John McDonogh Part 2 (Rebuilding a Culture of Corruption)

John McDonogh Part 2 (Rebuilding a Culture of Corruption)

The John Mcdonogh story is one of obvious lies, reckless endangerment and exploitation of children, and utter disregard for the input of parents and community members. John McDonogh is a bridge from our past, to our present and a window on what the future of our education system will look like, statewide and nationwide, if we continue to allow corporations and politicians (more interested in making their donors happy than their constituents) run our school systems into the ground in the name of “Reform”. To everyone I’ve spoken to, John McDonogh embodies the culture of corruption festering within our education systems and communities. . . and is made even more poignant and infuriating because there is absolutely no excuse for the persistence of this situation, except greed, incompetence and antipathy.

Let’s start with the past. From my discussions I’ve learned that in the early 2000’s, pre-Katrina, John McDonogh was already falling apart and largely abandoned by the Orleans Parish School board. I’ve heard some stories of corrupt contracts related to equipment that was supplied to the school by School Board members or family of board members, and stories of mice falling from the ceiling during classes and holes in classroom floors that allowed the curious to peek in on what the classroom below was studying that day. The mold, termites, rat infestations, boarded up windows, faulty roof, faulty wiring and asbestos, that I will show you later did not all occur post-Katrina. This was a school that has long been languishing and so when education Reform proponents hold up New Orleans as evidence of a failed public model, they had a point in many areas. However what I can’t quite fathom is how they could hold up a school like John Mcdonogh as evidence of a failing school system, and then not only fail to remedy the situation but make the situation worse, even after collecting 35 million dollars in grants to address the serious health problems for which they had ample evidence?

In 2011, John White got on TV and told the people of New Orleans, and the United States that he had 35 million dollars dedicated for fixing up this school. 2 years later John White and RSD still has the money, but John Mac is even worse off than before. This school gained national attention in 2012 after becoming the subject of an Oprah Winfrey documentary “BlackBoard Wars.” A charter operator called FIN (Future Is Now) schools was given rights to operate John Mac in 2012. The money gained from that exploitation by Steve Barr, the director and founder of FIN, has not been fully accounted for. Black Board Wars was not a project which was ever approved by the School’s own cozy board of Directors as this letter to Barr clearly states. Barr has not been especially forthcoming about an additional federal grant of 800,000 dollars (provided by way of New Schools for New Orleans) that partially funds Barr’s salary and the 115k salary of a 9th grade principal position (at the 9-12 school) who oversees 13 students.

Prior to the handover of this school to a private charter organization, the school posted less than stellar School Performance Scores (SPS). But the latest score, a 9.3 out of 150 is borderline absurd.

Operator Year SPS Score out of 150
RSD

2008

20.9

RSD

2009

21.6

RSD

2010

32.2

RSD

2011

41.8

FIN

2012

9.3

The line in the article about graduation rates adding 40 points to their SPS score is ridiculous. Those modifiers are multipliers that add or subtract a few percentage points depending on whether the school did better or worse than the average in terms of graduation rate. If the school had more graduates than normal (with an SPS score of 9.3 out of 150 I find that very doubtful) they might have added a point or two. In all likelihood their score would have been even lower. This does not explain the nearly 80% drop in scores from when RSD had them to when Future Is Now schools took them over. It would be very easy to blame the new charter for these scores. However what I think is more likely is that RSD engaged in cheating starting around 2010 to start raising their scores, at least at John Mcdonogh. When teachers tried reporting cheating to John White when he was in charge of RSD he had them terminated rather than investigate. It’s quite likely that RSD is rife with cheating that is encouraged by the State to promote the RSD model. This is a pattern that happened in DC, and Atlanta, and very likely happened in a widespread manner in RSD and is probably still happening. At the last BESE meeting a teacher from RSD actually brought up a case where he was dismissed by John White shortly after coming forward with evidence of teachers visiting the homes of students and reading the actual test questions before the state tests. Rather than investigate this situation, this teacher was terminated. That termination serves as a lesson to other teachers who would dare report cheating, and an encouragement to do so. It would seem that cheating is more extensive than many would lead you to believe, and cheating can take many forms as this article shows.

