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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 06/06/2012

Should Chesapeake Science Point have its charter extended?

The Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Anne Arundel County is an academic powerhouse. Most of its students get high scores on state standardized tests, and some of them successfully compete in state and international math competitions. But if you look at this assessment by the county’s school superintendent of how the school operates, you might give it a failing grade.

Today, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education is considering renewing the school’s charter for five more years. Superintendent Kevin Maxwell has recommended a charter extention despite the big problems he wants fixed at the school, which opened seven years with a middle school and is building a high school by expanding a grade a year.

Maxwell wants the school, among other things, to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, reform the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity. The high school, whic is adding 11th grade in the fall, is on probation for the next two years. The CSP middle school is not on probation.

“It’s a school that is having tremendous academic success but has had throughout its seven-year history tremendous difficulty with operational compliance,” said Maxwell spokesman Bob Mosier.

Many of the issues Maxwell raised have been cited by authorities elsewhere about other charter schools in the network said to consist of about 135 charter schools in some 25 states run by followers of a reclusive Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen. There are also Gulen-affiliated schools in dozens of other countries.

Gulen has preached modern Islam and is said to have great influence in Turkey. The FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education have been investigating whether some employees at some of these schools are “kicking back part of their salaries” to the Gulen Movement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this story. The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network in the last year, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.

CSP officials say that CSP is not a Gulen-affiliated school but they are aware that many people think it is. Asked if he thinks someone is trying to destroy the school because of this perception, Spear Lancaster, the chairman of the CSP’s nine-member governing board, said, “No ifs, ands or buts.”

“There is no link” between CSP and the Gulen Movement, said Ben Karaduman, executive director of the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, which operates CSP. He said people call him a Gulen follower because “I am Turkish and I am Muslim.”

He also said CSP has “four or five” teachers with Turkish backgrounds. “Any school who employs a Muslim or a Turkish person is automatically a Gulen charter school. No. That’s not right,” he said.

Sharon Higgins, an independent researcher on the Gulen Movement who maintains this Web site, says that it is common for officials at network charter schools to deny any connection.

According to Higgins, Gulen-affiliated schools around the world are known to emphasize math, science and technology — subjects said to be favored by Gulen himself — and provide Turkish cultural instruction.

CSP students can take Turkish culture as an elective (they had a Turkish dinner last November, and last summer a CSP student won a bronze medal from the 9th International Turkish Olympiads held in Istanbul.

Karaduman said that he was “shocked” to see Maxwell’s recommendations last week, and said that the school will implement some of them and engage in discussions with Maxwell on others. He said the county needs to provide a firm set of metrics on which the school should be judged.

County schools officials say they have been clear for years about what they want from the school.

Karaduman also said that many of the school’s students have parents who work in professional fields, including at NASA and at Fort Meade.
“Are those people stupid enough to bring their kids here and endanger them?” he said.

Members of the school’s governing board, which the superintendent wants to be reconstituted are: Spear Lancaster, chairman; Mehmet Kurum, vice chair; Murat Cil, treasurer; Salih Mirasyedi, secretary; Alicia Joseph, Akif Soylu, Michelle Taylor, Suleyman Ulusoy; Lutfi On. All have Maryland addresses.

Here’s the part of an agenda item on the Anne Arundel Board of Education Web site for the panel’s meeting Wednesday. You can see the list of problems that the superintendent has asked CSP to fix.

SUBJECT:

Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School Charter Renewal

BACKGROUND:

The Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, Inc. (Foundation) was initially granted a charter by the Board of Education (Board) to operate the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School (CSP) in 2005. The Board and Foundation entered into their first charter school agreement for a term of five years. The Board and Foundation renegotiated their charter school agreement in January 2008, for a period of four fiscal years, running through June 30, 2012. Pursuant to the current charter school agreement, the Foundation was vested with the right to seek an extension of its charter for an additional term of up to five years, which it did by application on February 1, 2012.

DISCUSSION:

On February 1, 2012, the Board held a lengthy public workshop with staff to discuss the review process and parameters for consideration of this renewal application. Subsequently, at the Board of Education’s meeting of May 16, 2012, the Board engaged in more than six hours of discussion and public testimony as to the delivery of educational services and management practices of CSP..... Having had the benefit of the lengthy discussion at the previous meeting and the information gleaned from the many documents submitted to the Board as part and parcel of its deliberations, the Superintendent submits the following recommendation for the Board’s consideration.

Superintendent’s Recommendation:

The Superintendent recommends that the Board renew the charter for CSP for three years, effective July 1, 2012, pursuant to the following:

CSP may continue to conduct middle and high school programs, provided that its total building enrollment may not exceed 462 students;

The high school program is on probationary status for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years. The Board will determine no later than its first meeting in February of 2014, upon recommendation of the Superintendent, whether to permit the high school program to continue, with or without modification, or to revert CSP to a middle school program only.

As a condition to entering into a renewal of the charter for three years, the Foundation must agree to:

* the exclusive use of the Chancery Student Management System (or the current AACPS student data management system) as the only system for scheduling, grading, attendance, report cards, and online parent access.

* the use of the AACPS Magnet Tracking System, including an external contractor to conduct a lottery, as necessary, for its application and admission process.

* the hiring of Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) in core academic subject areas when such personnel are identified by the Division of Human Resources as available for vacancies, providing the Director of Human Resources with the final right of refusal on hiring when a HQT is available.

* the hiring of fully-certified teachers when identified by the Division of Human Resources as being available for vacancies, providing the Director of Human Resources the final right of refusal to hire conditionally-certified teachers if fully-certified teachers are available.

* compliance with Board Policy GD and Administrative Regulation GD-RA (“Employment of Foreign Nationals”), recognizing that the failure to produce the required official documentation to prove one’s eligibility for employment within the United States will result in candidates not being hired. Moreover, CSP is to pay all applicable fees required for processing employment documentation for foreign national staff whom they choose to work at the school.

* compliance with all Board policies and AACPS regulations as to the competitive procurement and bidding of supplies, services, materials, goods and services, and agreement not to permit any of its contractors or subcontractors to knowingly employ any individual for whom a criminal background investigation has not been initiated, or who has been convicted of committing or attempting to commit a disqualifying offense as defined by AACPS.

* the reconstitution of the governing board of CSP so as to reflect the community it serves, requiring at a minimum that parents of enrolled students elect the majority of the members of the governing board.

* specific measurable milestones and benchmarks to which CSP will be accountable by way of an Accountability Plan, monitored by an electronic oversight and accountability system. The failure to meet such milestones and benchmarks shall result in AACPs withholding from payments otherwise due CSP the cost incurred by AACPS to directly provide such services to remedy the failure of CSP to do so.

The Superintendent further recommends that the Administration by directed to negotiate a revised Charter Agreement with the Foundation, to be submitted by early July to the Board for its approval, at the July 11,

The foundation that runs CSP also runs two other charter schools in Maryland: the Baltimore IT Academy and Chesapeake Math and IT Academy in Prince George’s County.

One of the founders of CSP is now trying to open a charter school based on the CSP model in Loudoun County.

The Virginia Board of Education’s charter school committee recently approved the application for the Loudoun Math & IT Academy — for sixth- through 12th-grade students — and now it must go before the full state board, and then Loudoun County School Board.

The application for the Loudoun school says:

“LMITA is modeled after Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School (CSP), a highly successful charter school in Anne Arundel County, MD.”

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 06/06/2012

 
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