Montgomery’s LEAD Academy under fire by school choice opponents

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I know this is going to come as a shock so brace yourself – people who have never, and would never support school choice are declaring war on the LEAD Academy in Montgomery. The city’s first charter school opened its doors just seven short weeks ago. 

“Craziness” is how one such “open-mind” columnist described the situation at the new school. Important to note that the same individual has written for years about his opposition to school choice. Once titling a blog, “School choice is an awful choice.” Today, he wrote, “Mark my words: LEAD will fail, and it will fail soon.” 

Make no mistake about it: Those cheering for the school to fail were betting against its success before the first student was ever enrolled. No matter what they say or how they phrase it, at this point, anyone wishing for LEADS Academy to fail is wishing that 300+ students fail.

They may tell you otherwise that’s just lip service. This is no longer about the politics of charter schools. Those arguments have been litigated and I’ll tell you who won – the students, their families, and the community. The school is open and operating. 

Do not be distracted or fooled; every conversation from the day the students crossed the threshold of the school should solely be focused on the safety, opportunities and education of the children.

No everything hasn’t gone smoothly at LEAD Academy but it’s far from the only school in the state experiencing challenges and it’s brand new.

Interestingly though the same vocal opponents of LEAD Academy have been silent on problems with public schools. In Birmingham, a special needs student was left on a school bus all day. I didn’t read any columns of condemnation about that. Another Birmingham public school had to cancel a full day of school because their air condition system was broken. I didn’t see any opinion pieces about the problems with those administrators. An Alabama middle-school principal was recently arrested for the “torture and humiliation” of an autistic child. I just checked and double-checked for an opinion piece about protecting special needs children in public schools and, nope. Came up empty-handed for any statements or pieces from the critics of charter schools on any of the many, many problems with public schools. 

The Alabama Education Association has said, “AEA has made clear we’re not against all charter schools, but we are against bad charter schools.” That said, I can’t find anywhere where they’ve said anything positive about any charter schools. I also don’t find any statements from them condemning the public school problems though they have taken up the cause of fighting high bus temperatures (which ironically have been a huge problem lately but in several weeks should take care of itself in most cases/places). 

So can we get down to the heart of the matter: How the Academy can and will improve for the sake of the students, parents, teachers and the community as a whole?  

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chat with Charlotte Meadows on the News and Views with Joey & Jack. You can listen to the full audio of our hour-long chat here let me bottom line it for you – The administration isn’t dodging the fact they have room for growth and areas of improvement, nor are they’re not sitting on their hands or turning a blind eye to their challenges. They’re facing them head-on taking them as they come while anticipating problems as they gain experience. 

Personally, I’m sure this would be easier for them to do if they didn’t have to deal with all of the misinformation and flat out lies being spread across social media and by opinion writers with an agenda.

To help sort through some of the madness here are a few myths I’ve personally read about and the truth:

Myth: One consultant is being paid $30,000 monthly.

Fact: The $30,000 contract at hand is for contracting the equivalent of “Central Office” administrative work. This amount funds 3-4 individuals from the consulting group to work at the school on a regular basis as well as some support from the companies main offices in Texas. 

Myth: The families don’t know what is going on. 

Fact: The administration has sent 3 different schoolwide emails to parents and has held 3 open meetings for parents and concerned individuals. Charlotte Meadows has been on 2 different radio programs and has made herself and other school administrators available to parents with questions or concerns. 

Myth: The principal was fired for bringing concerns about the school to the state. 

Fact: According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the Alabama Department of Education was crystal clear in debunking this one themselves. The department said, it “has been providing technical assistance to LEAD Academy, as the ALSDE does all schools, especially newly opened schools. Other than the regular technical assistance being provided, no formal complaint has been submitted concerning compliance issues regarding LEAD Academy.”

The principal, Dr. Nicole Ivey, who was terminated was responsible for making sure that the school was in compliance with state regulations. If she was calling the state with complaints wouldn’t that mean she was calling the state to say she couldn’t do her job? Are you considered a whistle-blower if you’re speaking to your own inability or unwillingness to do your job?

If problems at the school were dire it would have been incumbent on her document them, report them to the other school administrators and execute a plan to fix things. If she didn’t have the professional competencies to do so it’s a good thing she’s gone.

After listening to some of the issues with her my problem is not that she’s gone but that she wasn’t terminated sooner. We’re talking about a school principal who didn’t get student or employee handbooks out until after school started. We’re talking about a woman who didn’t hold a single faculty meeting in the first six weeks of the new school being opened. 

It doesn’t take an education expert to see this woman wasn’t able to do the job. I’m disappointed she had the job as long as she did. I’m grateful the administrators had the wherewithal to hire 2 assistant principals to support her. 

Myth: The school is forcing the teachers into “At-Will contracts”

Fact: The teachers of LEAD Academy are not a part of the Montgomery School System and are not covered by the same protections that that would give them. They knew that when they accepted their teaching positions or they should have. Alabama is an At-Will employment state. Here’s an idea: Take a job and do it well and you won’t need to worry about the type of contract you have. 

If this came as a shock to anyone they didn’t pay attention to in the school’s December 2017 application where it was clearly stated that employees would be at-will workers. 

Myth: The school is plagued with behavioral problems including children being violent and students having sexual contact on school grounds.

Fact: There have been zero reports to the school administration about sexual contact on the school grounds. This unsubstantiated Facebook rumor is hopefully just more garbage by those wishing to sew discord about the school but should it not be the same adults spreading the rumors owe it to the children of the school to report it. The school has asked that anyone with information come forward and no one has. 

Violence at Montgomery Schools is not new. While it’s unfortunate and discouraging according to the district’s annual report on school safety and discipline it’s a recurring problem. So why would anyone assume that on day one of a charter school students from those same schools who are being offered a new environment would change their behavior? Problem-solving skills are learned behavior. It’s safe to say that they aren’t going to be learned overnight. 

In closing: It’s no secret I support school choice. When the public school system fails parents and students should have other avenues to choose from no matter what their location and income are. My defense of LEADS Academy is a defense of common sense. Any new school is going to experience growing pains and challenges that can only be identified once school starts. You can plan and prepare but there will always be a learning curve to expect otherwise would be simply ignorant. 

Let’s all wish the school well moving forward – the current students and it’s future ones deserve nothing less than the opportunity to succeed.