Skip to content

Brand New NY-Based Charter-Boosting Nonprofit Has Michigan as First Customer

August 19, 2016

The School Empowerment Network (SEN) is a Brooklyn, NY-based nonprofit that received its nonprofit status in February 2016.

Just-born SEN specializes in three services: principal development, teacher development, and new school development. Its home page features an obvious link entitled, “START A NEW CHARTER SCHOOL.”

SEN’s three board members are computer science major Daniel Pasette as president; former TNTP (The New Teacher Project) and NYDOE exec director Alex Shub, and former NYDOE COO (Portfolio Planning) Eduardo Contreras.

As of August 18, 2016, it lists on its website a single funder, the Walton Foundation, and a single client: Michigan’s state-takeover Education Achievement Authority (EAA). It turns out that paint-barely-dry-on walls SEN is “leading” EAA, as the SEN website notes:

The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan (EAA) is a public system of schools whose mission is [to] turn the lowest performing schools in Michigan into the highest performing schools through people development, proven instructional strategies, and seamless operations.

At the EAA, School Empowerment Network is leading the design and implementation of teacher development pathways as well as an Achievement Leadership Institute (ALI) to prepare the next cohort of school administrators. As teachers build a track record of success in EAA schools, they have opportunities to reach more students, earn more money, and grow professionally by moving up our career ladder, from “Model” to “Lead” to “Master” Teacher—and eventually, if they are so inclined, into school administration positions.

SEN is also leading the implementation of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) to improve student academic and social/emotional outcomes. Our model assigns a cohort of staff to a specific grade or grade band of students, building one-year-at-a-time a clearly defined school culture which is modeled and embodied by all. As a result, small school communities are able to understand and meet the needs of each and every student. In 2015-2016, two SLC academies were launched in the district, and School Quality Review results already show evidence of new and much stronger school cultures, where clearer behavioral expectations have been established and are largely being met.

What lovely SEN marketing– and such a contrast to EAA reality, which includes likes of EAA embarrassment, former chancellor John Covington, who cut out as EAA leader amid questionable financial management issues.

Though Michigan’s state-run EAA is in its final year, the schools remain under the auspices of the state’s school reform office. The future jurisdiction of these schools is connected to a restructuring of the Detroit Public Schools.

Given the timing of the legislated EAA dissolution and the establishment of SEN as a nonprofit, it is possible that SEN was created to oversee the EAA school transition. SEN could be the chicken, but it could also be a Walton-funded, EAA egg. Note that SEN won the EAA contract under highly questionable circumstances, as the Detroit Free Press reported in November 2015:

The district running Michigan’s lowest-performing schools awarded a $1.7-million training contract to a company that scored 8th out of 10 companies seeking the work, according to documents reviewed by the Free Press.

The School Empowerment Network, or SEN, has no office, no listed phone number, an unfinished website and a seven-member staff. Its initial bid of $2.3 million was more than twice the $1-million bid submitted by the highest-scoring firm, Boston-based Public Consulting Group, which has 60 offices in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Most of SEN’s current staff worked formerly for New York City schools at the same time Veronica Conforme, the current chancellor of the financially troubled Education Achievement Authority, also worked there. The EAA is SEN’s only client. …

The contract was awarded as the EAA is under siege because of poor academic performance, declining enrollment and an FBI investigation into kickback schemes involving vendors.

Nothing like relying on a then-not-even nonprofit that is more costly and low-scoring in its bid to lead critical clean-up of obvious corporate reform failure.

As for that Walton Foundation funding, SEN has this explanation:

In 2016 School Empowerment Network received a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to launch our Charter School Intensive Development Program (CSIDP). CSIDP recruits, selects, and trains transformational educators to open high-performing New York City charter schools, offering students from underserved communities more quality school options that prepare them for success in college, careers, and the competitive world beyond.

Founding a new school through the Charter School Intensive Development Program provides a unique opportunity to implement a distinct vision for serving NYC’s students and families and offers an unparalleled educational leadership experience. Participants in the program will receive high level support from SEN’s experienced principal coaches and partner organizations. We provide our future leaders with three years of support – from the charter application through the end of the first year of operation –  to help develop a charter leadership and school pipeline that creates new high-quality options for NYC students and families.

