audit findings

Success Academy audit turns up ‘irregularities,’ New York City comptroller says

The New York City comptroller on Monday released an audit that raises “serious concerns” about the operations of Success Academy, the city’s largest and highest-profile charter network.

The audit claims the network collected more than $600,000 in “duplicative and questionable” fees for its services to schools, and argues that Success understated its management costs, an estimated $18.3 million last year.

The audit, which spans fiscal years 2013 to 2015, also calls on Success to reimburse the city for special education services it could not prove were provided.

“Any entity receiving taxpayer dollars must operate efficiently and follow the rules. We found irregularities in this audit of Success Academy that raise serious concerns,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement.

But Success Academy disputed the report, which spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore called “political grandstanding.”

“The comptroller’s office spent two years preparing this report, but couldn’t unearth anything of substance. To prevent Success from disproving its claims and correcting its misunderstandings, which would have been simple, Mr. Stringer ambushed us — providing less than three days to respond,” she wrote in an email.

The report is the fourth in a series of charter school audits Stringer announced in 2014, and focuses on Success Academy Harlem 3.

Stringer has long been a political rival of Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz; the two faced off in a race for Manhattan borough president in 2005. She lost, and helped launched Success shortly after.

Success Academy schools regularly post some of the highest test scores in the city, but the chain has also been accused of pushing out students — especially those with special needs.

Among the report’s other findings: The comptroller could not find written agreements for almost $3 million in loans that were passed through the network to its schools, and proper inventory controls for equipment such as computers and cameras were not in place.

Additionally, background checks for employees at one school took up to four years to complete.

In its response to the audit, Success said the comptroller’s office has misinterpreted its management contract and that the report “reflects a profound misunderstanding of special education invoicing.”

The rebuttal also notes that Success’ own auditors and charter authorizer, State University of New York, have “consistently given Success Academy a clean bill of health with respect to its financial practices.”

Playing around

These Detroit student activists wrote a play about the recent political turmoil in city schools. Watch it here.

Students in the 482Forward youth organizing collective perform a play about recent events in Detroit schools.

It’s been a nerve-wracking year in Detroit education, with state officials threatening to shutter two dozen city schools for years of low test scores, then backing off closures in favor of “partnership agreements.”

It’s all been very complicated, which is why a group of Detroit students wrote and performed a play about recent events in the city schools.

Called “Fork in the Road: Succeeding with us or failing without us,” the play was staged for an audience earlier this month at a church on the city’s east side. It was performed by the youth arm of 482Forward, a citywide education organizing network.

“It was their idea to do the play,” said Molly Sweeney, 482Forward’s director of organizing. The students involved wrote and performed the play, she said. “Given all the chaos in the city and everything being so confusing, this was a way of explaining the partnership agreements in a fun and interactive way.”

The play features a student who receives messages from the future via Snapchat that warns of dire consequences if students, parents and teachers are not involved in the work of turning around struggling schools.

Watch it here:

Fork in the road 1 from 482forward on Vimeo.

Building Better Schools

Training overhaul aimed at a big IPS shortfall: Just 1 in 4 student teachers stick around.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Seventy-four student teachers trained in Indianapolis Public Schools last year. But just 17 of those freshly minted educators were hired by the district after they graduated.

In a district where some schools struggle to hire enough teachers, that gap is a problem.

That’s why IPS is revamping teacher training to give student teachers more time in the classroom and attract new educators to the district.

“We really need to focus in on the folks who are student teaching in our buildings, making sure they have a really strong experience,” said Mindy Schlegel, who leads human resources for the district.

In order to attract new teachers and make sure they are well prepared, IPS is rolling out a host of plans, from making sure student teachers in traditional programs are working with experienced mentors to launching two new residency programs.

The residencies, which will be selective, will allow students to spend one to three years in the classroom — far more than the six to nine weeks education students typically spend teaching, said Schlegel.

Those plans are among three programs getting a boost from a new grant program run by the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that supports Indianapolis school reform.

  • IPS received a three-year, $207,000 grant to pay for a staffer dedicated to improving student teaching in the district;
  • KIPP Indianapolis received a three-year, $38,500 grant for a new yearlong leadership program for current teachers; and
  • Christel House Academy received a $20,000 grant to plan IndyTeach, a transition-to-teaching program at the charter school that it plans to pilot in 2017-2018.

The program will support new efforts to improve teacher recruitment, training, retention and diversity, said Jackie Gantzer, director of talent strategy for the Mind Trust.

“A lot of the best solutions to any one of those pieces is likely going to be developed and driven locally by schools and networks and the teachers who are in that environment,” she said. “We are really interested in testing those hypotheses and seeing what is effective and what can potentially be scaled.”

IPS plans to begin the first teaching residency this fall, with about 10 students from Purdue University’s online degree program in special education. The students will train in IPS schools during the three-year program.

The other residency is still in the planning stages, but the aim is to assign college students to work with experienced teachers in schools using new teacher-leadership models.

One reason the district is focusing its attention on improving recruitment of student teachers is that it is hard to attract educators from other areas, Schlegel said.

“A lot of urban districts are moving in this direction because it is so difficult to get teachers to relocate,” she said. “(We) are really refocusing our recruitment efforts to what local pipelines exist.”