Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Citizen's Encounter With a Charter School

I have on this blog exposed some of the unusual workings of Challenge charter school in Glendale, Arizona. In short, Greg Miller, who until recently, was Chairman of the Arizona State Board of Education. is the owner of Challenge charter school, from which he, his wife and his daughter draw more than $400,000 in salary annually. While this would set off conflict-of-interest alarms in nearly any other state in the Union, in Arizona it is simply business as usual. Last fall, the Arizona Governor decided he wanted to remove Miller from the State Board. Miller apparently could read the handwriting on the wall and he agreed to leave. As he walked out the door, Miller told the press that he agreed to quit if he got some assurances that the charter school he runs would get "political protections that I no longer could provide." He doesn't simply profit from his conflicts of interest, he's actually proud of them.

So when a parent recently contacted me about an incident of unprofessional treatment by the staff of Challenge charter school, I was not surprised. But that parent's experience should stand as a warning to other parents who consider doing business with the company known as Challenge Charter School: Arizona's First Official Core Knowledge School.

The parent speaks:

The other day we had a horrific experience with Wendy and Pam Miller [the principal and board member, and Greg Miller's daughter and wife, respectively] at Challenge Charter School. We had never met them before but we were the first on the list in 2015 for Kindergarten open-enrollment. We completed all subsequent paperwork on-time.

However, last Friday my wife received a patronizing voicemail from Wendy Miller stating that she reviewed our March 2017 updated information form and compared it to our February 2017 updated information form and found a discrepancy. She then continued by saying she was so sorry but that we would need to start from the beginning and complete an entirely new open-enrollment registration packet (if interested) and then be placed in the open-enrollment lottery. Moreover, she said “it’s not our policy to refund your $100 deposit but in this circumstance we will.” This was the least of our concerns. We were blind-sided by receiving this voicemail that had no information about the discrepancy or rationale, and it was the day before yesterday’s scheduled Kindergarten Assessment Boot Camp.

So, yesterday we showed up anyway and signed in at the table in the gym where Wendy Miller was standing. She looked at our daughters name and just stood there. I said “Hi, are you the principal?” and she said "yes, I am, let’s go to my office.” As we were walking from the gym to her office, I explained that we were blind-sided by her voicemail and that I would compare this to being accepted to college and then being told by the dean the day before that your enrollment is not being honored. She replied in a hostile and defensive manner “Don’t you dare be disrespectful to me like that do you understand? I am not going to have this.” So I remained silent and we proceeded to walk into the main office where she stopped at her mom’s office and said “I need back-up.” We proceeded to the conference room and they both basically belittled us over a question about if there was any special needs our child has received. On the February updated information sheet we said "No.” But on the March updated (Wendy called it refreshed form) information sheet we said “Yes, our daughter has received private OT speech therapy [which Wendy Miller in the attached video calls “significant” – we are not sure how she arrived at that considering how we simply wrote that she receives OT speech therapy.] The OT therapy we recently acquired for our daughter was (a) for speech enhancement (not that she has a speech problem) and (b) to help her not be frightened of loud noises (i.e., blender, public toilet flush, etc.). This was allowed by our health insurance so we accepted these services. We never requested special assessment because our daughter does not require it. She was already assessed by her therapist and any special needs therapy or placement was ruled out. But apparently, Wendy and Pam Miller jumped to conclusions and made this off-the-cuff assumption. However, they never initiated a prior dialogue with us about this before jumping to their conclusion which is apparently why they took away our daughter’s space.

They claimed that if there is a mismatch of information between February’s and March’s form then state law and their policy and procedures require that the parents lose their spot and have to complete new registration and be placed into a lottery. You will see from the attached video link that this is nonsense and that they have an ulterior motive (i.e., money/funding, etc). The fact of the matter is that the updated or refreshed information on the forms they require will not necessarily always match. That’s the point of asking a parent to provide updated information (i.e., address change, etc.) Therefore, there’s obviously something else going on here, and there seems to be a lot of "wrongs" happening. You will see in the attached video link (that I recorded on my cell phone) that the mother and daughter contradict one another too and not to mention are unprofessional school administrators (they have no checks and balances and there’s no fear of losing their job so they can behave like this).

One of the several contradictions you will notice in the video is when Wendy Miller says she doesn’t care what we wrote as the answer for the question at hand, but then her mother says that she’s already hired last month and essentially doesn’t have the resources for special testing (which, again we never asked for and isn’t necessary, but we weren’t given the opportunity to explain that). Additionally, Pam Miller claims that we weren’t truthful on the form. I then replied by asking her if we were lying and she said "Yes." Remember, this is a kindergarten. We didn’t steal from their office or commit a felony here. There are several other contradictions, aside from them shutting us down from having an intellectually honest conversation. Pam Miller says that this is an open-enrollment school and that no one has a spot until the first day of school. Well, we received a congratulatory letter in the mail saying our daughter’s enrollment had been accepted. Her statement is nonsense because parents have to know if their child has a spot well before the first day so that they can then find other options if denied. You will see additional contradictions, and will see that Wendy Miller tells us that this conversation is over.

I also have an 18-year-old boy (just graduated high school) and a 13-year-old girl (graduating 7th grade next week) in the Deer Valley Unified School District, and I’ve never experienced a crony capitalistic unprofessional school administration, like Challenge Charter School, up until now. It’s actually quiet shocking that this is allowed to continue without third-party inquiry into their inner-workings, especially since they are publically funded.

Video Link:

Shocking and regrettable! And an everyday occurrence in the charter school industry?
Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
University of Colorado Boulder
National Education Policy Center
San José State University

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.