Challenges, Choices and Images Charter School

Clouds over charter's staff: 11 accused of crimes (The Denver Post, May 13, 2008)

An assistant principal was busted with a crack pipe, a security guard pleaded guilty to soliciting a prostitute and a teacher is on probation for beating up his girlfriend.

Challenges, Choices and Images Literacy and Technology Learning Center Charter School in northeast Denver is coming under increased scrutiny by Denver Public Schools for its hiring practices, financial troubles and academic woes.

Denver's school board met Monday night in executive session to discuss the charter school, which by Thursday must show the board detailed plans of how it plans to improve.

"The bottom line is, from my perspective, is we are very concerned about the (600) kids in the building," said board member Kevin Patterson, who represents the area.

The district recently launched an investigation into the school after a former employee complained about employees having criminal pasts.

Eleven employees have been accused of crimes — though two of the cases were dismissed.

All of the convictions were on misdemeanor charges or less. Some of the cases involve drug charges, theft and assault.

"We do not require them to have a perfectly clean history, even though, as part of their hiring requirements, they must demonstrate the ability to rehabilitate themselves," said Principal Carolyn Jones, who wrote a letter last week to the board and DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet.

• Earl Armstrong, 41, hired in September as a teacher, is a community activist with various and numerous convictions on his record. Last year, he was found guilty at trial of third-degree assault and sentenced to probation and community service after beating up his girlfriend.

• William H. Brown, 55, the school's assistant principal, was arrested in December 2005 after police allegedly spotted him buying crack in an alley, according to an arrest report. Brown later pleaded "no contest" to having a crack pipe, according to county records.

• Phillip Lugu, 36, a security guard, pleaded guilty in 1999 to soliciting a prostitute and was guilty of shoplifting in 2001.

Eight other teachers and employees had brushes with the law, according to Jones' letter, including traffic violations, domestic violence and theft under $500.

Two cases were dismissed, one guard has resigned and a manager was fired.

The district requires the school to screen all of its employees against the Colorado Department of Education's database for teaching credentials and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's criminal database.

"I've done the investigating," Jones told The Denver Post last week. "I didn't find any issues. . . . There is a lot of clamor going on about this. It's all these rumors. I've got some teachers who are scared and don't want their reputations ruined."

State law bars those with felony records from teaching.

Denver Public Schools runs its employees through state and federal criminal databases and will not hire anyone with criminal pasts involving drugs, crimes against people or theft, said DPS spokesman Alex Sanchez.

Charter schools operate under different rules than the district's. State law or district rules do not prohibit them from hiring staffers with misdemeanors in their past, said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

"This is an area of judgment," he said. "If nothing was flagged, it probably meets the law. That's for a school to decide."

The school has 65 employees and roughly 600 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. It is under a one-year probation by the school district to improve its academic standing as it has suffered from low achievement over the past two years.

Questions have been raised about the school's financial health.

A recent audit shows the school failed to report $73,000 in bond and capital construction payments in its budget. Next year, the school will begin paying on a $39.1 million bond for the financing of the building it remodeled and moved into in August.

District officials also are purportedly investigating a $500,000 loan the school secured to help start an independently operated child-care center — the CCI Montessori Child Development Center.

Jones, the school's principal, said she has heard only rumors about the district's unease with the loan.

"As to the commingling of funds, the school has never done that," she writes. "We have, however, made loans to the Montessori day-care center as an attempt to get them open in a timely manner."


Anonymous said...

What a sad day when a school doing such great work as CCI is scandalized through allegations and rumors that get put into the newspaper. A check of the records will show that the teachers hired by the school were not criminals and that the offenses of which they were accused were minor: a mother going through a divorce and seeking custody of her children ends up in a fight with her ex-husband--incident happened 10 years ago; a teacher who in her teens pled guilty to shop lifting; a security guard who had just arrived in the US from a foreign country, not speaking English is accused of soliciting a prostitute and is afraid to not plead guilty--so he plead guilty so he could remain in this country. Other teachers accused of criminal misconduct had speeding tickets or their cases that were dismissed.

All teachers at CCI had been cleared to work with children through the Denver Public Schools background check process. Additionall, there was never any evidence to support claims that the school had falsified student transcripts. Think what damage this did to students of color and students from low-income families who had worked so hard to make the grades to get into college and then have their accomplishments tarnished with these kinds of allegations.

If the records were checked it would be clear that the loan made to the day care center was legitimate and was negotiated by individuals in the business community who had secured bond financing for the school. There was nothing shady or illegal about this loan.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but before people are smeared, the facts should be checked. The information presented in this article are allegations but unfortunately no one with the authority to retract them has sought to do so. How unfortunate.

The Perimeter Primate said...

I will add that it is horrific when a set of neoliberal, anti-union oligarchs and their like-minded ilk decide to spend hundreds of millions of dollars campaigning to smear the work of public school teachers who are left to deal -- under inadequately resourced circumstances -- with 1. the consequences of incarceration and economic policies that have probably permanently destroyed an chance for a healthy family structure for vast swaths of the society -- all because of racial hatred, and 2. the consequences of a society which has allowed its most important social institutions (neighborhood, family, church, and now public schools) to fall into decay, thus causing our downward spiral.

JacqueofStiques said...

I went to this school in 7th grade, ~2002, and I decided to Google it today to find out if it had been closed or not. I did this, thinking about how I saw one of my old teachers from this school, 'Sister Jennifer' (they used Sister/Brother instead of Mr./Mrs.) working as a mall cop. And that was in ~2007. I won't talk about these alleged charges, but no one should be allowed to tell a group of children that they are the result of a slave master forcing himself upon the child's ancestor. I'm glad to see that this factory of hatred has been shut down. CCI was no less terrible than the Westboro Baptist Church.

Alexandria Batiste said...

I also attended this school from 8th grade to graduation. I miss it. I miss our pan African community. The teachers were amazing and very educated. They taught us things about ourselves that we never would have known in public schools. My entire class graduated and most with scholarships. The hard work paid off in the product of us the future leaders. There is probably no other school that takes their children around the world, Paris, New York, dc, just to name a few, all expense paid. You just have to bring your spending money!?!
There is no other school that teaches young girls and boys especially of color how to cope and succeed in in the world we live in today. There is no other school that obligates the parents to dock hours for their participation as volunteers in the development of their children. Kindergarten to high school of pure work.

The slanders and allegations are not a truth I will ever hold on to. If it wasn't for CCI there would still be a handful of lost youth. And if you ask the principal, je, she would say that even 1 left to fall in the cracks is too much.

I love the essence of what CCI was and will remain in my development as well as my offspring.

Thank you to anyone who worked, taught, supported or knew about us.