Uncharted, Part 3: Proposed school’s model has troubling finances, relationship with school system
Applicants for the Loudoun Math & IT Academy have made two promises about its model school, Chesapeake Science Point Academy (CSP): its successes will be repeated and its failures won’t.
CSP’s troublesome and sometimes adversarial relationship with Anne Arundel County, combined with the Loudoun applicants’ lack of educational experience raise questions as to whether or not the school could be successful in Loudoun.
Criticism of CSP
The applicants are seeking to model CSP’s IT/STEM curriculum, parental involvement and high standardized test scores.
CSP has a history of academic successes, often outperforming Maryland and Anne Arundel County schools on the state’s standardized tests, the Maryland School Assessments (MSAs).
It won the Charter School of the Year Award in 2010 from the Maryland Charter School Network, beating out 41 other schools for the position.
It has had students place in state, national and international math and science competitions, including the International Turkish Olympiads and the Young Scientist Challenge sponsored by the Discovery Channel and 3M.
These success haven’t stopped the school from locking itself into bitter disputes with Anne Arundel County.
Last summer, CSP and its governing board, the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, sued the county for $737,000, claiming it had been denied proper funding based on the school’s growing enrollment.
That lawsuit is currently under court-mandated mediation, according to Anne Arundel County spokesman Bob Mosier.
“We responded [to the lawsuit] saying we’ve given everything you should get,” Mosier said.
The Washington Post reported that the school’s first director, Jon Omural, was removed in March 2006 after teachers filed a union complaint alleging gender-based discrimination.
In The Washington Post story, Anne Arundel officials said an investigation found evidence of teacher harassment, changing class sizes and spotty attendance by teachers and students.
Fatih Kandil, one of LMITA’s applicants and the founder and former principal of the Horizon Science Academy in Dayton, Ohio, became principal after the incident from 2006 to 2011.
He moved to Loudoun in 2010 for family reasons and has served as principal of the Baltimore IT Academy in Baltimore since April.
Problems continued to plague CSP during Kandil’s tenure despite high academic achievement.
The school’s charter was temporarily renewed for the next three years, but a report issued by the school system pointed to problems with several areas at the school.
“The learning curve in Anne Arundel County was huge,” Kandil said. “I noticed that the perception was not in place in terms of understanding how to operate a charter school. It took us a lot of time.”
The report states that CSP didn’t have enough capital by the end of fiscal 2012 to pay existing expenses. It charges the school with using money from county construction grants to pay the school’s operating costs, a violation of the legal agreement signed with the county.
“We received that money from the county council, so that wasn’t a dollar coming from the school system,” Kandil said. “The council approved a grant and we were being underfunded.”
The money was used as an emergency measure because the school wasn’t getting its correct cost-per-pupil funding, Kandil said.
He also claims a small percentage of the money wasn’t used for construction.
The school system’s report disputes this, saying the grants continue to fund the school’s operating budget.
He said the school system wasn’t immediately informed of their decision because money came from county government, not the school system.
“We don’t understand why they made a big deal of it,” Kandil said.
The school system’s report also states the school “had an excessive amount of counseling or disciplinary issues that were reported,” with a common theme of sub-standard school administration.
Ali Gokce, the leader of the LMITA applicants and potential executive director for the school, said CSP’s problems needn’t be repeated in Loudoun.
“I hadn’t heard of them [the problems],” Gokce said. “Since we are close to them, with these issues, we are able to get their side of the story.”
He said third-party auditors vindicated CSP’s arguments.
“The opposition is trying really to put CSP down,” Gokce said. “They want to create the delusion that the same problems will happen here.”
He cited two of CSP’s sisters schools, owned by the foundation, the Baltimore IT Academy and the Chesapeake Math and IT Academy, did not have problems with their school systems.
“These two schools are under the same umbrella, and the problems did not move from one school to the other,” Gokce said.
Sharon Inetas, one of the applicants working to put together the school’s budget and build private sector alliances, said the troubled relationship was because the school system and CSP didn’t work closely enough at the school’s formation.
Inetas said they would be sending monthly finance reports to Loudoun County if the charter was approved.
“You’re nipping fires in the bud right from the get go,” Inetas said.
A ‘Gulen school’?
Beyond questions of operation, some opponents are also concerned about the potential nature of the school, claiming it would be the latest Gulen school, named after reclusive Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The opposition believes that a network of Gulen followers controls more than 100 charter schools. The schools in question frequently deny that they are operated by Gulen’s followers with a religious intent.
Gulen’s website states he is opposed to terrorism, cooperation between different religions, the compatibility of science and faith and democracy as the only viable form of government.
Both Gokce and Sahin told the Times-Mirror and the public several times that religion won’t be taught in the schools. Neither would not favor Turkish teachers in their hiring processes, but acknowledged the
similarities of the schools across the country.
The alleged “Gulen” charters schools have often brought in teachers from Turkey using H-1B work visas. The school system or the school’s private governing bodies have paid the visas, depending on the charter school.
“We won’t discriminate, but we will look for teachers who we can work with,” Gokce said. “We will work with LCPS. They’ll monitor, they’ll say up or down.”
A U.S. State Department cable, released by Wikileaks along with tens of thousands of others, took interest in the possibility of Gulen schools.
The cable, sent in 2006 by the American Embassy in Turkey, counts 30 science academies set up as charter schools in the U.S. and notes that many applying for visas are doing so to teach at charter schools.
“These presumed adherents remain reticent about revealing their affiliation with Gulen,” a state department official writes. “Some applicants subsequently have explained this reticence in the context of either fear of reprisal by the secular Turkish establishment or uncertainty about the U.S. government’s position towards Gulen.”
This is the third of a three-part series on the Loudoun Math & IT Academy’s proposed charter. The first installment focused on the background and motivations of the applicants and the second focused on the charter school application process.
Editor’s Note: Ali Gokce is the executive director of the project and husband of a former employee of the Loudoun Times-Mirror. This relationship has had no impact on coverage of this charter school application.