Dear KIP Academy Fresno families, friends and concerned citizens:
It has been over four weeks now since the story of our current difficulties came to the attention of the public. In that time, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from KIPP parents and the Fresno community at large. We wish to thank all of you for your tireless efforts on our behalf. We were also pleasantly surprised by the goodwill that has been directed at us by many employees of the Fresno Unified School District ("the District"). On the other hand, we have been disappointed by the response from the leadership at the District, which continues to portray our school in a negative light.
We, the staff of KIPP Academy Fresno ("KIPP"), are writing this letter in order to set the public record straight in regards to various allegations about our school made by a few District officials. Until this point, we have remained relatively silent in response to the allegations made towards our school, and have instead focused our efforts on continuing to work with the District. We hoped that their actions would live up to their words, and our cooperation would ultimately lead to the release of a letter of good standing. For example, on March 14t\ District Charter Schools Coordinator Debra Odom was quoted in the Fresno Bee saying, "Fresno Unified emphatically does not want the school to be closed. We are committed to the students and parents of KIPP Academy." Also, on March 1 i", Superintendent Michael Hanson was quoted on KSEE NBC 24 saying, "Hopefully, we'll be able to work it out and have a good charter school in town for kids who want to go there."
We applaud the District's public support of the school. However - as any KIPPster can attest - a key tenet at our school is "actions speak louder than words." The District's recent actions - including the direct mailing of letters containing inaccurate facts to our parents without our prior notification and holding a magnifying glass to our school while turning a blind eye to their own - do not appear to support our school's future. lust this week, the District sent to the California School Finance Authority (CSFA) a "qualified letter of good standing" that was a four-page reiteration of its complaints towards one of its highest-perforn1ing schools.
- We would like to present another perspective of the recent events from the viewpoint of KIPP staff In particular; here are six misperceptions that we would like to challenge:
Misperception #1: KIPP is staffed by uncredentialed, unqualified teachers.
Since July 2008, the state has requested from the District a letter indicating that KIPP Academy Fresn0 is a school in good standing. It is important to realize that there is a difference between a school in good standing and a school that is perfect. Many people believe that KIPP Academy Fresno is an outstanding school: the 2nd highest-performing middle school in the city of Fresno and a Title I Distinguished School. However, we fully acknowledge that we are not a perfect school and that we have made errors.
For example, consider teacher credentialing. One of the points that Superintendent Hanson has made repeatedly over the last few weeks is that he is concerned about "credentialing issues" at our school. As a California public school, our teachers must be credentialed by law. Furthermore, we do, in fact, have un¬credentialed teachers teaching at KIPP; those five teachers either have some other type of legal authorization to teach or are on their way to obtaining a credential. The District fails to acknowledge in its "qualified letter of good standing" the progress that has been made by the five teachers that do not have California credentials:
• Teacher #1 has finished the CalState TEACH program and passed the Constitution test last week. This teacher is completing the paperwork for his credential. (In 2007, he won an Excellence in Teaching award, given annually to one of the top ten teachers in the KIPP school network nationwide)
• Teacher #2 has finished the CalState TEACH program and has applied to take the Constitution test on March 25,2009. (In 2007,84 percent of his 6t" grade math students tested at proficient or advanced on the STAR test, compared with 33 percent in the District that year)
• Teacher #3 is enrolled at National University and will receive her M.A. in Education and credential by the end of this year. (In 2008, 100 percent of her 8th grade science students tested at proficient or advanced on the STAR test, compared with 37 percent in the District that year)
• Teacher #4 has an out-of-state credential and is applying for a California credential. The only piece of remaining paperwork is a documented observation from his former administrators, which he is currently working to secure.
• Teacher #5 has an out-of-state credential and needs to take the CBEST.
Fresno Bee columnist Bill McEwen suggested in his March 141h column that KIPP may "owe the state for using teachers lacking California credentials." This is impossible for the following reason. The way that public school funding in California works is that middle schools receive full funding only if 54,000 minutes are taught by credentialed teachers. KIPP's school year has 81,900 instructional minutes due to the extended 7:25am to 4pm school day. Therefore, far more than 54,000 minutes are taught by credentialed teachers at KIPP. Every year for the past four years, our outside auditors - Corona, Borchadt, and Faeth - have examined the issue and conducted a strict count of instructional minutes. Every year, the number of KIPP's instructional minutes taught by credentialed teachers has exceeded 54,000 minutes.
