By a vote of 8-5, the Texas Board of Education on June 14 turned down an application by Soner Tarim to build four new charter schools. Tarim is the consultant who has management contracts for Woodland Prep in Washington County and LEAD Academy in Montgomery..
Today’s meeting was in stark contrast to one in Montgomery June 7 when Tarim appeared before the Alabama Charter Commission to address questions about Woodland Prep. While the Alabama folks accepted anything Tarim said as the gospel and failed to probe, members of the Texas board had obviously done their homework and zeroed in on discrepancies between what Tarim said in testimony and information in his application.
For instance, board member Patricia Hardy had questions about Common Core. Tarim said that his curriculum had no connection to Common Core and was “all Texas.” Earlier Tarim bragged about getting a $30 million grant for Harmony Charters when he was CEO of the chain. But Hardy pointed out that this was a Race To The Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education and all recipients were required to incorporate Common Core standards. Tarim had no response.
Editor’s note: Tarim wrote the application for LEAD Academy in Montgomery which states: Common Core in Practice: Great Teachers Demonstrate Moving to Deeper Learning. America Achieves developed a series of videos demonstrating effective instruction aligned to the Common Core. These five videos show how teachers are putting the new standards into practice in their classrooms and how enthusiastically their students are responding.
When it came time for member Georgina Perez to question Tarim, she announced she had six pages of questions. She peppered him about student applicants with discipline issues, special needs students, lack of diversity among management and much more. She pointed out that the application for new charters Tarim wanted (known as Royal Charter Schools to serve the Austin area) said they would have 25 percent English language learners and seven percent special needs students and that both were far below the averages for the Austin school system.
She also pointed out that the top 16 managers in the Harmony network were all Turkish men and asked why there was no diversity. Tarim replied that they were now looking for Latinos, African-Americans and women to serve in management positions. To which Perez retorted, “Why has it taken you 20 years to figure this out?”
I watched the entire interview and one of the most interesting segments to me was when Tarim said that he works with local school districts and will not locate a school where the local superintendent has strong objections. That flies in the face of the experience of Washington County superintendent John Dickey who strongly opposes Woodland Prep.
Tarim is hardly a stranger in Texas charter circles as he began his first Harmony school in 2000. He was CEO until 2017. So he has an extensive track record there.
Which begs the question after the vote: WHAT DOES TEXAS KNOW THAT ALABAMA DOESN’T?
I listened for two hours on June 7 when Tarim met with the Alabama charter commission and watched his entire interview with the Texas school board on June 14. There was no comparison to how both bodies approached their duties. One was very prepared and very professional. The other. Not so much.
The Texas folks were armed with facts and figures. They pointed out inconsistencies between what Tarim said and what he had written. The Alabama commission seemed more of a rubber stamp than anything.
Charter schools are now a fact of life in Alabama. But it is our responsibility to make sure charters are managed in the best manner to serve our young people–not to be a cash cow for some for-profit management company. Obviously Texas understands this. Nothing I’ve seen yet in Alabama tells me we have.