Trouble at First Place

UPDATE: Charter Commission rejects First Place correction plan

A story in the Seattle Times describes some of the growing pains at First Place school, the first and only charter school up and running in Washington State.

The principal and nearly half of the Board have left, there is no Special Education teacher, and they didn't do the required background checks on non-teacher personnel. There is reason to believe that they can get these things fixed - or at least fixed well enough to stay out of trouble.

I think the takeaway lessons for the Charter Commission are:

  • Confirm the political unity of the leadership. An institution doesn't lose half of its Board all at once, including the chair, unless there is some serious divide at the top.
  • Pay a lot of attention to the school's plans and ability to provide Special Education services. I don't think the Charter Commission really appreciates what it takes to meet the federal requirements.
On the good side, the commission's executive director appears to be doing his job and the commission appears to be doing their job.

From the article:

Timeline of First Place’s troubles

Sep. 2: First Place Scholars opens as state’s first charter school

Oct. 9: Joshua Halsey, executive director of the Washington State Charter Schools Commission, learns that four of the board’s seven members have resigned

Oct. 27: School notified of possible noncompliance with federal disabilities law

Oct. 28: Board unanimously votes to remove board President Dan Seydel

Oct. 29: Special-education contractor withdraws her services, leaving the school without a special-needs instructor

Oct. 30: Halsey visits First Place to investigate complaints of noncompliance with its charter

Nov. 4: School notified of 16 areas where it may be out of compliance

Late November: Principal Evie Livingston resigns; former Marysville Superintendent Linda Whitehead assumes principal role

Dec. 10: Deadline for First Place to submit corrective action plan to the state charter-school commission
Source: First Place Scholars board meeting minutes and Washington State Charter Schools Commission


I saw this article. I am saddened but not surprised.

It's a heavy lift to become a charter in this state for good reason. One, for that flexibility and state dollars, they need to be accountable and organized. Two, the Charter Commission, as I have state before, takes their job VERY seriously and no one wants a charter to go down.

I do worry that only "name" charters that get the dollars from the Gates Foundation (via the Washington Charter Assn) will survive.
Anonymous said…
Which is why we have these fake charters here in SPS. They are all the same but keep telling yourself they are doing good.

You all keep trumping the Interagency and this QA thing might be not the NIMBY issue but in fact another grab of power and insertion into the social safety net met by other more qualified service orgs.. the CHS which is on Queen Anne, Ryther or any other properly vetted and well run group.

This principal that you claim is so fantastic and the puff article that you cite as source in the same Times newspaper that you decry when it writes something you don't like, is just that.

Ask about the real numbers who graduate. Go to the numerous sites and see what is going on there and ask why a former kindegarten teacher is a site coordinator for a rehab school?

And why is the Prinicipal on the board of director for Green Dot. Ever read about them?

This is what will happen to other schools as you divert funding to one willy nilly program or another. There needs to be some consolidation and coordination in a district that has none.

That primarily it should be about the kids and their needs.. having badly run programs and schools do not meet them but they do enable adults to meet their.

Who is the priority?

- Asking for a friend
Personally, I think the lesson is that when the state Supreme Court strikes down I-1240, we need to make sure that it stays dead. This sort of thing is what happens in charter schools all across the country. They're scammy fly by night operations, which is a shame for First Place because they were doing great work with a solid leadership team before they reinvented themselves as a charter.
Anonymous said…
And that's what I don't understand. First Place appeared to be doing all the right things. What changed when they became a charter? Did new leadership come in and change things or was the old leadership actually NOT doing as much good as everyone thought? How did it go down the tubes so fast?

I admit to not being up on it, but I don't think any of the big national charter orgs came in and ruined it, so what happened? Does anyone know?

1stplace supporter?
Eric B said…
Two things happened when they became a charter. They started working off of state money only and they grew rapidly. A management and cost structure that works for 25 students may be completely different from what is required for 100 students with a different funding model.

It's a cautionary tale for sure. My relative who has been on a charter school board for a dozen years in another state said that he thought the charter movement had run its course.
Anonymous said…
What changed? Well, the SSD used to provide the SPED services (sped teacher, therapists, etc) but they were pulled once First Place converted to Charter status. Likely other spendy issues they should have anticipated too.

