Paramount Charter School: A Chaotic “Free for All” That Cannot be Immediately Shut Down
In August 2013, the Paramount Charter School submitted an impressive-reading, 344-page application to Broward County Public Schools (Florida). The school is run by an impressively-named nonprofit, The Advancement of Education In Scholars Corporation. The document reveals what would surely be a marvel of a school, one expecting to enroll 1,088 students in grades K-6 in its first year and anticipating 1,594 students in grades K through 8 in its fifth year.
Among its promises, the Paramount application included the following:
Be a college preparatory school that provides an extended day with performing arts and sports and fitness program with enrichment classes along with single sex core classes.
Provide learning opportunities for all students with an emphasis on low performing students and reading.
Provide an environment that promotes each student‟s personal and intellectual growth along with a commitment to educational success.
Educate students uniquely different from a traditional public school and establish bold new innovative ideas to change the way children are educated.
Provide parents with sufficient information on whether their child is reading at grade level and whether the child gains at least a year‟s worth of learning for every year spent in the charter school.
The School’s education will encourage students to take intellectual risks in an atmosphere that is both challenging and supportive. With the careful guidance of experienced teachers, students will discover their individual passions while learning to value multiple perspectives and work with people who have diverse points of view.
At the School, students will be problem solvers: they will learn to evaluate what they hear, read, or see and in doing so they will take control of the foundation of their learning, becoming both self-confident and competent. The School will provide a diagnostic evaluation, management process, and staff development, which will be constantly monitored and changed when necessary to maximize effective learning and performance. Students who attend the school for a full year will achieve a year’s worth and will meet or exceed state and national standards in core subjects as measured by state-required assessments.
The School’s carefully planned curriculum engages students and teachers in an intellectual exploration that makes school exciting and creates a warm and welcoming environment. Balancing its unparalleled academic education with travel study, community service, a wide range of opportunities in the visual and performing arts, an extensive sport and fitness program, an extended school day with intensive tutoring, and an ever-expanding selection of student-run clubs and committees. Students will also develop a strong sense of integrity; they will take seriously their responsibility to engage with the world in productive and principled ways.
Wow. What a great school on paper– but only if one does not investigate the details.
No school can rise above the competence (and motives) of its administration, and Paramount turned out to be a bust before the end of its second month in operation.
For all of the seemingly impressive detail in its application, the Paramount School website is anemically thin in details. For example, the board minutes (accessible here) could be easily recorded on a single cocktail napkin. September 20, 2014 “Action and Discussion”:
The board is narrowing down options for location.
As for that Paramount board, Jimika Mason is listed as president, and Ashley Challenger, as vice president.
The December 29, 2014, minutes have a slight bit more in “Action and Discussion,” but not much:
a. The Board has approved a charity event with NFL players Jonathan Freeny and Lousaka Polite.
b. The Board is currently working on a location for the School and it’s opening timeline for the August 2015 school year.
Next meeting, March 30, 2015:
3.) Action and Discussion Items
a. School location and Start Up
b. The Board reviewed and unanimously approved school location and start up
And for the fourth and final meeting minutes, for May 18, 2015:
3. Action and Discussion Items
a. Consultation, positions, addendum, school start up, and Board members.
b. The Board reviewed and unanimously approved/appoint consultation, positions, addendum, school start up, and Board members.
No details about who has been hired, neither in the minutes nor on the website.
But there is one bomb dropped without any further details added:
Apparently on or after September 16, 2015, the principal resigned.
The Paramount on Paper is not the Paramount in Reality.
On October 05, 2015, reporter Bob Norman of Local10.com published a story entitled, “Sunrise Charter School Mass-fires Teachers.”
“Sunrise” is Sunrise, Florida, and the school is newly-opened Paramount Charter School. As Norman reports:
“One by one, she would call everybody in and they were getting fired, fired, fired,” one teacher said.
The woman firing the teachers was Maia Williams, an administrator at the school and sister of the school’s owner, Jimika (typo corrected) Williams Mason. One teacher who was fired said Williams told her it was because students were being bullied at the school, though she said she had not witnessed any of it.
Broward County school board member Laurie Levinson Rich, who was apprised of the situation, said she learned it was due to the departure of a principal.
Many who weren’t fired resigned. One said that after the mass firings, she was called into the room and told that the school wanted to keep her, but that if she wanted to keep her job she would have to take a cut in pay from $36,000 to $30,000 and that promised benefits, including health care, would be cut.
