With board uninterested in principal's lies, little accountability for Urban Dove principal

When Chalkbeat reported in February that the leader of a transfer charter school in Brooklyn had been forced out of previous jobs in education for his dishonesty, some of the school’s board members seemed stunned.

“I’m very disturbed,” Urban Dove Team Charter School board member Patrick Fagan said then. “I’m not making any excuses. I’m at a loss for words.”

But the board of trustees is now carrying on business as usual, and the school’s principal, Lewis Thomas III, appears to have faced little further scrutiny from those who hired him and who hold the power to evaluate him.

“I understand that people in the past make mistakes, just like the students that we serve,” Fagan told Chalkbeat recently. “I want to get deeper into this. I can’t find the time out of my schedule.”

Fagan was speaking for himself, not the board, which has declined to comment on its hiring or vetting processes or to say whether it looked more deeply into Thomas’ past in the last two months. Teachers at the school said that the school’s founder, Jai Nanda, told the staff in a meeting that the board stood behind Thomas, and board members greeted Thomas warmly at their meeting this week.

In February, Chalkbeat reported that Thomas had been forced to resign as principal of a charter school in Ohio after telling elaborate lies about his past employment, including that he served as a senior adviser to Barack Obama. His exit was reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer in 2006.

Thomas was also fired from Phase 4 Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that operates alternative education centers in Pennsylvania, according to the organization’s CEO.

But those jobs are still alluded to and exaggerated on Urban Dove’s own website, which says Thomas served as “chief academic officer” at a charter school management company overseeing 15 schools—though Phase 4 says he was a regional director overseeing one site and sent him a cease-and-desist letter after he repeatedly inflated his job title in public.

The Urban Dove website also claims that Thomas was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for his leadership as a principal in 2006, though Thomas declined to provide any evidence of that award. His experience in the two years prior was being forced out of the Ohio charter school after four months in 2005 and, according to the Plain Dealer, spending just two months at a charter school in Washington, D.C. in 2004.

At the school’s board meeting this week, members were congratulatory as they discussed the school’s progress. Disciplinary incidents were down, and attendance was up from 66 to 73 percent, Thomas told the board members.

If they had any questions about Thomas’ leadership, they didn’t ask them at this week’s meeting—or answer them when asked by a reporter. “It’s not a forum for discourse back and forth,” board chair Michael Grandis said of the meeting.

One staff member said that teachers at the school were too focused on getting their students to come and stay at school to focus on the school leader’s continued bold claims of past employment. The school serves ninth and tenth graders who have accumulated so few credits that they are at risk of not graduating, and uses an innovative schedule focused on sports to keep students engaged.

“He told me he was a lawyer. Then he told me that he was a doctor,” said one staff member, who requested anonymity because they were told not to speak to reporters. In February, Fagan noted that Thomas’ résumé had included a line about being a member of a board of trustees at the University of Illinois—a claim he backed away from when questioned by Urban Dove.

But Fagan said he’s heard no recent complaints.

“No parent has reached out to me with a concern that their student is not being served,” Fagan said. “I have chosen personally, I will look into it after the school semester.”