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Kindergarten student should not be retained, relative tells Pride College Prep leaders

One family member of a Pride College Prep student believes the shuttering charter school failed her nephew — and she’s looking to the school’s principal for answers.

Brandy Thomas, the aunt of a kindergarten student who was denied promotion into first grade, appeared at the school’s board of directors meeting Tuesday to air her grievances.

Thomas said that the school’s founder and director, Michael Richard, held her nephew back because that student did not pass a Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress (STEP) test, made for children deemed high risk academically. She said she understands the rules for pupil progression, but she thinks other factors should have been taken into consideration.

“The subjective part comes in when he’s not given the opportunity to take a math test because he’s not in an environment that’s conducive to learning,” she said.

“Could the teachers could have done more? Of course. Could we have done more? Of course,” Thomas continued. “But at the end of the day he shouldn’t be held responsible for it. Every kid is not the same.”

The board agreed to look into Thomas’s complaint – but they would have to hurry, board chairman Allen Square said, since Richard only holds his title as school leader until the end of the month.

Pride College Prep’s charter was not renewed by the state in December, and leaders are preparing to hand over Mildred Osborne Charter School, as it will be called, to ARISE Academy leaders on July 1.

The school had an “F” on its last report card.

Richard will continue to attend meetings, however, until the charter dissolves for good, and he promised at the board meeting to look into Thomas’ complaint.

Thomas said that the child has some other issues that she thinks should have been addressed in order for him to best succeed as a student. She said neither she nor the child’s guardian ever got a pupil progression plan or an intervention plan for the student.

“We didn’t receive any type of checklist saying we should do this or we should do that,” Thomas said, adding that the students’ math scores declined regularly as the school year went on, and his teachers reported behavioral issues and problems with following the rules.

“It’s typical for a kid who has struggled,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the child’s guardian had asked his teacher if he needed special counseling – but was told no.

“With her professional knowledge of him, she indicated that there was no need for that and he was progressing and he would be fine,” Thomas said.

At the meeting, Square said that the board takes complaints very seriously, and personally promised to work with both the child’s family and Richard to review the files to re-examine whether or not the child was appropriately evaluated.

“I’m glad to see that there’s a family advocating for a child,” Square said. “And I appreciate that. We’re going to do our due diligence on this.”

He said that he didn’t know whether or not there was a process for guardians to go through in order to challenge whether or not a pupil should be retained, but that he’d look into it. Richard said that the first step would be for the child’s guardian to put the request in writing.

Later in the meeting, board member Sam Joel reiterated the importance of responding to the family’s request.

“To me, this is one of the most important things of the closeout,” Joel said to Richard. “Your initial judgment is what it is, but I ask that you follow up with this.”

Richard said again that he would, but added that the school has “really clear guidelines” for whether or not the student is ready for the next grade.

He said in the past he had advised families to address grievances also with the next incoming administration, who would be in a better position to take action.

The rest of the board meeting was dedicated largely to discussion about how to close out the school.

Officially, 46 percent of the school’s staff is returning to Arise next year, Richard said.

Richard said that he was proud of what the staff had done to set up for Arise to take over, including bringing the third- through fifth-grade reading and math scores to 62 percent, from 26 percent when they took over in 2008.

“I’m really disappointed with the outcome, but proud of the gains we made,” Richard said.

The school’s director of finance and operations, Simone Green, will stay on a contract basis in order engage an attorney during the school’s close-out.

The board anticipates having its last meeting in October. They’re going to figure out what to do with the remaining money in their funds once an audit is completed in July, Square added.

July and September board meetings will be held by phone.

The school’s projected fund balance as of the end of June is $251,929.

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About Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Hasselle lived in New York for 10 years. While up north, she produced and anchored news segments, wrote feature stories and reported breaking news for, a hyperlocal news site. Before that, she worked at the New York Daily News. She obtained her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She can be reached at (917) 304-6121.

  • Joanne Hilton

    Ms. Hasselle – please tell Ms. Thomas that the best thing she can do for her nephew is LET him repeat kindergarten. I had a similar situation with a little boy I have advocated for since he started school. He didn’t have preK, and he was really not prepared for kindergarten but because he was already 5 years old, Audubon Montessori made him go the kindergarten. The teacher basically ignored him for the entire year, then at the end of the year said he was not ready to go on – DUH! I already knew this and was hoping that his experience in K would serve as a foundation for repeating the grade the next year. Long story short, a wonderful private school took him in kindergarten the following fall, gave him all the resources he needed, since he was language delayed, and by 3rd grade, he was right where he needed to be, and every year he did better and better. By middle school, he was a straight-A student, and now he has been accepted at the best high school in the city. Tell her to keep advocating for him, get every resource she can find (and I know how hard it is) and never give up – BUT repeating kindergarten, and letting him have some success, with the resources he needs, is probably the best thing for him.

  • nickelndime

    Under ordinary circumstances (oh, how we lower our sights !), it would make sense to retain a student who is not ready (“readiness”) to proceed to the next grade/level. But, we are not in ordinary times and the validity of the findings and the conclusions that this group/staff of “teachers” has reached is questionable. This is an “F” school. One would be hard pressed to declare that anyone here (i.e., the teachers, the administrator/s, support staff, the board, anybody here) knows what they are doing or have been doing for the last couple of years. This school has been declared a failure by the RSD – and that usually takes 5 years (that’s a big chunk of time in a young student’s life). From what I can tell, the only thing this group (nonprofit charter board, the principal, and the “business manager” – Dare I use the term) is interested in, is how they are going to close out their books and shut down. The principal is proud that nearly half of the staff has been retained? This is adding insult to injury. This child’s guardian may not know exactly the dynamics of how this particular RSD school messed up, but she knows something is wrong.

