This post has four sections:
- Background information about the approval of a petition for a charter school in Santa Clara County, California. The school, Magnolia Science Academy – Santa Clara, is slated to open in Sunnyvale for the 2010-2011 school year and is currently enrolling students.
- Revealing excerpts from an email exchange sent to me by a reader who, as a prospective parent, was in communication with a representative of the new MSA-Santa Clara school.
- Evidence which clearly contradicts the representative’s statements.
- Why so much about Turkey and Turkish?
PART 1: Petition approved!
In July 2008, the San Mateo Union High School District rejected a charter school petition submitted by the Magnolia Educational and Science Foundation [aka Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation]. As the San Francisco Examiner explained:
“Undeterred by the district decision, the Magnolia Foundation turned to the California Board of Education and received authorization to open 10 new charter schools anywhere in the state during the next six years. The foundation can locate its schools within any district without seeking approval at the local level, according to Joseph Hurmali, the foundation’s president.” [Joseph Hurmali may be an AKA for Huseyin Hurmali who has "led many study tours to Turkey" including this Gulenist promotional tour.]
In March 2009, three Magnolia Charter Schools were approved (5-2) by the Santa Clara County Board of Education.
But because the Magnolia Science Academy-Santa Clara (MSA) did not open as planned in fall 2009, the Santa Clara County Board of Education sent a Notice of Violations in February 2010. “Administration defers recommendation to the Board’s legal counsel.”
In April 2010, the board members reviewed the status of the charter school’s remediation of the violation and voted (4-2-1) to approve the recruitment and enrollment revisions.
PART 2: Answers given
This is a prospective parent’s May 2010 email communication with a staff member fielding questions about the school. Note the lines I've highlighted in bold.
Subject: can we enroll?
even though the school is run by the Gulen Islamic movement, we are a Christian family would it be OK to enroll our children?
We have no affiliation with the movement. Some of our staff may have unofficial affiliation with the movement, though we do not question our teachers' affiliations with any political party or religious organization…
I believe you are misinformed by internet conspiracy theories. Let me correct a few things you mentioned in your email…
1. There is no country as "Islamic Republic of Turkey." Turkey is a secular country about to join European Union… [According to the U.S. Department of State, Turkey is officially known as the Republic of Turkey and is 99 percent Muslim]
3. We have no affiliation to Beehive or Chesapeake so I don't know their case. I just checked on the internet and it says they were closed because they had low enrollment and not enough financial security…
6. Turkish language is only offered at one Magnolia school as an elective out of nine schools. And that was due to demand from parents. We offer Spanish as primary foreign language. Based on demand from parents we have opened Chinese, Japanese and French in some of our schools. 8 out of 9 of our schools have never offered Turkish language…
Thank you for your reply, but we were told that the Gulen schools teach Turkish language, dance, singing - they have a Turkish American Club and then take a Trip to the Islamic Republic of Turkey…
…Some of our international teachers are Turkish. They probably organize cultural events with Turkish food. But I am very sure there is no religious concept mentioned or discussed with students. Baklava and shish kebab hardly constitutes a cultural enforcement…
PART 3: Evidence clearly contrary to the staff member's claims
Eleven schools are listed on the home page of the Magnolia Schools Web site, two of which will be opened in the Fall of 2010. ALL of the active schools feature formal and institutionalized activities for students which give an intense exposure to Turkish culture and travel. I encourage you to follow the progressions and explore.
1. Magnolia Science Academy 1 – Reseda; Varol Gurler, principal
- Home page>Europe Trip: “MSA had a wonderful trip to Turkey with 4 students and 2 teachers during the spring break.”
- Home page>Arizona Trip and Turkish Contest [April 1-4]: “MSA had a trip to Arizona with 13 students, 3 parents and 4 teachers for four days during the spring break. We went to Grand Canyon. The following day we went to Phoenix for the Turkish Competiton [sic]. Our students competed in poem, skit and special talent categories.”
- Gallery>2008 Turkish Olympiads, 16 pictures
- Documents>After School Programs>Turkish club with Mr. Yilmaz
2. Magnolia Science Academy 2 – Valley; Erdal Kocak, principal
- Social/Fun Clubs> “TURKISH CLUB - Students will have the opportunity of learning Turkish culture beside Turkish language and songs. Students will taste various Turkish food, make cultural filed [sic] trips and watch movies.”
