Board Director Sheila Dufor-Moore Gives Exclusive Interview
During an emergency meeting on December 11, 2018, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Indiana Charter School Board unanimously voted to end the charter for Fort Wayne’s own Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy (TMLA), after only six years in existence.
The state charter board referenced poor management, poor student academic performance, and a failure to resolve a contract dispute between the TMLA school board and American Quality Schools (AQS), the school’s Chicago-based management company, as reasons for the cancellation, according to Thurgood Marshall Board Director Sheila Dufor-Moore.
“We knew the possibility was there, but at the same time we just decided that we were going to do everything to move forward,” said Dufor-Moore. In December, TMLA proposed to manage itself; included in the pitch were the proactive steps of engaging the services of an accountant and a business manager. Those efforts, including letters of support written by school officials and community leaders, were not enough to sway to state board's decision. The shuttering of the academy will displace 120 students, and roughly 12 teachers and staff members. Parents have been kept informed of the situation.
As reported in previous issues of the Fort Wayne Ink Spot, on June 21, concerned parties attended a board meeting at the Fort Wayne Urban League to discuss charges of misconduct and negligence levied against the then Thurgood Marshall’s first year principal, Harold Stevens. The school board voted unanimously not to renew his contract at the end of July, and inserted an interim principal, Shadwaynn Curry, the academy’s former curriculum director.
The academy opened the Fall 2018 school semester in a new home, in the Come As You Are Church facility, at 7910 South Anthony Blvd., having moved from their previous location at the old Zion Lutheran Grade School building on Hanna Street.
At the time of the leadership transition, the TLMA board continued a working relationship with AQS, who was responsible for hiring all employees, including Stevens. However, a review into AQS’s processes by the board unearthed previously unknown discrepancies and produced valid concerns that required addressing, according to Dufor-Moore, who cited questions about contract dates as the most egregious dispute. Other problems discovered in the school’s review was AQS’s billing policy, signing contracts with vendors without informing the school board or obtaining board approval.
AQS is essentially a vendor for the school, with many responsibilities. All teachers and staff at Thurgood Marshall are de facto employees. AQS’s contract dictates the firm provide academic curriculum, maintain high-academic student performance, hiring and training services, along with handling all of the business operations, such as payroll and human resources.
When the Indiana Charter Board reviewed Thurgood’s viability as an academic institution. The academy was having enrollment and teacher certification problems, and the test scores were troubling. “In four out of [our] six years we’ve had a failing [F] grade,” Dufor-Moore said. “That speaks volumes.” The state board decided to give the academy a three-year conditional contract that was signed in November 2017.
“The TMLA board wanted to be assured that our children were getting the best quality education promised to provide,” Dufor-Moore said. “We will not continue to sacrifice our children's education with a company who has not produced the results they promised, without some guarantees among other critical changes.” Several attempts at a compromise were made without a resolution.
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