According to recent School Accountability Report Cards, almost every other school in the District
employs uncredentialed teachers. For example, in 2007-2008, one District middle school had 11 teachers who taught without proper legal authorization; 29% of its teachers were not NCLB-qualified. Another District middle school had 10 teachers who taught without proper legal authorization and 33.6% of its teachers not NCLB¬ qualified. The District middle school closest to KIPP had 7 teachers without proper legal authorization in 2007¬2008; 60% of its teachers are currently not NCLB qualified. Currently, 16.8% of teachers in the District are not NCLB qualified. We bring this up only out of fairness: how many District middle schools have received this type of scrutiny for employing uncredentialed teachers?
It is interesting to note that despite the fact that some KIPP teachers are still working towards their credentials, our students continue to perforn1 extraordinarily well compared to our District counterparts. Here are the percentages of students who scored 'Proficient' or 'Advanced' on the STAR tests over the past three years:
|KPP Academy Fresno||Fresno Unified School District|
In fact, our school has out-performed the District average in almost every single subject area for the past three years.
Misperception #2: KIPP does not fingerprint its employees.
In various public communications, the District has repeatedly brought up KIPP's "failure to fingerprint
staff." Ever since KIPP Academy Fresno was founded in 2004, each KIPP teacher has always passed fingerprinting and background checks before working with kids. In addition, our hiring process has been uncommonly rigorous, with multiple interviews and reference checks. However, until this past year, the school was not aware that the state required back office staff to be fingerprinted as well. We were informed of this midway through the'200S-2009 school year. That we were unaware of this requirement does not excuse our mistake; we should have fingerprinted office staff from the beginning. Immediately upon discovering our error, though, our office staff was fingerprinted, and our policies for this amended to prevent future errors.
Misperception #3: KIPP has mismanaged its funds into a current financial crisis.
Superintendent Hanson and his employees have suggested that KIPP Academy Fresno has mismanaged funds. For example, Ruthie Quinto, District Chief Financial Officer, was quoted in the Fresno Bee on February 24, 2009 ("KIPP Academy may lose its campus") as having "concerns over [the school's] financial management." In a letter to KIPP parents dated February 23, 2009, Cindy Tucker, District Associate Superintendent, wrote "the District also has concerns relating to KIPP's financial position." In a Fresno Bee article on March 2, 2009 ("Backers of KIPP Academy press case"), Superintendent Hanson is quoted as saying,
"the district is concerned about the school's 'ongoing financial viability.'" . .
In reality, KIPP Academy Fresno has managed its funds very well over the past five years. For the 'past five years, the school has undergone an annual financial audit perfol111ed by an independent, outside auditing firm; each year these audits have come back clean. The school also has a ful1y functioning Finance Committee that meets regularly to oversee finances and insure continued financial soundness. The school works with a highly-respected local accounting firm to assist in the production of monthly, qU31ierly and yearly financial reports. The school has never misused funds, nor has it ever kept any financial infol111ation from the district; the school has managed expenditures prudently; and for each of the past three years, the school has fund raised over $120,000 annually.
Here are the facts: on October 10, 2007, the California School Finance Authority (CSFA), a state agency, wrote a letter to Superintendent Hanson's office, stating that it was "evaluating [KIPP] to determine whether the school had maintained its financial soundness for purposes of the [Prop 55 Charter School Facilities] Program. It asked if KIPP was in compliance with its charter agreement and if KIPP was in good standing with the District. On October 151\ Superintendent Hanson's Office responded affirmatively, writing that KIPP was indeed in good standing with the District and also in compliance with the charter.
