LouisianaVoice has learned that despite serious deficiencies that included widespread cheating that closed the Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in New Orleans last year, its sister school in Baton Rouge continues to operate with the blessings of the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).
At the same time Abramson’s problems were surfacing more than a year ago, reports of wrongful firing of teachers and student mistreatment at Kenilworth Science & Technology School in Baton Rouge finally came to light when it was learned that DOE had launched an investigation of Abramson.
Both schools are run by a Texas company affiliated with the Gulen movement, a Turkish offshoot of the Islamic faith.
The problems at Abramson were first reported by state education employee Folwell Dunbar. Dunbar and his supervisor, Jacob Landry, who was director of the DOE charter office, were promptly fired after reporting the abuses that included sexual misconduct, neglect and missing files.
In a cover-up that has become indicative of the manner in which DOE is run under the Piyush Jindal-John White administration, a 72-page report on an investigation conducted by DOE was generated. That report included a five-page cover letter by then-acting Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue that claimed DOE first learned of the allegations surrounding Abramson on July 14, 2011, even though Dunbar and Landry had warned of problems at the school more than a year before.
To be fair, the report was compiled and released prior to White’s being named superintendent but he has taken no apparent steps to alter the situation at Kenilworth subsequent to his takeover of the department.
The claim that the department had no knowledge of wrongdoing at the school only served to discredit the entire report.
Dunbar, in a memo to department colleagues in 2010, said that Inci Akpinar, vice president of Atlas Texas Construction & Trading, the Texas company with ties to the Gulen movement, told Dunbar during a discussion of the school’s problems, “I have $25,000 to fix this problem: $20,000 for you and five for me.
A state audit conducted well in advance of the report’s publication also cited the school for having classrooms without instructors for weeks or even months at a time and of students who claimed their science fair projects had been done by their teachers.
Abramson’s charter was subsequently revoked but Kenilworth has continued to operate and last week, the school’ superintendent was calling on businesses in Baton Rouge in an attempt to raise funds for a science fair at the school.
Dr. Tevfik Eski, chief executive officer of Pelican Education Foundation in New Orleans which ran Abramson until its charter was revoked, was handing out business cards that contained the names of both Abramson and Kenilworth Science & Technology Charter Schools, only the word “Abramson” had been scratched through with blue ink and the letters “CMO” scribbled in over the word “Technology.”
CMO stands for “Charter Management Organization” and Pelican Education Foundation contracts with Cosmos Foundation, the CMO that runs the Harmony School Network in Texas, with which Abramson and Kenilworth were affiliated through Atlas Construction.
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If all that sounds terribly convoluted, it’s for a reason. Because of its organizational structure the Texas Education Authority (TEA) reported last year it had no knowledge of the problems with Abramson and Kenilworth even though the Cosmos Foundation operates more than 30 such schools in Texas.
In addition to his Baton Rouge address, Eski’s business card also contained the telephone and fax numbers of Pelican Education Foundation, his email address at Kenilworth and the web address of Pelican Education Foundation. In addition, he had written (also in blue ink) his Baton Rouge cell number.
One would think that a year after Abramson had its charter yanked, Eski would spring for new business cards but give him points for austerity.
In addition to the deficiencies already mentioned, the 72-page report by DOE also noted that Abramson students who were failing in English and math and who would not graduate from Abramson on time were being accepted en masse to North American College in Houston.
Then-Abramson principal Cuneyt Dokmen cited the acceptances as proof that Abramson was successful but the DOE report noted that Dokmen was scheduled to work at North American College in the fall of 2011.
North American College is a private, non-profit, four-year institution founded in 2010 that offers only three bachelor degree programs—education, computer science and business administration.
So what we have here is a dysfunctional DOE that shoots the messenger when it hears bad news from its own, generates lengthy investigative reports that deny knowledge of information that in fact the department had for more than a year, and allows one of the charter schools to continue operations with no accountability required.
Bottom line: can we believe anything that comes out of the Louisiana Department of Education’s administrative offices?
No wonder John White thinks he needs that $144,000 public relations mouthpiece.
The inmates are truly running the asylum.