The incentives for cheating can be immense. Teachers get rewarded if their students do well on these tests. In one case a New Orleans charter school (New Beginning’s) awarded cash in excess of 43,000 dollars to specific teachers whose students test scores had miraculously improved. The chief operations officer in charge of these outlandish payouts at New Beginnings in 2011, Stephen Osborn, was subsequently recruited and appointed to be an Assistant Superintendent at LDOE in charge of Special Programs (although they called it Office of Special Program’s support it was the same position formerly held by Donna Nola-Ganey.) John White was promoted to State Superintendent of Education with a 275,000 dollar annual salary after overseeing, and perhaps covering up, many instances of cheating. Charter operators can keep and gain very lucrative contracts if their schools post extraordinary gains. The incentives for charters schools can easily run to the millions of dollars.

While there is money to made by doing something to improve test scores, like cheating, there are many millions of dollars of dollars more to be made and dispensed for doing nothing at all.

This is the angle, and shot of the school when most news outlets do stories about John McDonogh.

These are some of the photos of the school from slightly different angles that you will see if you are actually a student, parents or live in the neighborhood of this school.

+

Those pictures of the outside are hard to look at. Obviously this is neglect and damage that took place over more than the half dozen or so years RSD ran the joint. However, RSD has the power and the money to actually fix this situation. They have a fixed up a few of the more common areas of the interior of the school, they have fixed the roof, but they left a majority of the school boarded up like a condemned building. The inside is filled with mold, asbestos, termites, roaches and rats. To date, RSD has done nothing to address previous photos and documented evidence of serial neglect. Executive communications director, Zoey Reed has provided the reason RSD is sitting on 34.2 million dollars that John White promised in 2011 on national television would be spent on renovating John McDonogh.

On Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 10:12 AM, Zoey Reed <Zoey.Reed@rsdla.net> wrote:

“Also, as far as timeline, the charter schools work with the RSD on timing, FIN of John McDonogh asked the RSD not to start renovations because students would have to move and they were building school culture and didn’t want the disruption. “

The reason provided is that FIN is building “school culture,” and would rather live in a culture of filth, squalor, mold, leaking windows, and rat feces for the 300 students they have on a campus that can house well over 1000. They want to preserve a culture responsible for an SPS score of 9.3 out of 150. These groups have not rebuilt John Mcdonogh. What they have rebuilt is a culture of corruption.

My belief is they want to preserve the 34.2 million dollars to promise to another school on national TV for another renovation that will never take place. My belief is they want to give the 34 million dollars to private entities in the form of more enormous pay raises and bonuses for managing 13 students or improving a test score or two through “creative” student assistance. I do not believe RSD should be waiting until 2016 to start renovating a building that currently looks like it should be condemned. I do not believe a school with an SPS score of 9, running a 900,000 deficit (after dispensing their 800,000 grant to themselves) should be allowed to run this school any longer.

This school should be fixed up and given back to the community. The Orleans School Board failed. RSD failed. Chartering failed. It is time to return this school to the community and renovate it, and see if they can succeed, where so many have failed this school so completely. How could anyone succeed in an environment like the one shown below? Oprah Winfrey’s Network advertised John McDonogh as the most dangerous school in America. Based on these photos have been right, but not for the reasons they were telling their audience. By the looks of these pictures just getting out of this school alive is an accomplishment.

Figure 1 rotting wood

Figure 2 Mold behind all walls and ceilings


Figure 3 Rat Feces/termites?/rotting wood


Figure 4 asbestos

These pictures were taken two years ago. Reports were requested from RSD showing any mold remediation or repairs that were done. The only reports listed involved a new roof and heating and air repairs some bleachers and sprinklers.

On Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 10:12 AM, Zoey Reed <Zoey.Reed@rsdla.net> wrote:

In response to your records request please find the documents responsive to your inquiry. I also wanted to provide some context to what you are reviewing. The budget to renovate John Mac is $34.2 million. These funds will come from FEMA, this is a part of the over $1.8 billion school facilities master plan where all students will be in a new, renovated or refurbished building. This is one of the largest school redevelopment projects in the country. In the interim, the RSD has spent about $865,000 on a new roof, HVAC repairs and sprinklers and bleachers in the gym.