  • Lee Barrios

    How can the final two meetings be held by phone? This school is subject to Open Meetings laws regardless of whether or not they are closing.

  • Lee Barrios

    Sorry but you cannot offer that advice without knowing the full circumstances.

  • Joanne Hilton

    Your opinion, and mine, are not mutually exclusive.

  • Joanne Hilton

    You’re right, I don’t know the full circumstances, but I have observed some things, over the years of dealing with kids. Boys (and girls) are frequently held back in kindergarten, by their mothers, so that they will be the oldest ones in their class when they get to first grade, not the youngest, and thus m ore mature. I have watched this at Trinity Episcopal, Newman, St. George’s, Country Day, McGehee, etc. It was the same everywhere. Often, they just keep them out an extra year in pre-K. Newcomb Nurshery even had a special class for these boys who were already 5 years old and had completed pre-k but were not yet going to kindergarten. I advocated for a little girl in that class – there were 3 girls and 11 boys! You know what happens when they are in the “older” group when they get in school? They seem to more often be picked as “leaders” both by their peers, and their teachers. They get the best parts in plays and other performances, mainly because they are seen as kids who need less direction and hands-on in preparation. They are just more mature, and easier to handle. If people who are paying upwards of $20,000 a year (for school) are doing this, with good outcomes (I’ve watched for over 25 years), perhaps it is not a bad strategy.

  • nickelndime

    Yes, Joanne. I understood where you are/were coming from (“not mutually exclusive”). Your sincere interest in this child is laudable. You did not have to openly comment, but it struck a chord with you (yes, it did), and you knew you had to say something (because it was the right thing to do). This particular RSD school (and there are others) messed up and wasted a year of this child’s valuable time. Unfortunately, no one at the State level (LDOE, RSD, John White, Patrick Dobard, Raphael Gang, BESE…) cares. On paper, they want to make sure another “viable” group takes over (portfolio management at its worst). Another unfortunate, added: This group makes the OPSB (pre- and post-Katrina) look like apple pie. Ew-e-e-e! I am scaring myself. Lee – Whar you been? I have been missing you.

  • nickelndime

    “July and September board meetings will be held by phone.” Michael – THE LENS is doing it again (providing me with material). Open meetings laws? – What is that anyway? BOD says, “We dont know and we don’t want to know, thank you”. Millions wasted. 5 academic years wasted (minimally, more years, more likely). Why does Lee have to be the one to bring this up?!

  • Lee Barrios

    Again – your generalizations based on some of your own observations cannot be used to assume this or any child would fit into a mold. I once had a student in gifted classes who had to sit out a year of football with an injury in junior high. He decided, and his parents allowed it, that he would purposely fail and repeat 8th grade so he would be considered bigger and stronger and ready to play in 9th grade. While theoretically that strategy should work for him as a football player, it doesn’t mean it is an advised procedure for many reasons. In fact, he was bored in his classes and maintained poor grades the second 8th grade year, he was too “mature” physically to fit in with his classmates, particularly the girls, he ended up re-injuring during his 9th grade year and realized he wasted a year. Without knowing this child, it is impossible to all the factors influencing his performance and behavior just as it is not possible to lay blame on a teacher or parent. One thing is or sure – this conversation and predicament should not properly have gone before the school board for resolution. They are not educators nor were they properly informed regarding the circumstances. This family needs an advocate to address their concerns with the teacher and administration based on all the available anecdotal and material evidence.

  • Lee Barrios

    Not commenting on line so much lately but you can’t miss me at BESE meetings or legislative sessions. The landscape is changing so is the strategy. The privatization movement is its own worst enemy. You might say our focus now is churning the waters around this sinking ship.

  • Lee Barrios

    FYI – BESE/RSD is encouraged now that their their open meetings infractions will be ignored. The Attorney General office represented BESE in my recent Open Meetings lawsuit wherein the Superintendents Advisory Council refused to allow public comment. The AG argued that the advisory councils are not subject to open meetings laws due to an exemption they fabricated. The judge accepted (hhmmmmmmnn) their argument in spite of evidence and the clearly written law. I am appealing. In typical style, Chas Roemer assured me, publicly during the BESE meeting, that as long as he is President the advisory committees will be open. Does that tell you something?

  • Joanne Hilton

    Thanks – what’s interesting to me is that 10 years ago, I had an equally unfortunate experience with one of the best public schools in the city, Audubon, in the kindergarten classroom of a “master teacher.” If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere! I’d like to look up that teacher, (I think her name was Harney)who let this sweet innocent little boy be physically bullied without intervening (he often had little bruises on his arms where some other kid had pinched him). I would ask her about this at conferences, and she would imply that he was “asking for it” – which I understood to be code for the the fact that he was the only caucasian kid in the room. The day I picked him up after school, and he had a swollen bloody lip, I marched into the school and demanded an explanation – to which the teacher replied that it had been “handled” with the other boy’s parents, who had to come to school, and that “this time a report was written.” Still, no notice to this little boy’s guardian! Gee, it feels good to vent! The only reason I didn’t take it further at the time is that I knew we were out of there, to a far, far better place.If the teacher had paid proper attention to him (isn’t that suppose to be the “montessori way?”) he might have been ready for first grade also, but repeating kindergarten in wonderful new surroundings didn’t hurt him a bit, in fact, it really helped. He’s worked really hard, and now I think he’s gotten his golden ticket to high school as his reward.
    Repeating kindergarten is a WHOLE DIFFERENT situation than repeating later grades. I really have a hard time agreeing with repeating later grades, especially for social or sports reasons. I’m glad the little boy in the article has an Aunt to advocate for him forcefully, because that’s what it takes nowadays. It can be exhausting, but it pays off in the end.

  • nickelndime

    Lee and Joanne – I feel your power. Count me in.