- Gallery>2007-2008 Album>Trips>Turkish Class Six Flags
- Gallery>2009-2010 Album>Trips and Camps>After School Clubs>Turkish Folk Dance Club
- Trulia.com review for MSA2: “…They have a good foreign language program which includes Spanish, Turkish, and Russian…”
3. Magnolia Science Academy 3 – Carson (formerly Gardena); “Matt”/Metin Demir, principal
- Left vertical bar>Turkish Contest: April 3-4th Mesa Arts Center In Phoenixs [sic], AZ Thanks to all the students that participated! Our trip to Arizona headed out Friday, April 2nd at 9a.m. The weekend was full of not only Acticvties [sic] during the Contest but also visiting the Grand Canyon, Raw Hyde, and Flagstaff. Students enjoyed sight seeing, Snow Ball fights, and Go Cart Racing. Nevertheless the Turkish Language & Performing Arts Contest was the highlight and main event of our trip. We had a total of 11 participants representing our school this year…Our very own [student name] won First Place in the Special Talent Category. Five states participated in the West Coast and we had the only winner in the state of California! Lets [sic] all congratulate everyone that participated.
- Left vertical bar>Anatolian Festival>Gallery page labeled “Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival,” 34 pictures
- Gallery>2009-2010 Albums>Turkish Language & Art Contest, 43 pictures
- Gallery>2009-2010 Albums> Europe Trip 2010, 85 Pictures: Photographs reveal a trip to Turkey, complete with minarets and a Turkish flag flying on a pole (see image above).
4. Magnolia Science Academy 4 – Venice; Mustafa Sahin, principal
- Msa4 News, April 2010>Page 5>Arizona Trip: “The ext [sic] day, early in the morning, we went to the Mesa Art Center to watch the Turkish contest. Our friend November participated in the contest. She sang a Turkish song and we supported her.” And “On the last day, we watched the finals of Turkish Contest and many students performed singing, dancing, skits and poetry. That was unforgettable!”
- Msa4 News, April 2010>Page 6>Europe Trip: “The Europe Trip was an unforgettable journey to France and Turkey. The students went there over Spring Break. They flew into France, and stayed there for two days. On the second day, they headed to Turkey by flying over Europe. It was a total of eleven days and packed with many events to do and see. There was also a choice of just going to Turkey for nine days. Mr. Gurcan arranged all the trip details…After Paris they took a flight to Turkey, Istanbul for three days. They stayed at Ufuk School…They took another flight to Turkey, Izmir and stayed there for two days. They stayed at Marla Hotel. While they stayed at Marla Hotel they met the parents of one of the teachers from MSA6, Mr. Koray…
- From Trulia.com reviews for MSA4: "…They have Turkish, Ethics and Art classes too. Many of the teachers are Turkish. They go on field trips every month. There is also a yearly trip to Europe and Turkey…"and "…I don t [sic] like how many Turkish teachers there are because some of their accents are hard to understand..."
5. Magnolia Science Academy 5 – Hollywood; Dr. Suleyman Karaman, principal
- Gallery>Year 2008-2009>Europe Trip>Turkiye, 21 pictures)
- Gallery>Year 2008-2009>Trips>Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival, 31 pictures
- After School>Club Descriptions: “TURKISH CLUB Students will have the opportunity of learning Turkish culture beside Turkish language and songs. Students will taste various Turkish food, make cultural filed [sic] trips and watch movies.”
- Documents>December 2009 Newsletter>MSA Student Parent Handbook: “Europe trip is scheduled for the spring break, in between March 25 and April 5. For more information, please see Mr. Emin”*
- Documents>MSA Student Parent Handbook: “Field Trips offer exciting ways to learn. MSA students will have the opportunity to go on field trips at various times throughout the school year. MSA plans many field trips, weekend getaways, summer camp, and our infamous Europe Trip during spring break.”
6. Magnolia Science Academy 6 – Palms: “Ike”/FNU Ozis, principal**
- Gallery>Europe Trip 2010, 10 Pictures: Photographs of kids standing in front of famous French and Turkish landmarks
- Gallery>Arizona Trip 2010, 12 Pictures: Photographs of kids doing various activities along with a photo of students on stage at the Turkish Language Institute sponsored Turkish Language & Performing Arts Contest.
- Documents>MSA Student Parent Handbook (same as above for MSA5): “Field Trips offer exciting ways to learn. MSA students will have the opportunity to go on field trips at various times throughout the school year. MSA plans many field trips, weekend getaways, summer camp, and our infamous Europe Trip during spring break.”
