Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summit Academy Implodes. Our Most At-Risk Kids Suffer

I'll never forget my first exchange with someone from Summit Academy nearly a decade ago. It was at, of all places, a Town Hall meeting I held in Suffield Township -- one of the little burgs I represented while serving two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives.

I don't remember the name of the gentleman who approached me, but I think he had an Australian accent (No, it wasn't Matthew Dellavedova. Go Cavs!).

His first comment to me was this: "We are not David Brennan."

Last year, Summit Academy ran the largest single branded chain of privately run charter schools in the state with 26. Brennan's White Hat Management still ran more schools -- 31 -- but that's split among his different brands -- an online operation (OHDELA), traditional schools (Academies) and dropout recovery schools (Life Skills).

Anyway, I took the Aussie's invitation and visited Summit Academy. Summit serves almost exclusively special needs children. The presentation they gave to me (and other legislators) was impressive. They were asking to be exempt from state performance measures because their kids simply don't test well. And I get that.

But that first interaction with Summit's representative always stuck with me. Because if you're a charter school operator from Summit County (like Summit is), you always have to distinguish yourself from the area's -- and state's -- most notorious charter school operator.

The Akron Beacon Journal (again) is leading on the coverage of what can simply be called an implosion at Summit Academy -- an implosion that is frankly as Brennan-like as anything I've seen.

First, on Monday, the Beacon reported that 9 employees from Summit Academy were ousted from their positions -- most likely because of massive conflict of interest issues. Then today, they reported that Summit Academy makes a habit of suing teachers who leave their position that pays an amazingly paltry $28,000 a year.

Wonder why teachers would want to leave? Um, that horrendous salary to help educate among the state's toughest-to-educate children would explain it.

They sue teachers for the cost of their replacement. And win.

I'm not making this up.

Brennan doesn't do this stuff. Yes, he does horrible stuff. But he doesn't habitually sue teachers for the cost of replacing them. That's just wrong on so many levels.

And free market reformers wonder why teachers want to be in unions.

I digress.

The Beacon reported today that the guy heading up Summit Academy now makes $200,000 a year -- more than the state superintendent, who oversees all Ohio's children. Now that is Brennan-like.

What breaks my heart is the kids Summit Academy are supposed to be educating. It appears the company is profiting from the additional funding the state provides to educate our state's most at-risk youth. Which means this operation appears to be everything Brennan is and more.

And while their performance is actually not horrible on special education -- only 3 of their schools have below a C on the report card for student growth among special needs children and twice as many have As in that category -- their management performance is every bit as miscreant as Brennan.

As I think back to that initial encounter, I'm wondering if I should have pushed for further explanation.

Because judging from what's happened, instead of saying "We're not David Brennan," a more accurate disclaimer would be, "We're not David Brennan. We're worse."