Of course, since SEN is a brand new nonprofit, there is little information available to the public regarding the connection between SEN and other corporate-reform-promoting nonprofits.

But there is some.

For the following information, I am using the nonprofit search engine,, for which I have a membership graciously purchased by a number of my readers. Since SEN does not yet have 990 tax forms on file, some of the information I cannot link to directly, but I can report the results of my search here.

Anyone with a membership to is able to verify the information below. (One could also verify on sites like

The important name here is Cherie Velez, who is listed as the contact person for the SEN nonprofit. (It is possible that the Cherie Velez in question is this Florida-based Cherie Velez of Liberty Consultants, who “specializ[es] in providing customized financial, operational, and human resource solutions to a wide variety of businesses, including for-profit and non-profit.” However, I have not confirmed this.)

Cherie Velez is the name listed as the contact for five nonprofits.

The first is Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) (EIN 464462811). PEJ is described as an “educational organization.” Despite having been awarded nonprofit status in September 2014, PEJ has yet to file any 990 tax form. However, PEJ has found the time (and money) to bring suit against teacher tenure in both New York and Minnesota.

The second is the Philos Project, Inc. (EIN 471182714), awarded nonprofit status in February 2015, and located at 79 Madison Ave., New York, NY. Brown’s husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of this religious-affiliated nonprofit.

The third is also a religious-affiliated organization, the Shabbat Project, Inc. (EIN 464715368), which was awarded nonprofit status in April 2015, and also located at 79 Madison Ave., New York, NY. The Shabbat Project 2015 990 is inaccessible for some reason; however, the fact that it shares an address with the Philos Project is enough to establish a highly-probable connection with Senor.

The fourth Velez-associated nonprofit is The 74 Media, Inc. (EIN 472788684), more commonly known as The 74– co-founded by editor-in-chief Campbell Brown. Described as an “educational organization,” the 74 received nonprofit status on March 2015 and is due for its first 990 tax filing, uh, now.

And, of course, the fifth Velez-associated nonprofit is the one named at the outset of this post, charter-school-helper, SEN (EIN 474058445), a “charitable organization: education services and schools”…

…which one might logically conclude is connected to corporate-reform-pusher, Campbell Brown.

campbell brown 4  Campbell Brown


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Amazing research, pulling threads and finding connections intentionally hidden. The geographic leap from NY to Michigan is no less astounding than the timing of the Walton money flowing to the new non profit.

  2. leonie haimson permalink

    Contreras was COO of the Division of Portfolio Planning between 2012 – 2014, which is mostly concerned with closing schools, opening new schools and providing them and charter schools space inside DOE buildings.

    Shub was ED of the Office of New Schools during that time period. At about the same time, Marc Sternberg was Deputy Chancellor in charge of Portfolio Planning.

    Sternberg was later promoted to Senior Deputy Chancellor just as Conforme left DOE, to take a new job at the College Board. Now Conforme leads the EAA, of course. (Conforme has no real educational experience of any kind and was a DOE budget person — and by some reports, not too good at it.)

    Sternberg gave space to scads of charters, including Success Academy and other Walton grantees, just weeks before leaving for his new job in 2013, heading the education division of the Walton Family Foundation that funded this new venture.

    Portfolio Planning was a common route to the top for ambitious young men. John White headed it before Sternberg.

  3. leonie haimson permalink

    also I love this quote from Shub about SEN in the November article from the Free Press — that reported that SEN scored 8th out of 10 companies applying for the contract:

    “We’re a virtual organization”

  4. It’s also worth noting that Michigan’s School Reform Office was moved out of the Michigan Department of Education and into the Department of Technology, Management and Budget–by Gov. Snyder’s executive order. so not even the state legislature was permitted to weigh in on the wisdom, or constitutionality, of this move–which effectively moved responsibility for oversight of school reform, especially in Detroit, from the elected State School Board (the only Democratically-controlled arm of the state’s government) to the obviously irrelevant DTMB.

  5. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I would not be surprised to see Snyder’s administrative move played out in other states.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: New Group to Start Charter Schools Lands Its First Contract in Charter-Happy Michigan | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. 10 Reasons Why the NAACP Is Absolutely Right About a National Moratorium on Charter Schools | 2RUTH.NETWORK
  3. Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia Opportunity School District Will NOT Expand Learning Opportunity | janresseger

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s