It was Monday, September 30 and right there is front of me, only 25 feet away, stood Soner Tarim, the wizard of charter schools, all the way from Houston, TX (even thought he said in the meeting he lives in Montgomery).
It was the most recent meeting of the state charter school commission and Tarim was there to first tell the world how wonderful things are at LEAD Academy charter in Montgomery; and then give a progress report on the effort to put Woodland Prep in Washington County. It was the first time I’d ever seen him in person.
He dodged question after question for at least an hour, apparently suffering from some malady that prevents a person from giving a direct answer to even the most basic of questions. For instance, when commission member Jamie Ison asked if he lived in Montgomery. he told her he does, which every person in the room knew was untrue. In fact, the next day LEAD board chair Charlotte Meadows went on a Montgomery talk radio show and said that he lives in Houston.
As this dog and pony show droned on, I suddenly realized I had seen this movie before.
It was when I watched the video of him before the Texas State Board of Education on June 14 when he was trying to get approval to open four charter schools in Austin. Just like in Montgomery, he dodged and dodged question after question.
Texas board member Georgina Perez questioned the numbers he had on his application for the Austin charters. She pointed out that the percentages of ESL students he said his schools would service were much lower than the numbers Austin schools have. He told her he was using numbers from a school district in the Houston area. His application said the six public schools in the area where he wanted to put charters were all failing schools. Perez pointed out that the state does not show they are failing. To which Tarim replied that he has his own grading system.
Perez, who taught in El Paso for 17 years, was especially interested in his thoughts about students with discipline issues. At one point, Tarim asked her, “Do you want these kids in your classroom?” She quickly told him that THESE were the students she had worked with. He made a big deal of saying that his schools would use something known as “social, emotional learning.” To hear him tell it this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and because of it, his charters would be far better than Austin public schools. But this bubble burst when someone pointed out that schools in Austin have been doing this for eight years.
During his presentation, Tarim boasted that when he ran the Harmony charter chain of schools, they received a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Board member Pat Hardy of Ft. Worth seized on this and asked Tarim if his schools use Common Core, which is by Texas law illegal.
“Oh no,” replied Tarim. “Common Core is a dirty word. We are 100 percent Texas.” Hardy then pointed out the Tarim’s $6 million grant was for Race To The Top, a Federal program that required recipients to use Common Core. At this moment Tarim looked like a deer in the headlights.
(Tarim’s application to open four charters in Austin was denied.)
I interviewed both Perez and Hardy by phone. Hardy told me that she could not believe Alabama was being hoodwinked by Tarim. Perez said that Tarim should not be allowed near a school–much less allowed to run one.
The more I listened to him on September 30, the more I agreed with both of them.
Charter schools are required to show the charter commission that they are engaging locals with community meetings. To verily, they are to send sign up sheets of meeting attendees to Montgomery. Woodland Prep has not done this. Tarim said the reason was that charter supporters in Washington county are “afraid” to sign anything.
So we are to believe that a parent is afraid to sign a sheet of paper, but they think it is OK to send their child to a charter school?
Tarim was asked when Woodland Prep will hire a principal. He said they had hired one, but the local community “bullied” this person and they withdrew. Months ago Woodland Prep did announce they had hired someone. But they only identified her as “Amy O” and did not say where she lived.
Some time later, Washington Post education writer Val Strauss somehow found out who the person was and tracked her down in California. Strauss was told the person had no intention of coming to Washington County.
But Soner Tarim wants us all to believe that out of 329 million people in this country, someone in Washington County found someone they only knew as “Amy O” with no address? Like most of what he says, this is unbelievable.
The Alabama Education Association is suing Tarim (and Woodland Prep) for fraud. Anyone who watched his “performance” on September 30 knows why.