The attached documents were created in 2008 and in 2011 when the master plan was revisited. We have attached documents on assessments which we have done for every school. These documents show that, like all of our schools, John McDonogh needs to be renovated. We have done immediate upgrades to ensure the safety and well-being of each student until the large scale renovation takes place. Attached you will find the following documents responsive to your request:

Is this building one of the least serious in all of RSD such that it can wait until 2016, 11 years after Katrina to start to be fixed even though the money to fix it is already there? Almost all of New Orleans had to be repaired after the storm, often with little federal assistance. How can RSD justify allowing this building to poison our kids while they sit on their hands and 34+ million dollars? If someone at RSD really believes that “school culture” that produces a 9.3 SPS score trumps basic human safety and decency for children they need to be fired. This situation is beyond disgraceful. The situation at John McDonogh is criminal and negligent. None of the people that have allowed this situation to fester should ever be allowed to claim they are doing anything for children ever again. The staff responsible for allowing this situation to exist should all be fired, but more importantly, students should be moved off campus to somewhere healthy and renovation plans and repairs should begin immediately. No school and no child should have to operate under conditions like this.

I doubt this will be the last story I do on John McDonogh, but if the next story I do is not about how RSD decided to move the renovation timeline up and to find a healthy environment for these kids to attend class I’m going to be really pissed. I can’t even imagine how the parents of these children must feel. If the FIN charter operator cares anything for these children they should be lobbying for this renovation more than anyone: anything less is inexcusable.

If you would like to express an opinion on this situation directly to RSD please contact Zoey Reed. I’m sure she will be eager to hear from you.

    Zoey Reed

    Executive Director of Communications

    External Affairs

    504.373.6200 ext. 20180 (o)

    504.333.2800 (m)

I hope my regular readers can forgive my recent foray and seeming obsession with Common Core developments in our state. What is going (or not going on) with Common Core in our state is a big deal with wide ranging implications. Moreover, traditional media sources are covering this topic very poorly and with a significant corporate bias. After attending and seeing footage from various venues across the state and I amazed at the complete disconnect/fabrication of what I’ve seen or witnessed transpiring and what has been reported in the newspapers and TV news. Through the vast conspiracy and corruption parents are seeing through their exposure to how our politicians, BESE board, Superintendent of Education and governor are handling Common Core they finally starting to wake up and recognize they no longer live in a representative democracy, but as inconsequential cogs in a corporate machine designed to harvest as much wealth from us and our children as they can dream up in their private meetings. The situation with John McDonogh is no different.

Long meeting, disappointing results (LFT summary of the October BESE meetings)

I received this summary of the October 15th and 16th BESE meetings from the LFT (Louisiana Federation of Teachers). I am working on a few longer, neglected, pieces but I will be sending out a few brief updates on various topics as I get them. I am more than happy to relay the summaries of others to show different perspectives of how these decisions are being received and the impacts they are having on different education stakeholders.

 

 

Long meeting, disappointing results

At a marathon BESE meeting, members punted the Common Core controversy to local school boards and teachers, ignored educators’ requests for help with curricula and resources, and promised little relief from a flawed and unaccountable Value Added evaluation model.

October BESE meeting an endurance trial

The October meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was an endurance trial. Ever since BESE reduced its monthly meetings from two days of committee hearings to one, the agenda has been very crowded. The board’s current practice is to hold committee meetings on a Tuesday, during which all testimony is heard on agenda items. A full board meeting is then held on a Wednesday, when the full board votes on recommendations made by committees.

The full board meetings generally conclude within a couple of hours, while committee meetings have been stretching late into the night.

The October committee meetings strained everyone’s patience. A meeting on the controversial Common Core State Standards that was supposed to begin at 2:30 P.M. was three hours late getting started. Citizens who came expecting to speak were not allowed to begin their testimony until about 6: 30 P.M., and were limited to two minutes apiece. Even so, the meeting did not end until nearly 11 P.M.

Parents who had traveled from as far away as Shreveport and spent the night in Baton Rouge waiting to speak were disappointed to learn that they would only be allowed to make brief comments.

BESE President Chas Roemer said that board members travel the state and hold public meetings on issues, and voiced no support for a meeting schedule that is more convenient for the public.

 

Heated debate, little change on Value Added evaluation model

Several hours of sometimes heated discussion, the board decided to seek a new opinion on the validity of the Value Added Model formula and to increase training offered to educators about the model, but took no action on a request to investigate changes apparently made to some teachers’ value added scores.

On the agenda was a request from BESE Member Lottie Beebe to create a panel of statisticians and mathematicians to determine if Louisiana’s Value Added formula is reliable and credible.

LFT President Steve Monaghan asked, “Is the Value Added Model a valid instrument for measuring teacher effectiveness? Some respected mathematicians believe that Value Added formulae have margins of error better than 30 percent. If that is true, then it is simply wrong to judge our teachers, our schools and our students by such a shaky instrument.”

