Who Is A. J. Crabill (and why should you care)?

Why You Should Care
  • Mr. Crabill has found quite the acolyte in Director Chandra Hampson. In the course of discussions over SOFG, she says his name over and over, "A.J .says we...." Now that's not too surprising given the direction the district is heading and that it is Mr. Crabill's work with the Council of Great City Schools is how we got here. But it appears that Mr. Crabill is working very closely with Hampson and we know she wields some amount of power over the majority of the Board.
  • Mr. Crabill is going to continue to work with the Board as SOFG is instituted in SPS. In fact, his role may become more public as it did at one SPS Board meeting in the spring where he was on the phone during the meeting and suggested the Board stop the meeting to "self-reflect." I also noticed that in a district in South Carolina, when things weren't going to plan, he blamed the Board for not following SOFG to the letter. Look for that to happen here if Board members who are not so enthused get called out for that lack of enthusiasm.
  • I also have to wonder what will happen to the Board's commitment to student voice. Will they be on mute if they are not part of the SOFG organization?
  • It appears over the last several years that the Council of Great City Schools is making a push for districts to sign on to more and more of their initiatives and go to their conferences. They make the majority of the money they use to run their org from memberships and conference attendance. It appears that the SPS Board seems interested in being more invested in the CGCS.  

Who is A.J. Crabill?

A.J. Crabill is the Director of Governance at the Council of Great City Schools. Seattle Schools has been a member of CGCS for at least a decade but I have not received back info from public disclosure as to precisely when they did become members. Annual dues are about $25,000. Mr. Crabill's biography page at the CGCS' website does not work so I'm not sure what they have to say about him (more info on CGCS at the end of this post).

As Director of Governance, it appears that part of Mr. Crabill's job is to find ways to get more of their members to spend money with CGCS. One way appears to be adoption of their model of governance, Student Outcome Focused Governance. 

( I have filed a public disclosure request to try to find out how much SPS is spending on SOFG services which include Mr. Crabill being the Board's governance "coach," for at least nine months. As well, other costs to the district possibly include being part of the SOFG "Board Officers Cohort" which costs $2500 per board member per year, not including conference/travel costs incurred to be part of the cohort.)

What peaked my interest is that Mr. Crabill  has quite an absorbing work/experience history in the field of public education. 

He was born Airick Leonard West in about 1979. He had a tough, tough childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, bouncing from foster home to foster home, school to school.  He finally found good in Linda and Dick Crabill, who were his foster parents.

It is unclear if Mr. Crabill finished high school. He did briefly attend the University of Kansas.  He became a community activist in Kansas City. He says he was recruited away from school by a tech company but there is no evidence of that.

West became involved in the education scene in 2006 when he conceived and helped carry out a pilot program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Urban Education called “The Ivanhoe Project.” The program placed urban education students in inner-city living arrangements so they might better understand the environmental and social circumstances that affect the lives of their future students.

He served for eight years on the Kansas City (MO) school board, from July 2009 to April 2016.  It looks like he did many good things in that time including stabilizing their financial situation. But there were some oddities. In 2011, that board had a troubled relationship with their superintendent who had resigned. West/Crabill said the board didn't accept the resignation and the superintendent said he wasn't going to retract the resignation. From the Deseret News:

Covington became superintendent in 2009. His efforts to transform the district have included a school-closing plan shutting down nearly half of the buildings to avoid bankruptcy. Along the way, he and board president West have clashed. And many think the key to keeping Covington is to get West to resign instead. In fact, a coalition of black political leaders and city council members has been working to convince the board president to leave, school board member Arthur Benson said.

The district's accreditation is currently under review, even as its performance has continued to fall below accreditation standards. Last week, a preliminary report showed the district meeting just three of 14 state standards, compared with four a year ago. The district currently is provisionally accredited.

While on that board, however, he didn't report thousands of campaign dollars he received from Michael Casserly. Who is Casserly today? The executive director of the Council of Great City Schools. 

He applied for a job with Atlanta Public Schools in November 2014 as a governance trainer for school board members. In his bio for that job, he only listed just two school districts where he had done consultant work - Des Moines, Iowa and the district where he had been a board director, Kansas City. So he was "training" his own board. Hmm.

Then, just as he left the Kansas City School Board to move to a job in Texas in March 2016, he decided to change his name. There is nothing illegal nor wrong in changing your name but it does stand out if you do it as you are getting your first job  in a new state. He went from Airick West to Airick Journey Crabill.

