bad behavior

Families for Excellent Schools CEO ousted after investigation into ‘inappropriate behavior’

PHOTO: Monica Disare
A Families for Excellent Schools rally

A vocal critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio and influential backer of New York City’s charter school sector has been fired from his job leading an education advocacy group after an investigation into “inappropriate behavior,” the organization said Wednesday.

Jeremiah Kittredge was ousted as CEO of Families for Excellent Schools after the organization received a complaint about “inappropriate behavior toward a non-employee” and retained outside counsel to investigate, board chairman Bryan Lawrence said in a statement.

“As a result of this investigation and additional factors, Jeremiah has been terminated as CEO,” Lawrence said.

Families for Excellent Schools officials did not answer questions Wednesday about the nature of the inappropriate behavior or what “additional factors” played a role in his dismissal. Kittredge did not return requests for comment.

The organization is well-funded, often considered a lobbying arm of the charter sector, and has deep roots in New York City. It has been closely aligned with Success Academy, the city’s largest charter network, and until recently had been an outspoken opponent of de Blasio and his approach to the charter sector.

Families for Excellent Schools also consistently criticized other major items on de Blasio’s education agenda. Kittredge has slammed the mayor’s support for “restorative” school discipline reforms over harsher steps like suspensions, arguing they have made schools less safe. And he has said the city’s high-profile school turnaround program “traps” students in failing schools.

The group’s advocacy efforts in New York City died down after the organization was hit with a record $426,500 fine in Massachusetts for failing to disclose its donors connected to a 2016 ballot measure to lift that state’s cap on charter schools. (Voters overwhelmingly rejected the ballot measure, a high-profile defeat for pro-charter groups.) It was not immediately clear whether that loss played a role in the decision to remove Kittredge.

Kittredge helped form Families for Excellent Schools in 2011, and the organization has received millions in funding from heavy hitters in the charter sector, including the Walton Foundation (Chalkbeat also receives funding from Walton).

The group has expanded to multiple states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, and has served as a major organizing force among charter school parents. It’s staged rallies in Albany and launched an advertising campaign attacking de Blasio after he blocked a group of Success Academy schools from opening or expanding.

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect is in custody and has not been identified by police.

News outlets were reporting that a seventh-grade science teacher intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

Police did not release the names of the two victims Friday and did not provide information on their conditions. The adult victim was taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, and the teen victim was taken to Riley Hospital for Children, both in Indianapolis. Their families have been notified, police said.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”