I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Newpoint HS Investigation Errupts

Investigations into allegations of misconduct regarding Newpoint HS in Pensacola are now, officially, being initiated by the State.

After I received explosive information about one of our charter schools at 7:45 in the evening on March 25th, --I passed this information directly over to our attorney and the superintendent of schools.   Last week, I mentioned what I could in two entries into my blog because I was told by multiple insiders that “nothing was being done to address the significant allegations” at this school.

Now, multiple media outlets have picked up on the story I alluded to on my blog.

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this story is growing--which appears to be exactly what the whistle blowers who initially contacted me wanted.

Rick’s Blog was first, PNJ was next, followed by WEAR channel three’s Ricki Vann.  Next was WCOA, then AM1620.  Early on, I’m told that Pensacola Today and were informed of the allegations but chose not to follow the story.  PNJ was notified, apparently, months ago about some issues at Newpoint according to a source.  PNJ chose not to follow the story at that time.

Since this all went down last Wednesday--I’ve done three radio interviews and had conversations with media outlets from around the state; yesterday I even spoke to a reporter from as far away as Miami!

I keep telling everyone that calls me the same things:  I’m not the school board’s spokesman, I’m not the investigator, I’m just one member of a five member board of constitutional officers, I’m just a guy that received some explosive allegations and passed them along expeditiously to the appropriate authorities.  I continue to receive information from sources, and I continue to pass this information along to the school board’s attorney. 

What I’m also saying to the media is this:  Everyone and every entity that is facing these allegations is innocent until proven guilty, everyone will get due process, and the issue is now getting a thorough investigation.   I’m telling everyone to call the district, call the Board Chair, call the spokesman, call the attorney—yet these folks still call me!

I haven’t and I won’t divulge anything that would ever compromise any investigations; but I also won’t sit silently like a wax statue when nobody else from our district seems willing to even acknowledge the issue and make a statement to anyone in the media------ as my phone simultaneously rings off the hook!!

Keeping the public informed on basic facts can be accomplished (and should be), while at the same time not jeopardizing “active investigations.” That’s why organizations do press conferences.  Hello?  I’m not a private eye, an attorney, a PR spokesman, or a detective –but even I know this.

Sitting in a cone of silence regarding basic, publicly known facts that are useful to constituents when a situation like this erupts only makes the public more and more distrustful and suspicious of the district. 

Look at incidents recently in the Midwest that were handled initially via a “cone of silence”—those incidents were mishandled very badly and information that could have been passed to calm an angry, restless crowd was unnecessarily withheld, leading to significant problems as that whole incident devolved….Information helps in these instances.

In Rick’s blog on April 1st, our Deputy Supt. of Schools is quoted stating the district’s investigation commenced two weeks ago.  In the April 3rd PNJ, however, the Superintendent of Schools, in an 

apparent contradiction, has now stated that the district’s investigation started not recently, but “more than months ago.”  

Were there multiple investigations going on simultaneously?

What was being investigated?

If the investigations were on-going several months ago----why was this charter school allowed/invited to participate in the bonus money award ceremony with the Governor just two weeks ago?  Why were they given a bonus check and a photo-op with the Governor on March 16th?

Why was that money not held in abeyance pending the outcome of the investigation into the cheating allegations that were coming in as early as MAY of 2014?

Why invite them to come take a picture with Governor Scott if there were allegations that the school tampered with grades to boost graduation rates?

Why even take the risk of allowing the Governor of our state to be put into a photo-op with this school’s director?

None of this seems to add up.

Meanwhile—the school board was not made aware of this or of any other significant investigation the district was conducting during any quarterly charter school meetings we have had in the last year—so why not?  The Superintendent made mention of a few issues at Newpoint at the December workshop, however these issues appeared to be minor and Mr. Graham answered most of the issues. Superintendent Thomas did discuss speaking with Graham  along with staff about these issues (health fee, hiring the janitor who was not background checked, and entering grades more timely into focus) However--nothing about grade tampering, nothing about other onerous allegations about teachers, nothing about an investigation... By the following quarterly report, just last month on March 16th, no issues with Newpoint were mentioned by superintendent or his staff; actually, everyone was agreeing to allowing the Principals from all the charter schools, to include Newpoint, to not attend the quarterly meetings going forward unless the board or staff  specifically requested them to be present..

This communication dissonance, the board's lack of knowledge about specific issues at Newpoint, points to some significant dysfunction with respect to the way the board is kept abreast of allegations this explosive---Particularly acute because the allegations were leveled multiple times throughout the month of May 2014---almost a full year ago! 

This just points more clearly than ever, to the desperate need in this district to employ an appointed superintendent of schools, accountable to the elected board and focused on keeping the board informed, not blindsided and marginalized.
But I digress.

The big, important news that was announced yesterday came from Channel 3 news as they broadcast a statement from State Attorney for the First Judicial Circuit, Mr. Bill Eddins.  He confirmed that the States Attorney’s office here will be looking into this matter, and this is an important development.  With the State’s Attorney now looking into this matter, along with a possible DCF investigation and multiple district investigations---with all of this scrutiny I now have a level of confidence that all these allegations will be thoroughly dissected and the truth will come to light on all of this—which in turn will allow us to get back to what is most important, educating our students!

No comments: