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Chicago Public Schools will take over Urban Prep, a once-leased charter serving black boys

The Chicago School Board decided on Wednesday to take over two South Side charter campuses specializing in serving black boys — an unprecedented step to remove the school’s charter but preserve an academic model that officials have acknowledged offered to many students.

School board members voted unanimously to revoke the charter of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men. They forcefully rejected the school’s arguments for more time to prove they were on the right track and expressed dismay at the school’s response to a sexual misconduct investigation involving the founder of school.

Urban Prep leaders pushed back forcefully, calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to end the district’s plan to take over its two campuses.

Urban Prep, which has already received national recognition for guiding its students toward graduation and college admission, has come under scrutiny at the district level in recent years. Its founder, Tim King, resigned as CEO and chairman of the board this summer after a district oversight report substantiated allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a former student – ​​allegations King has firmly denied.

The district also sounded the alarm about the school’s financial management, which is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the district’s inspector general, as well as its services for students with disabilities and the number of teachers. approved that it employs.

At a Tuesday press conference at the Englewood campus and at Wednesday’s board meeting, school leaders and supporters denounced the district’s record of serving black students and said the school, run largely by black men, performed better. They said Urban Prep had put its finances in order more recently and accused the district of using the allegations against King to launch a takeover of the school.

But school board officials remained indifferent.

“This is a blatant report, and it should shock everyone,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said, referring to the findings of the King investigation. “It’s shameful to me that the Urban Prep board got this information and didn’t act quickly.”

However, district officials said Urban Prep has forged a strong academic model and supportive environment for black boys, who in Chicago and nationally have long faced the greatest academic disparities. In an unusual move, District CEO Pedro Martinez said Wednesday that the two campuses, which have about 370 students enrolled, will remain open under district management — either as stand-alone schools or as college programs. existing high schools. He plans to keep teachers and staff at the school.

“We want to make sure that high quality programs continue for the children of Bronzeville and Englewood – that’s critical,” Martinez said. But, he added, “we cannot compromise. We need ethical behavior and we need to make sure we protect our children.

The school may appeal the district’s decision to the Illinois State Board of Education. The state took over a third Urban Prep campus in 2018 after the school board revoked its charter.

Tensions between high schools, the CPS overflows

The Inspector General’s report alleged that King groomed and sexually touched a student who was 16 at the time. According to the report, the relationship continued after the student graduated and he eventually came to work at Urban Prep; the report also states that he continued to receive salary and benefits long after he stopped working there.

The district said the school’s handling of the investigation was troubling because it allowed King – who was featured on a 2010 People magazine cover as ‘Hero of the Year’ – to continue interacting with children. students after the investigation substantiated the allegations.

Urban Prep also declined to email the families regarding the findings of the investigation and appointed King to two boards after his resignation, according to board documents.

Meanwhile, an ongoing district surveillance investigation is taking a closer look at the school’s finances. The district says that for years the school has relied on district cash advances and high-interest loans to make payroll, racking up more than half a million dollars in finance charges in the process.

Yet Urban Prep still failed to pay salaries, leases, and vendors providing services to students with disabilities. The school was able to use a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic to balance its books, but a separate investigation by the inspector general found it had inflated the number of employees on the request of ready.

During public comments at the school board meeting and at a press conference on Tuesday, Urban Prep officials and supporters denounced plans to revoke the school’s charter. They argued that district leaders cannot enter and replicate the climate and culture of the charter, which is imbued with the sense of identity and background of its leaders.

They touted the school’s results, from its attendance rate to the 100% acceptance rate to the university, whose charter has long been a cornerstone of its model.

(The rate of College Prep students actually enrolling in college within a year of graduation has dropped in recent years to 48% on the Bronzeville campus and 63% on the Washington campus. ‘Englewood, according to state data.)

Troy Boyd, the chief operating officer, asked the board to at least delay the vote on revoking the school’s charter, insisting the school did everything the district asked of it and that his financial problems are a thing of the past. He called Wednesday’s vote “tragic”.

“The non-renewal of Urban Prep would mean the end of something that transformed the city,” he said. “We won’t stop fighting.”

At the meeting, a series of students, dressed in school uniforms of navy blazers, red ties and khakis, spoke about the impact school has had on them, which many credited Urban Prep’s leadership and educator team, which is largely made up of black men. .

Avery Barnes, a sophomore at the Bronzeville campus, told the school he came to see his value as a black man, formed close relationships with educators and made several visits to the university as an underclass.

“I feel like Urban Prep has already started the process of preparing me for adulthood,” he said, adding, “Urban Prep Academies need to be renewed simply because they allow young black men to feel accepted and seen in a society where we are often expected to go to jail or end up in an untimely grave.

Kevin Scott, a senior at the Bronzeville campus, said the school gives students positive role models who look like them in the classroom and the principal’s office. Unlike district-run schools, it remained open for in-person instruction throughout the 2020-21 school year, National Honors Society member Scott pointed out.

“Urban Prep is more than just a school,” he said. “It was like a family, a safe place, a meeting place and so much more.”

Urban Prep Charter Academy leaders and parents hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Englewood.

Mauricio Pena / Chalkbeat

Inside Urban College Prep Englewood on Tuesday afternoon, Dennis Lacewell, director of studies at the charter school, said the charter has made progress in resolving past financial issues, and said that Urban Prep officials had done more financial reports than any CPS school.

Leaders rejected the district’s claim that the school had compromised the safety of its students. He also argued that the district had been unfairly attacking Urban Prep for some time by revoking the license for its downtown campus in 2018 and disparaging the charter to potential financial lenders.

“Despite CPS’s lack of success and commitment to black male students, they have the audacity to think they can successfully take over Urban Prep and make it a program at another CPS high school,” added Lacewell. “It’s both ridiculous and infuriating.”

But school board members and district officials said they could not allow the current charter leadership to continue. The board granted the school a series of short-term extensions to its charter amid growing concerns, in part because of its reluctance to disrupt students at the height of the pandemic, members said.

“At this point, unfortunately, all doubt has been removed that the leaders of the organization do not have the best interests of the students at heart,” said board vice-chairman Sendhil Revuluri.

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter covering Chicago’s public schools. Contact Mila at [email protected].



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