Then, in June of 2008, the state of California determined KIPP to be financially sound and to have fulfilled virtually all other conditions for the school to access Prop 55 funds. In July, the state officially requested for the District to issue a letter of good standing before it would authorize the State Controller's Office's to release
$5 million funds to our school. This was fully eight months ago.. The District made a complete turnaround from its positive October 15th determination, and decided not to release the letter of good standing. If the District would have complied with the state's request, the Prop 55 funds would have been released no later than September of 2008, allowing the school to immediately pay down a $2.3 million bridge loan.
Between October of 2008 and March of 2009, KIPP requested in writing the letter of good standing from the District no less than ten times. For example, on December 10, 2009, the former principal wrote an e-mail message to Rosylin Bessard and Debra Odom from the District's charter schools office stating, "As you may know, if you do not release the letter of good standing, we will not be able to access our Prop 55 funds. If we cannot access our Prop 55 funds, we will be forced to enter a severe financial crisis that will lead to the closure of our school before the end of the year." During this six-month time period dating back to October of last year, the District refused to release the letter of good standing. In fact, when six different KIPP parents .called Ms. Odom and inquired about the letter of good standing in December 18, 2008, she stated, "I don't know anything about a letter of good standing."
Since the District did not issue the letter of good standing, the school has been forced to continue making interest payments on a loan that is now in default. Over the past seven months, these additional interest payments have cost the school approximately $150,000; in other words, the District's withholding oft he letter of good standing has put the school in serious financial jeopardy.
Misperception #4: KIPP has not complied with the District's requests.
For the past month, the District has repeatedly al1eged that KIPP Academy Fresno has not responded to its Notice to Cure. On February 27, 2008, Ms. Odom appeared on the Alan Autry Radio Show (KYNO 1300) and made several false statements. She claimed that "there has been little response to the Notice to Cure" and that "to date, the Notice to Cure has not been cured." When former Mayor Alan Autry stated, "[KIPP] has not responded [to the Notice to Cure]," Ms. Odom responded, "Right."
These statements are not just highly misleading; they are not true. On November 14,2008, the District sent KIPP's (foundation) Nolan Highbaugh the Notice to Cure, asking for 33 separate remedial actions to be addressed. One month later ,on December 15th, Mr. Highbaugh responded with specific responses to 28 off the 33 actions. This 300-page response - with 28 separate exhibits - was delivered both by e-mail to Susan Hatmaker, District lawyer, and in person. One month later, on January 15, 2009, the District responded to KIPP's response and added an additional 16 new actions required. On February 13, 2009, KIPP sent a second letter to the District with specific responses to 18 prior actions, including the following documents. On March 3, 2009; the district .wrote a third letter, adding an additional six new requirements. On March 11, 2009, KIPP wrote a third letter with specific responses to 10 prior actions.
Between November of 2008 and March of2009, the requirements set by the District for its release of a letter of good standing comprised a "moving target": 33 conditions in November 2008 grew into 49 conditions in January 2009 which in turn evolved into 55 conditions by March 3, 2009. In addition, Cindy Tucker's February 23rd letter to KIPP families added two additional conditions to the initial Notice to Cure: the school's ongoing financial viability and the submission of a petition for charter renewal.
A close look of the paper trail shows that KIPP Academy Fresno has, in fact, responded in full to 55 of the conditions required in the Notice to Cure (and its two successive documents). For Debra Odom, a public official, to go on the air and mislead the public by stating there has been "little response to the Notice to Cure" and that "KJPP has not responded" is highly inappropriate. In fact, KIPP has complied with all District requests and
operated in good faith with the District in an attempt to keep its doors open . . .
Misperception #5: KIPP Academy Fresno and the KlPP Foundation decided upon a mid-year leadership transition.
Over the past month, the District has maintained a public position that it had nothing to do with the resignation of former KIPP principal, Chi Tschang. Superintendent Hanson's February 27th message to community leaders and his March 2nd letter to KIPP families state, "The decision for the leadership transition was made by KIPP Academy Fresno and the KIPP Foundation."
On a transition plan dated January 20, 2009, KIPP initially proposed a June 19, 2009 leadership transition date for the following reasons. First, "any departure before this date would cause severe disruption to our academic program" due to a rearrangement of staff schedules. Second, a mid-year departure may incite other teachers to leave. Third, the appointed successor, Mr. Lin, requested for Mr. Tschang to continue to coach him until the end of the school year. Finally, the school objected to a transition prior to a crucial time for recruiting students and staff for the 2009-2010 school year.
