Harmony Charter vote set for next week; appplicant group replaces one member

November 13, 2013

The D.C. Public Charter School Board will vote next week on whether to allow Harmony Public Schools to open its doors in the District next fall, amid questions about its leadership and business practices.

Harmony, the largest charter-school operator in Texas, has a solid academic record but faces lingering questions about its contracting and immigration policies, as well as allegations of connections to a controversial Muslim cleric.

There has also been a recent change in the group that would lead the effort to establish the D.C. school. A member of the group who has been involved in a controversy in Prince George’s County school system resigned in late October, and has been replaced, Harmony’s superintendent told the Washington Post in an interview.

In its application, the charter network listed three members of the D.C. founding group: Harmony Superintendent Soner Tarim, Communications Director Julie Norton and local educator Sharif Salim.

Salim, a former administrator in D.C. Public Schools, was co-founder and principal of Village Learning Center, a D.C. public charter school that was closed in 2004 for fiscal mismanagement and other problems.

Salim went on to work for Prince George’s County Public Schools, according to the resume submitted as part of Harmony’s charter application.

According to county court records, Salim was demoted in 2011 from his position as a middle-school principal after an employee at his school — who was also his son — admitted to hitting a disabled student. Salim has sued the school system, alleging that he was the victim of discrimination because he was the only practicing Muslim among the county’s public school principals.

Neither Salim nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment.

Asked about Salim’s work history, Tarim said Salim resigned from the founding group in late October “for personal reasons.” Tarim said that he met Salim at a conference last year and was impressed with his reputation in the community, but was unaware of the details of Salim’s past employment.

Tarim said he had identified a new member of the founding group, a lawyer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group. The lawyer, Renita Thukral, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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