Sped Staffer
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said…
@ asking for a friend,
When you write "This principal that you claim is so fantastic" who is "you"?

This use of a pronoun without an antecedent appears to be intentionally vague. Who, exactly, do you mean by "you"? Is it Melissa? Is it the community that comments here? Is it everyone who might read your words?

I ask in part because I want to understand your meaning, in part because I want you to write more clearly, and in part because I am not aware of anyone singing the praises of Ms Andrews on this blog.

So please don't be so cryptic. Have the courage to say what you mean.
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry as well that First Place is having problems. It has been around for many, many years and has served its small group very well. As far as I could tell. I wish we had lots and lots of small organizations doing great work. If you want to see what happens to organizations that get too big, just look at SPS. Bureaucratic, ineffective and greedy. That's about it.

Or am I too

Anonymous said…
Well, I just read the Times article and it sounds promising. Apparently, having a principal (the Marysville Super) will make a difference. Somebody who has been there and knows how to organize to get things done.

I'm not so cynical after reading the article. I think they'll make it work.

Glad not to be so ...

VOTED NO said…
I heard that, several years ago, there was an incredible woman leading First Place, but she left, and leadership has suffered-clearly!

NO ONE wants to take supports away from homeless children, but we need to consider that the children in this charter school are suffering at the hands of incompetent leaders.

Lastly, perhaps because First Place is a place for the homeless, but no one has talked about a private school being turned into a charter school.

Anonymous said…
Ah Mr. Mas spoken like the true scold you and your co founder are.

When anyone has the audacity and temerity to disagree with the coda, dogma, belief or opinon that "you" as in the royal "we" meaning those who fawn over this blog are immediately scolded and derided.

"You" do not fail to disappoint as either "you" or the "others" who refuse to accept an alternative perspective or view on any issue once it has been deemed worthy or not depending on whatever issue you decide is of import. Then you browbeat, scold, or whatever word you would think a blog blurb should have to validate approprate comprehension, grammar and composition.

There was a valid point made in other thread by a man who was a counselor in a Mass. detox and right away he was told that Mass. children detoxing are not the same and could not be compared. Never have I read anything more abusurd yet utterly fitting for this blog.

How are Seattle children with drug and alcohol problems "different" could you get your co-author/founder to explain in detail as clearly she has the experience and knowledge in which to compare. The audacity to say to one experienced and knowledged in the matter is wrong is appalling and arrogant.

So please tell me how unclear and vague, cryptic or whatever word you feel is needed to denigrate me, my writing style or my opinion.

- Asking for a friend
Wait, what? Charlie asked for a clarification of who Asking was speaking about and this is what comes out?

Every high school detox plan and re-entry school is the same in the U.S.? Of course not so Charlie was right to question why this guy was comparing it programs elsewhere.

I never said I was any kind of substance abuse expert. Never and I don't know what I could have written to give that impression.

Calm down and just ask your question clearly, please.

Linda Whitehead was the Marysville super before Nyland. She was ousted by her Board and had a troubled tenure. I'm not sure I'd say First Place did well in hiring her.
Charlie Mas said…
@asking for a friend,

Huh? What the heck are you going on about?

First, this post is about First Place, not Interagency, yet you wrote an off-topic comment about Interagency.

Second, you used the pronoun "you" without saying who "you" referenced. Your meaning was unclear. All I did was ask you whom you meant. I notice that you didn't answer that simple question.

Third, you scold me for being a scold. Ironic much?

Fourth, your presumption - that my question was driven by disagreement - is unfounded. How could I possibly disagree with your position when I don't even know what your position is? I'm looking for clarity first. Also, please do not make conjecture about my motivations. You don't know me or what drives me, and the suggestion that you do is disrespectful. If you're curious about my motivations you can ask me about them.

Finally, I have absolutely nothing to do with any discussion of detox in Massachusetts or anywhere else. Your efforts to tie any such statements to me are not only false but downright bizarre. So, yes, you remain unclear. How am I connected to those statements?

All I asked - and you have yet to answer - is whom did you mean by "you" in your comment. Would you care to answer that simple question?
mirmac1 said…
Perhaps he/she/it means "those who disagree with me" - which would mean me I guess.
Unknown said…

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