Despite the school's numerous objections to a mid-year transition, the District insisted that Mr. Tschang be removed no later than March 9th as school principal. In fact, the District argued for an earlier transition date. In a letter from Ms. Hatmaker to Mr. Highbaugh, dated January 15, 2009, Ms. Hatmaker wrote, "Please ensure that the Transition Plan includes removal of Mr. Tschang from all aspects of the Charter School, including but not limited to, as a board member, as a leader, principal or teacher, and as a consultant to the Charter School no later than January 26, 2009." It is clear that KIPP did not desire a mid-year transition.
Furthermore, when Mr. Tschang agreed to resign on February 20th, the District insisted on controlling the message. They worked on a communication plan that included zero reasons for why Mr. Tschang was resigning. Further, the District forbade Mr. Tschang from holding a parent meeting to explain the situation and instill confidence in the new leader, Mr. Lin.
Misperception #6: KIPP has ongoing, systemic issues in violations of the school's charter.
Much has been made of the District's Notice to Cure. We believe that this "report" was highly biased and flawed. For example, of the 110 individuals interviewed by the private investigator, 37 of them were cited in the final Notice to Cure written by the District's lawyer, Susan Hatmaker, and released to KIPP in November. In this report, 29 individuals made negative allegations about either the then-school leader, Chi Tschang, or the schoo1. 27 of these 29 individuals - that's 93 percent - had left KIPP on unfavorable terms.
The main part of the report deals with student discipline. In the report, there are 28 allegations relating to student discipline stated as "facts." All of these "facts" were allegations made by individuals who left our school bitterly; all of these "facts" were based on memories dating back from one to five years prior to the interviews; and none of these "facts" was confirmed by multiple sources or witnesses. None of these statements was given under oath or thoroughly investigated, and yet they are now out in the public domain as "facts."
Now that District has released this error-laden document to the public, the media has irresponsibly assumed its truth. For example, in the first paragraph of the February 22nd Fresno Bee article ("Charter School in furor"), Anne Ellis and Kerri Ginis write that Mr. Tschang is accused of “forcing one student to crawl on his hands and knees and bark." What actually happened was that in the spring of 2008, Ms. Sifuentes sent a 6th grade boy to the office for copycatting other students' misbehavior in class. When Ms. Sifuentes and Mr. Tschang followed up with him in the office, Mr. Tschang started the conversation by asking him, "If [your friend] were a dog, would you get down on your knees and bark like a dog?" He said no. He certainly did not "crawl on his hands and knees and bark." Despite the fact that Ms. Sifuentes was one of the three parties present at the time, the District's investigator has never spoken to her. What is alleged in the newspaper is a falsehood that even the student in question can confirm.
Let us share the factual record: any time there is a parent grievance at KIPP Academy Fresno for any reason, there is a grievance process, which is in place to protect the rights of all p3liies involved. This grievance process is published in a family handbook that goes home to every family prior to the start of the school year. KIPP keeps signed receipt forms from every family. Eventually, if the grievance cannot be resolved through the teacher or the principal, it gets to the board level and is documented in the minutes from board meetings. . According to all previous board minutes, the record states that there were exactly 15 parent grievances between 2004 and 2008, or about 4 a year.
In Superintendent Hanson's March 3rd letter to KIPP families, he claims, "This is not about a few disgruntled parents and employees. This is about ongoing systemic issues at the school that threatened student safety and that were in violation of the law." 15 parent grievances over four years hardly indicate "ongoing systemic issues." Furthermore, on a 2008-2009 anonymous KIPP parent survey, only 2 percent of respondents rated that they were either "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied" with their child's safety at KIPP. This hardly seems to indicate "ongoing systemic issues that threatened student safety." It is also odd that on October 15, 2007, the District released a letter stating that - at that time - KIPP Academy Fresno was a school in good standing. If, as Hanson argues, the school is plagued with ongoing systemic issues, why did the District consider it to be in good standing only a year and a half ago? Surely "ongoing systemic issues" do not develop within a year and a half. It is much more likely that our school is, and always has been, a school in good standing.
