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

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Students Remember KIPP: The "Abusive Caregiver," Part 2

Former KIPP student, Kayla, was a child when David Levin came to New York to start KIPP's second school and the first one in the South Bronx, where she lived. In this second part of my interview with her, she talks about the arrival of renowned school orchestra teacher, Charlie Randall, whose knowledge of the community and its cultures became an invaluable asset to David Levin.

Charlie Randall brought skills that earned him a free pass from professional, legal, and ethical expectations that govern the conduct of other employees of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), which retained responsibility for KIPP school oversight and governance until 1998--when the state legislature passed the New York Charter Schools Act of 1998.

During those early years when Charlie Randall's musical prowess was putting KIPP on the media map, as well as garnering the valuable attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gap, Inc., we find out that Levin is alleged to have ignored obvious indications of child sexual exploitation, rather than protecting the vulnerable children that he gave lip service to protecting and serving. 

Click here for Part 1 of Kayla's interview.

Students Remember KIPP: The "Abusive Caregiver," Part 2

I: Can you tell me when you were a student at KIPP?

A:From the 90s to the early 2000s.

I: So that must've been right after Levin came to New York and started the school.

A: I was in the founding classes.

I: So that was a grades five through eight school?

A: KIPP was just starting so it was one class at a time. [New KIPP schools began one grade at a time and added a grade each year]:

I: Now this, Mr. Randall that you talked about in our initial conversation, can you tell me how Randall came into the picture and what his relationship was with David Levin?

A: So Randall came in about 3 years after KIPP Bronx was founded. I believe we started playing our instruments in the sixth grade. Randall came from IS166. Randall was the best musical instructor in the state of New York if not beyond, like he is a musical savant and genius. And what he was lauded for, was being able to teach black children, black and brown children, how to play music.

So Randall came in and was able to do a couple of things for Levin. He came in and gave Levin some swag. Randall gave Levin the ability to talk to black people and Spanish people, not from a place of authority, but from a place I guess of love and understanding. Randall was actually sent in to mentor us, and he mentored Levin. And to really speak to us in a way that Levin could not speak to us or that Corchran, who was also white, couldn’t speak to us.

And then he came in and taught us music, and the music program is what got  KIPP on 60 Minutes and in front of Oprah, and that check from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gap, and all those things. So it was the music program that catapulted Kipp. So that was a promise that Randall made to Levin, it was like we will make sure KIPP grows into this really big thing, the music program is at the center of KIPP, and on top of that, we will give more structure to the school—you guys have the academics, but you do not know how to talk to black people. You don't really know how to come to the hood and talk to these people.

So that's what Randall did, and so Randall became Levin’s mentor.

I: Now, do you know if it was Randall who approached Levin or Levin who approached to Randall, or if someone else introduced them.

A: You know I am not sure, I was 11 years old at the time.  It was just that Randall is here, and I was told that Randall is going to be my counselor.

I: So you were 11 years old, and he was going to be your counselor. Was he at the school full time, or was he there just part-time, or did you know?

A: Full time.

I: So he was a counselor as well as a music teacher?

A: Yes.

I: Can you talk about your experience with Mr. Randall as your counselor?

A:At first, it was a really positive experience, because I had a whole lot of shit going on at home. My home situation was terrible, and so Randall became like a grandfather to me very quickly—giving me money, buying me things, just talking to me about my problems, how things are going, giving me advice, but importantly, just giving me hope. Because if there is one thing that I lacked, was hope in my situation, and he gave me so much of that. So that was one thing that I really appreciated about Randall.

I: And he was African-American, is that right?

A: Yes.

I: So it looked positive in the beginning, and was he also your music teacher?

A:He was everyone's music teacher.

I: Do you know how long he was at KIPP, at that particular school?

A: Around 2004

I: Do you know why he left?

A: because he got too many complaints about being fresh with teachers and students.

I: But there was nothing about a detailed kind of scandal involving him and students and or teachers?

A: By then, there was a big scandal with him and Sara Martinez.

I: Sara Martinez?

A: Sara was was the loudest.  She was like, look, this man molested me, my mental health is suffering, and I need KIPP to address it.

I: And how old was she when she came forward?

A: We were  teenagers—I want to say she started doing it when she was a teenager, 15 or 16, somewhere in there. By then, I spearated myself- started living my own life outside of KIPP. But I remember when she started doing it. And what happened was, she started talking to everyone about it, talking to Levin, to Mr. Martinez [gym teacher], Mr. Myers. She would talk to anyone who would listen, and they just kept shooing her away and making her feel like an outcast.  Eventually, when the story started hitting the newspapers, maybe like 2019, sometime around there, when the story started hitting the newspapers, as Jane Doe from KIPP and sexual harassment, and all these stories, they fired Mr. Martinez and said that Martinez had a duty to report. And Martinez said, I did report, and you guys didn't do anything about it. Not only did you guys not do anything about it, but you knew about other incidents with the other guy, the other music teacher [Jesus Concepcion].  So Martinez ended up being the fall guy because he couldn't prove that he told Levin.

[Rather than 2019, the story did, indeed, start “hitting the newspapers” in 2017, as this article in the New York Times provided an account consistent with the facts in Kayla’s interview.]

I:  And Martinez, what role did he play, was he a principal?

A: He was a gym teacher.

I: So was he in a position of authority, was he an assistant principal also?

A: Just a gym teacher.

I: So Sara Martinez reported this to Mr. Martinez, who was a gym teacher, correct?

A: And to Mr. Levin.

I: You mentioned Mr. Corcoran, who was he?

A: Eventually, he was a principal, but most of the time, he was a math teacher.

I: Mr. Levin, was he at the school or was he away from the school as an administrator at that time?

A: He was at the school.

I: He was there?

A: He was there, every day.

I: And Mr. Corchran, again was . . .

A: He was a founding math teacher, and eventually he became a principal.

I: And how many students would you guess were in the fifth and sixth grade – I know you were young.

A: About 60.

I: About 30 and each grade?

A: Yeah.

I: Mr. Randall—let’s get back to him a bit. Did things change with Mr. Randall in terms of your relationship with him?

A: so, in the beginning it was about comfort and mentorship and counseling.

I: Right.

A: Eventually it became more. What Randall started to do very quickly when we were in the sixth grade was pit girls against one another. He really pitted friends against friends. We were always pitted against one another—about who was his favorite. It was no secret that Randall gave us money, gave us a special privileges, and there was favoritism for us over everyone else, which wasn’t cool.

I: You would be competing for his attention, perhaps?

A: Attention and affection, yeah.

I: Okay.

A: and he would tell people, these are my faves. But he would also tell people that we were sexy and that we had nice shapes, and again, we were 11. One thing that was unique about Kipp is that we had access to the teachers 24/7, and they had access to us. Because it was required that we add our teachers’ phone numbers, so, Mr. Randall always had access to us. And it could be seven or 8 o'clock at night, then I could call Mr. Randall and say hey, I need money, and he would, wherever he was, stop by and give me money if I wanted McDonalds or food or whatever.

And that would never fly in 2024, like why is a grown man visiting a child on her side of town to give her money. That’s grooming, right?

I: Right.

A: I say all of that to say that what was counseling initially turned into grooming eventually. So by the time that seventh grade happened, it was just full-on, more, than it should have been.

I: Right.

A: and it was always under the guise of access because KIPP gave you access.

I: do you feel like it was happening to more people than just you and your close circle of friends?

A: I only know about girls from my class. I don't know who else. Actually, one girl said that Mr. Randall raped her when she was a teenager.

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