- Gallery>Field Trips and Camps>Turkish Cultural Trip (Jan ’08), 19 pictures: Photographs of a small number of kids (6) on an outing to a beach and eating in someone’s home (Turkish-style floor seating around a short table)
- Gallery>Field Trips and Camps>International Trip (Apr ’08), 27 pictures: Photographs of kids (same three students) posing at famous Turkish landmarks
- Gallery>Academic Activities>Turkish Language & Performing Arts Contest (Apr ’10), 30 pictures
8. Magnolia Science Academy 8 – Bell (LA County): Opening in 2010-2011
9. Magnolia Science Academy – Santa Clara: Opening in 2010-2011
10. Pacific Technology School – Orangevale*** (Sacramento County, opened September 2009)); Mahmut Altun, principal
- After School>Academic Clubs & Teams: “TURKISH CLUB Students will have the opportunity to learn Turkish culture and language. Students will taste various Turkish foods, go on cultural field trips, and watch movies.”
11. Pacific Technology School – Orange County***; “Steven”/FNU Keskinturk, principal
- Gallery>Europe Trip, 51 pictures: Photographs of kids posing at famous French and Turkish landmarks and eating a meal “Turkish-style.”
- Gallery>Trip to Anatolian Festival, 27 pictures: Photographs of kids posing at famous French and Turkish landmarks and eating “Turkish-style.” [it appears the Anatolian Cultures & Food Festival was sponsored by the Pacifica Institute]
*NOTE: Images of the Europe trips never include countries other than France and Turkey
**FNU = first name unknown
***These schools earned the classification of Statewide Benefit Charter schools. From the California Department of Education: "The State Board of Education may authorize a five-year charter for the operation of a charter school that will provide instructional services of "statewide benefit" that cannot be provided by a charter school operating in only one school district, or only in one county. Statewide benefit charters must adhere to all other charter laws with the exception of geographic limitations. They must open at least two new sites/schools in different counties in areas with struggling schools. After the first two sites have operated for two years and met performance objectives, operators may open two additional sites each year."
PART 4: Why so much Turkish? And other curiosities.
As a world language, Turkish ranks fairly far down on the world language popularity list:
And as for the claim of only a remote connection to Turkey that simply involves exposing students to baklava and shish kebab, much more is going on and it is apparent if you watch this video of the 2009 California Turkish Olympiads produced by Ebru news (a Gulenist TV station):
160 students from 17 schools contested in 5 different categories in this years Turkish Language Olympics organized by the Pacifica Institute which is based in California. The students displayed their skills in singing, poetry, folklore, talent and sketch categories; however, some others contested in grammar and essay categories. [student name] from Sonoran Science Academy was awarded with 1st place in the poetry contest, while [student name] from Magnolia Science Academy in California took second place and [student name] and [student name] from Coral Science Academy in Nevada took the third place. In the sketch category, students from the Bay Area Technical School took the gold medal while the students of Sonoran Science Academy Broadway took the silver. The gold medal and a lot of applause went to Brandon Thandi from Sonoran Sunset Arizona displaying his masterful art of the water marbling. He simply painted two tulips next to American and Turkish Flags.Coral Academy of Science Nevada team of folk dancers got the gold medal and the cup.Every year Pacifica Institute organizes a Turkish Language and Performing Arts Contest. Students from all across the US compete in categories as varied as singing, poetry, sketch and folk dance.
Ebru is also the name for the Turkish craft of paper marbling.
For a review of this network of 100 U.S. charter schools, see U.S. Fethullahci charter schools.
B.Y.’s denials about the connection of Magnolia schools to Utah’s Beehive School of Science & Technology can also be easily challenged. From The Salt Lake Tribune (November 2009):
In 2007, Beehive received a $61,000 loan from Murat Biyik, who at the time was the school's vice principal. The loan was equivalent to Biyik's salary. Biyik is now principal at Magnolia Science Academy in Hollywood, Calif., part of a chain of charter schools once overseen by Erdogan.Incidentally, Tustin, California is also the home of Ted Mitchell, the president and chief executive officer of the New Schools Venture Fund, an organization which exists to fund charter start-ups. Mitchell was appointed to the California State Board of Education in 2007 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and is currently serving as the Board’s president.
And the foundation overseeing the Magnolia schools is home to another Beehive benefactor, Mustafa Keskin. Keskin is secretary of the foundation and loaned Beehive $49,000.
Other loans to Beehive include $20,000 from Buyamin Karaduman, and $30,000 from Suleyman Bahceci [Executive Director/CEO of Magnolia Schools], who both work for the Accord Institute in Tustin, Calif. [south of LA, near Santa Ana] The institute contracts with Beehive on curriculum design and performs teacher evaluations for the school.