The job he had in Texas was with the Texas Education Agency as Deputy of Governance at a salary of $180,000. The story from the Dallas Morning News. What is also eyebrow lifting is that the Dallas Morning News says that he changed his name as part of an "adult adoption" despite the fact that his foster mother, Linda Crabill, died in 2013.

What's also confusing is that there does not seem to be documentation in either Missouri or Texas for a legal change of name. As well, he filled out the job application with his old name, Airick West, but went to work as A. J. Crabill. He signed that Texas state job application with his old name.

He said on his application that he had been self-employed as a "Governance & Cultural Competency Consultant from 2005 to 2016.  Previous to that, in 2003, he owned a company - StrategicHERO - which he said failed. From 1999 to 2001, he owned a tech company called PixSoul that did e-commerce work. He claimed he sold it to a Fortune 500 company but again, there don't appear to be records for that sale.

There is no education record listed.  Not high school, not higher education. He left that entire area blank on the application.

In a check of state records in Kansas and Missouri, it appears he failed to list several companies that he formed on the application, some that failed or were sanctioned. One was a for-profit company, the other a non-profit. As well, it looks like he served as an officer for several PACs and was sanctioned by the Missouri Ethics Commission for violations.

It doesn't appear that anyone at the Texas Education Agency checked any of the statements on Crabill's application. 

In 2015, Crabill sent an invoice to the Dallas ISD for "coaching and training" and billed them $24K for four days he said he worked (with no dates on the invoice). He then asked them to send him a tax receipt for the work as a "donation" to the district. He said on this invoice that they could contact "Airick Leonard West" even as he said he had changed his name to A.J. Crabill. That's a pretty high rate for someone who has no educational background in public education or certification or even a college degree. 

Plus, at the time of that invoice, he was still an elected board member of Kansas City Public Schools and served on the board of...the Council of Great City Schools. Some might call that a conflict of interest.

At his Linkedin page, he calls himself a "Student Outcomes Evangelist." He says that he is currently

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. From WFAE's article:

The contract calls for CMS to pay $10,000 plus Crabill’s travel expenses — but that’s only if they meet the timetable they agreed on. If they fall short, they’ll pay up to $75,000, based on his hourly work.

I'm asking if SPS has a similar contract with Crabill.

 The board moved the governance work sessions to the start of meetings, earning jeers from some audience members who had to wait longer for public comment sessions.

You can expect that to happen to Seattle School Board meetings as well plus the insertion of Work Sessions in the middle of the meetings.

“So while I can’t opine on the superintendent or staff’s capability, I can opine on the process which school boards should use to make that assertion themselves. And that involves being very clear about what are the outcomes for our students.”

“To the extent that we don’t see those, even if we absolutely love the superintendent and feel wonderful and fuzzy about them, that’s not evidence that we should retain them,” Crabill said.

Uh oh, maybe Superintendent Jones should watch out. 

He has a website with a current biography that says he has a book coming out in 2023. 
Council of Great City Schools

The Council of Great City Schools is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, founded in 1956.

The Council of the Great City Schools brings together the nation’s largest urban public
school systems in a coalition dedicated to the improvement of education for children in the
inner cities. The Council and its member school districts work to help our schoolchildren
meet the highest standards and become successful and productive members of society.
The Council keeps the nation’s lawmakers, the media, and the public informed about the
progress and problems in big-city schools. The organization does this through legislation,
communications, research, and technical assistance.

The organization also helps to build capacity in urban education with programs to boost
academic performance and narrow achievement gaps; improve professional development;
and strengthen leadership, governance, and management.

School districts located in cities with populations over 250,000 and student enrollments over 35,000 are
eligible for membership in the Council of the Great City Schools. Membership is also open to those districts serving a state’s largest city, depending on its urban characteristics.

Looking at CGCS fiscal year 2020 IRS filing, they appear to get most of their income from "program services" at a whopping 63% which I would think includes membership dues, conferences, consultations with members districts and the like. It also shows that it was running in the red. Hmm.


Historian said…
Thanks for keeping a close eye on Seattle Public Schools.
Anonymous said…
Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe they all got divorces, but his mother and his long-time housemate in Kansas City also changed their names:

This shows that Airick and Robyne ran Camp C360KC together, and if you click on their resumes, they report the same address of 3239 Wabash Ave, Kansas City, MO.

Shows that Robyne Turner changed her name to Robyne Stevenson
January 5, 2012
Case Number: 1116-FC08862

Shows that Sherry L Payne is Airick West’s mother:
September 4, 1992
Case Number: 16DR92-09904

Shows that Sherry Lenore Payne changed her name to Hakima Tefunzi Paybe
June 30, 2021
Case Number: 2116-FC01801

Everyone Changes
Anonymous said…
Airick West was the treasurer of the Missouri Democratic State Committee for many years (at least 2011 to 2016). Why wouldn’t he put that on his resume?

