previous attempts to rationalize it. Does that make sense?


Q: Yes, it does make sense.


A: And I feel like a waterfall of emotions just unleashed a couple of years ago, because I said, damn, what happened to me really was fucked up, like really messed up, and it wasn’t just that it was really messed up, but it was Levin’s part in it. I think that's the part that never gets talked about enough. I think that Feinberg was held accountable for his actions, and I think that Levin has gotten to sort of skate under the radar with no accountability. And I always wonder if this kind of stuff keeps him up at night or if he feels any kind of accountability to not just me, but all the people who suffer with her mental and emotional health because they were sexually abused at KIPP.  


And I’ll make it clear that Levin has never touched anyone, and I know that for a fact. No one has ever said that he has, but what we all will say is that he knew what was going on. He may not have known the extent of what was going on, but a teacher licking his lips and saying how curvy we were and how pretty we were and if we were older these are things he would do—and he would say that stuff in front of Levin, and Levin would always look the other way. 


And it was like Levin was the one even before Randall came to our school, Levin was the one who came to our homes, Levin was the one who came for our parents, Levin was the one who sat down with us and our parents and made us sign Commitment to Excellence forms, and like we made a promise to KIPP and KIPP made a promise to us. And that’s what makes KIPP so different from every other school that I have ever been to.  Levin made a commitment to being there and protecting us. I don’t know if you have ever seen a KIPP Commitment to Excellence form, but it was a commitment, just like when you get married, right, you sign that piece of paper, that commits you to someone other.


Q: A contract?


A: Yeah, a contract. Levin made us sign that same thing, so for us to sign this form and to see KIPP be as big as it is, and it feels like there was no reciprocation in terms of, in terms of a lot of things, in terms of the kids who grew up to be adults and teachers—we only have one who has become an actual principal, for the lack of opportunity. And then really allowing abuse to happen, both sexual abuse, and mental and emotional abuse. When I say mental and emotional abuse, colorism was a huge thing at KIPP, a huge thing.  When I say a huge thing, I always felt so bad for the kids who were dark and they were treated a different way, and that's not just Levin or Randall, it was specifically by the white teachers—they were the worst culprits. Randall wasn’t nice to the dark girls either.


KIPP was just a very, a hot bed of all things wrong with education, but they get lauded for all things right. And the only way that I can compare it is like when someone abusive passes away, right? But that person was a pillar in the community. When they die, everyone tells talks about how great they are and the victim? The victim gets minimized.


I feel the same way when I think about KIPP. Like they did all of these weird really twisted things to a whole lot of black and brown children, but then it’s traumatizing to always see them [KIPP] in the news or on social media as being this maven of charter schools, this beacon of education. It's just a hard place to be because it's so hard to reconcile who you are, how you feel, with the tragedy that was your childhood, and just try to figure it all out as an adult.

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