The most potentially hurtful allegations involve testing irregularities; this is possibly the most hurtful allegation because it attacks the school's record of hard work and achievement. In this Bee 3Iiicle, Paul Wheeler
points to a "failure to keep test materials locked up." This is another falsehood: for the past five years, standardized tests have been kept either in the principal's office or in a back storage room, two of the most secure rooms in our schoo1. Wheeler claims that "the school would open state standardized tests and teach the material to students before the tests were given." This is absolutely false and comes from an individual who spent little time at KIPP and has no evidence to support his claim.
At KIPP, we have never opened tests and taught the test material as alleged. As a matter of fact, if there is ever any hint of cheating, we are happy to let the District come in and randomly test our students at any given time.
A Call for Your Help
We believe that this is an uncommon and outstanding school worth fighting for. It is proving that Fresno's students from all backgrounds can achieve at the highest academic levels if they commit to high expectations and hard work. Consider a few of the school's recent accomplishments:
• In 2008, KIPP's state-wide academic. Performance Index (API) score of 850 ranked 7th overall out of the 118 public middle schools in the Central Valley.
• On the 2008 CAT -6 test, 94 percent of KIPP 7th graders performed at or above grade level in math; this was the highest pass-rate among all 118 middle schools in the Central Valley.
• In 2008, KIPP was named a California Title I Distinguished School, one of only two middle schools in Fresno County (out of 60 total middle schools).
• All KIPP 7th graders take Algebra 1 and almost all 8th graders take Geometry for their math class. Only 5 percent of all California’s 7th or 8th graders take math at these high levels.
KIPP sends the largest cohort of entering freshmen to Fresno's highest-performing public high school, University High. This spring, 27 KIPP 8th graders were accepted to University High.
According to two recent anonymous parent surveys, 98 percent of its parents support KIPP and would recommend the school to others.
If KIPP were to close at the end of this school year, all 220 of the current KIPP 5th 6th and 7th graders would be dispersed to 20 different middle schools throughout greater Fresno, depending on where their families live. If you average together all 20 of these middle schools, you would create a fictional middle school with a 634 API score, placing this hypothetical school in the bottom 20 percent of al1 California middle schools. On average, KIPP students would go to a new school with a lower API score by 216 points. This hypothetical middle school would also have 436 suspensions and 23 expulsions annually.
To put it another way, if KIPP were to close, not one single KIPP student would likely attend a middle school with a higher 2008 API score. On last year's API scores, KIPP was ranked #5 out of Fresno County's 45 middle schools; if KIPP were to close, 70 of its students would attend a middle school ranked #45 out of the 45 middle schools in Fresno County. This would be an injustice and a tragedy for these students and families. Our families deserve the opportunity to have the best-possible school for their kids. It is their civil right to do so.
So far, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our parents and from the community. This is a school that serves the entire Fresno community, and now we are calling on the entire Fresno community to help us. We fully acknowledge that we are not a perfect school and that we have made mistakes. However, we have also worked diligently to improve upon those mistakes and will continue to do everything possible to provide our families with this excel1ent school. Here are two immediate next steps:
• First, please support our school's charier renewal petition. Our renewal petition will be submitted to the District no later than March 31st. By law, the District has 60 days to review the petition. Prior to the renewal decision, there will be a public hearing that we hope you attend.
• Second, please continue to support the school with your financial contributions. Every cent matters. We are very hopeful that state funds will free up in the next month. For the first time since last December, the State Treasurer's Office will be selling $4 billion of bonds beginning next Wednesday. Depending on how effectively the state can raise money, the state may decide to unfreeze funds allocated for our school. In the meantime, we appreciate your contributions. Every cent counts.
We ivite you to please come see our school in action. People are welcome to see how these children are taught. Call or stop by to make arrangments with staff on the days to visit. We are looking forward in seeing community supporters.
Thanks for your ongoing support.
KIPP Academy Fresno staff March 19, 2009
2445 W Dakota Ave
Fresno, CA 93705