"Paid for by the Missouri Democratic State Committee, Airick West, Treasurer www.missouridems.org"

Why Forget?
Anonymous said…
Kansas City Public Schools only has 14,000 students! If the Council of the Great City Schools is targeted at districts with an enrollment over 35,000, it doesn't seem like Kansas City should qualify...

Kansas City Public Schools is SMALLER than Bellevue. Smaller than Spanaway.

Lesser Greats
Anonymous said…
This makes it clear Crabill has no qualifications to be going around the country pushing school boards to give up their role in oversight and policymaking. A lot of people here in Seattle are easily duped by phrases that are designed to sound good, and hear "student outcome focused governance" and think "well surely this is a well thought out and smartly designed concept steeped in a lot of research and evidence so I'm OK with it."

As you show, that's not the reality here *at all*. Crabill got himself hooked up with people who want to end democratic oversight over public schools, so that they can impose their corporate education reform ideology without having pesky things like voters and their elected officials telling them "no". They figured out that if they slap a label on it that makes this sound reasonable, people will either fall for it or fail to oppose it.

What is really interesting about his background is that he was hired by leading Republicans in Texas to impose these reforms on local schools regardless of whether or not those local districts consented. So he's been a hatchet man for the far right, and is now taking that approach nationwide, all while lining his pockets.

It sure sounds like he had a difficult upbringing and I can understand taking the name of the people who felt like his true family. But that doesn't give him any special insight or justification for going around peddling extremist theories at the expense of our democracy and our public schools.

Anonymous said…
OMG this is just embarrassing to see the board buy into this pseudo-governance franchise scheme. Imagine running on a platform of reform and then immediately making plans to offload your power via some cheesy woo-woo consultant. How terrifying, 50k students and a billion dollar budget along for the ride.

Snake Oil
Anonymous said…
Corporate Ed reform, but this time African American instead of white boys. Doesn’t matter, it will suck the same. Kinda late to the party but with a weak link like our board, understandable that it wormed its way in. Standardized testing with consultants and curriculum, and probably the assessments too, all paid for by SPS.


Anonymous said…
That Kansas City superintendent you mention (Covington) was an Eli Broad Foundation guy. There's a detailed discussion of another Broad program graduate Goodloe-Johnson in this article, too.

About Covington (the superintendent in Kansas City when AJ Crabill was on the school board there):

And just for a refresher, does anyone remember this Stranger article about how under Goodloe-Johnson SPS used false data to show college readiness? Don't we all wonder what they're up to these days, eh?

Lesser Greats
Anonymous said…
Many people change their names, so that's not necessarily concerning.

AJ Crabill's failure to be straightforward about his own resume is troubling. As are his billing practices (like $10,000 if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools meets the agreed timetable and a more than septupled price of $75,000 if they don't meet the agreed timetable). Is SPS paying him personally or the Great City Schools group?

But far more troubling are the ethics violations, especially considering that they are in the fields SPS is hiring him to consult in - governance, education, school boards, financial leadership.

In 2012, NPR wrote, "Airick Leonard West, with his organization Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement, is running School Board School tomorrow (Saturday, March 3, 2012) at Rockhurst Community Center. To RSVP or for more information, email unity@kcu4ea.org."

And that group was registered out of his home address and was also found guilty of ethics violations

Whoa Nelly
Anonymous said…
This is embarrassing that they would use him as a consultant -- he sounds like a charlatan. Even more embarrassing is what the SOFG conversation has consisted of -- a whole buch of navel-gazing on the part of Hampson and others. Please someone please please run to replace her -- she has zero vision for our schools.

Hampson can't even define the word "outcome" without using jargon. My guess is that "student" and "focused" would also likely come with caveats. I understand that she barely gets paid for her efforts but that doesn't mean she isn't doing damage. If the Seattle Times would do their job and actually look into what she is up to, there would be zero support for her hijinks.

Desperately Seeking Sane School Board

Looking at his history, I'd say Crabill is a self-made man with a whiff of a grifter. He has taken the life experience he has had and created something.

But the lack of clarity in his story and omissions are quite troubling.
Anonymous said…
Wow- just wow. So much money spent on a program and a person with no education background, and anything that has ties to the Broad program reeks of corruption of power. I hope this story makes it into the Seattle times before it becomes a huge scandal. It is infuriating to see the district spend money on programs that have no real history of success. sign me
sad teacher

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