The formula has been frequently criticized, and there have apparently been several behind the scenes adjustments made to the formula and to individual teacher’s scores.

While Dr. Beebe recommended three qualified individuals to look into the formula, the board approved Roemer’s substitute motion to instead seek a “third party” review of the formula.

Dr. Beebe’s motion would have incurred no additional expense by BESE; it is unclear whether Roemer’s substitute will require a contract, or how much the review will cost.

The board declined to act on Dr. Beebe’s request for a look into waivers of VAM scores that may have been granted to some teachers.

Monaghan said that no written policies have been developed by the Department of Education to guide the issuance of waivers by anyone on either the state or local level.

“Teachers evaluated under VAM have no way to legally challenge the scores imposed on them, and yet an unknown number of scores have apparently been either waived or otherwise adjusted,” Monaghan said.

Even after LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray pointed out that alterations to Teacher Effectiveness Ratings made by the state superintendent of education may violate the law, the board took no further action on the matter.

On the agenda’s final Value Added item, Superintendent of Education John White conceded that more stakeholder training is needed. The board unanimously approved a motion to conduct more training in the future.

 

BESE shifts Common Core responsibility to local school boards

Turning a deaf ear to complaints that controversial Common Core State Standards are not being properly implemented in Louisiana, the state education board tried to deflect criticism by shifting responsibility for the standards to local school systems.

The BESE action was contained in a hastily contrived agenda item that was not properly advertised, and will probably have to be reconsidered in order to be legally adopted.

The board’s tweaks to Common Core rules were aimed at angry parents who fear that a national curriculum is being imposed. BESE members reaffirmed their commitment to Common Core, but did nothing to satisfy educators who said the state has been derelict in its duty to prepare teachers and students for more demanding curricula.

“We believe that the ideas behind Common Core have merit,” LFT President Steve Monaghan said, “but like so many other education reforms that have been imposed recently, there has been a failure to prepare and provision our teachers, our children, and communities for the changes.”

At a committee meeting Tuesday, BESE members listened to hours of testimony. Much of it came from parents who fear federal intrusion into schools. Comments favoring Common Core were given by corporate sponsors and some teachers who were asked leading questions by pro-CCSS board members.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the full board, a new agenda item was introduced in response to the parental concerns.

Part of that resolution says no curriculum can be forced on a local school system, “including any that may be recommended, endorsed or supported by any federal or state program or agency.” Instead, BESE intends to give local districts and teachers more autonomy in choosing textbooks and learning materials.

That did not sit well with educators like Monaghan, who said from the start that BESE and the department of education have shirked their duty to prepare for more demanding course work. The LFT president pointed out that the state had promised to provide curriculum information as part of an agreement to waive some sections of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. BESE, he said, is “passing the burden on to teachers and schools.”

The motion also guaranteed the public the right to review textbooks and other materials, and promised that student social security numbers won’t be used as test identification numbers.

When audience members objected to a new agenda item being adopted without proper notification or a committee hearing, BESE President Chas Roemer said he believed the item was “germane” to the issues under discussion.

 

Charters approved over parental objections

Two charter school organizations that currently operate in Louisiana were given permission to open schools in Lafayette, East Jefferson and East Baton Rouge Parishes, despite parental and school board opposition.

Lafayette parents and concerned citizens voiced opposition to decision, after the parish school board voted 8-2 to reject the charter applications at the local level.

Lafayette Superintendent of Schools Pat Cooper spoke against his board’s decision. Cooper said the need for new facilities in Lafayette convinced him to support the charter expansion.

Some Lafayette parents, however, said that voters are ready to pass a tax to cover the cost of new construction. The charter schools, they argued, will exclude the most needy children because of their geographic location and their “first come, first serve” enrollment style.

 

New rule favors private voucher schools

A new rule approved by BESE will allow non-public tuition organizations to advertise in ways that promote particular private schools. If the change goes into effect, it will overturn a current regulation prohibiting the promotion of a particular school over other qualified schools.

The tuition organizations allow Louisiana taxpayers to get a 95% rebate on donations, which are sent to non-public schools on behalf of parents and students.

The rebate has been controversial because of its cost to the state, and because the governor vetoed a similar measure that would have allowed rebates for donations to public schools.

The new rule must still be published in the Louisiana Register and opened for public comment before it can go into effect.