“It made me feel awful like, ‘How dare you play God with peoples’ lives like this,'” one of the teachers who resigned said.
All three teachers who spoke with Local 10 News said the school was in disarray even before the mass exodus, with little structure and much confusion.
This is what happens when under-regulation is worshiped as the solution to all that ails public education. Schools fall apart, and the lives of children, teachers, and communities are affected.
Paramount School was in total chaos, as Norman’s report continues to reveal:
“There’s no discipline policy. There’s no schedule. I didn’t even get the names of my students,” another teacher said.
“We had no computers for the kids. I had one lock on one door. I couldn’t lock the door from the inside,” another teacher said. “Sometimes I had third-graders with second-graders. I never really knew who was coming to my class. There was no discipline matrix. I had like no supplies.”
[As one parent notes:] “I feel very misled. I feel like it was a bait-and-switch type,” she said. “They told me all types of great things that the school was going to be doing, and they fell through on everything.”
On October 06, 2015, Norman wrote a follow-up entitled, “Sunrise Charter School Had Warning Signs before Teachers Were Fired, Resigned”:
With roughly 270 students, the new Paramount Charter School in Sunrise has already received $740,000 in taxpayer-funded money and is slated to get about $3 million during the school year.
Despite the infusion of public cash, Paramount — an elementary-level school that, like all charters, is privately owned but publicly funded — is riddled with problems. According to a school board member, it’s already had three principals, lost nearly all of its teachers after the first month due to firings and resignations and has some parents alleging their children aren’t learning there.
The president of the company that owns the school, Jimika Williams Mason, drove away from a Local 10 News camera in her vehicle. It was discovered the listed vice president of the company, Ashley Challenger, is a 22-year-old Nova Southeastern University student who said she was given a spot on the school’s board of directors through the college and had no idea she had even been listed as a corporate vice president of the Advancement of Education in Scholars Corporation. …
Former NFL player and reality TV star Hank Baskett is listed in the application as a “non-voting board member” who will “aid in the Sports and Fitness program.” But Baskett’s agent, Jim Ivler, said Baskett is not affiliated with the school. “They reached out to us more than five years ago interested in establishing a relationship with Hank,” Ivler wrote Local 10. “It never went anywhere and we haven’t heard from them in years.”
What looks good on an application could be fraudulent– yet the Broward County Board of Education approved the Paramount School application, and apparently without bothering to sufficiently verify details of the application– details that could have highlighted concerns that might (should) have prevented the school from opening.
The Broward County School Board is at fault for this mess.
The Broward board has the authority to carelessly approve a charter school, but not to regulate it, and knowing as much– knowing that once it approves a school, it has no substantial authority to regulate what it has approved– the Broward County School Board did not thoroughly scrutinize the details of the Paramount Schools application.
In that application, Jimika Mason clearly indicated that she has zero experience in education. None. The supposed VP is a 22-year-old college student, and a celebrity board member was a fabrication.
And now, the Broward County School Board– the same board that approved Paramount’s charter– cannot put an immediate stop to Mason’s chaotic Paramount School. It could take years:
Broward County school board member Laurie Rich Levinson voiced frustration about the situation at the school, saying the board has received complaints and been to the school, which she said has had three principals already this year. But she said that because of a lack of regulation coming from Tallahassee, there is little the board can do about the problems. She said without a record of performance failures, which can take two years to establish, the school board’s hands are tied unless there is a health or safety risk.
“Everything is a free-for-all basically,” Levinson said. “And the sad part is we’re going to find this generation of kids, many of them, who are not educated properly in these schools.”
There it is: Under-regulated charter schools protect the scammers and the inept, but the kids pay. And those who maintain that charter school quality works itself out since bad schools close are ignoring the damage of school churn disruption. As Norman reports:
Levinson noted that four charter schools have shut down over the past two years, including schools exposed by Local 10 News last year, like the disaster that was Ivy Academy.
The shutdowns have disrupted the educational process of hundreds of students and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“What we need to do is get more stringent regulation where charter schools are treated like traditional public schools,” Levinson said.
No. Charter schools do not need to be “treated like traditional schools.” Traditional schools need to be valued, and America’s market-worshiping, public-money-squandering, charter school infestation needs to come to an end.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.
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