CHARTER SCHOOL FAILS THE TEST, SHUTS DOORS, January 17, 1999, Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Chicago Preparatory Charter School was conceived with lofty goals, by an official with Mayor Daley's Office of Substance Abuse Policy, for a needy student population - recovering drug and alcohol abusers.
And yet, marijuana smoking was common in washrooms, students were allowed "therapeutic" cigarette breaks, and reading scores were the worst in the city, former students and Chicago public school officials say.
After 1 1/2 years, Chicago Prep has become the first city charter school to shut its doors. Left in its wake are unpaid bills, dozens of displaced students and angry parents. As students scramble to find new high schools in midyear, some of their parents question whether Chicago's experiment in charter schools needs more supervision. Others wonder how the school could have ever hired a former Chicago public school principal who had been fired for alleged ghost payrolling...As one of 11 city charter schools operating this school year, Chicago Prep received $290,000 in taxpayer funds and functioned free of most state and union rules in exchange for a "charter" promising certain results. However, the school still has not produced an audit due Nov. 1 under its charter, never paid into the teacher pension fund as required by law, has not paid its teachers since November, and never secured its planned location, said Greg Richmond, the Chicago Board of Education's charter school point man.
Record keeping for some programs ranged from a "confusing mess" to "non-existent," Richmond said...
Even Chicago Prep board member and spokesman Jim Fair did not know the amount of the school's debt, but said the school hopes to reopen this fall. Fair said he was unaware that the principal, Judith Riggins, had been fired from the Chicago Board of Education in 1995 following allegations that, while principal of Fuller Elementary, she placed her son on the payroll even though he did no work.
Although Riggins said she had merely paid her son for work several months after he did it, a state hearing officer ruled there was "no valid documentation" that the son had ever performed the work. The hearing officer found Riggins had twice submitted falsified records - including once under subpoena - that stated the work had been done at a time when her son had actually been away at college. The hearing officer called Fuller's record keeping "substandard" and Riggin's offense "irremediable."
Since Chicago Prep's closure, Riggins has become director of Chicago College Preparatory High School, 2314 E. 83rd St., school material indicates. She did not return phone calls for comment. Last year, Chicago Prep's high school reading scores tied for worst in the city. On a typical day, a third of its students failed to show up, board records reveal...[Nicole] Montalvo said her daughter was among at least three students without substance problems who were recruited and told the school was expanding beyond recovering substance abusers. Montalvo said Riggins promised a "gifted" setting in which Destini would advance at her own pace in small classes. Instead, Destini said she took a chemistry class in a school with no science lab, did jumping jacks and skipped rope in the cafeteria for physical education and never saw a gym, library or student computer. Such amenities were expected in a different location that never materialized, one teacher said.
In a recent letter to other charter schools, Richmond said he "lost all confidence in the school's educational program." He wrote that "very rarely did I observe adults instructing students. Classrooms had numerous students napping, listening to music through headphones or reading the paper. . . . Students would enter and leave classrooms at will."...