Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Peninsula Prep is Closing: What Times Article Left Out

The politics behind closing a "C" rated school that claims to outperform 9 out of 10 schools in the area. Scandal-plagued politicians connected to school may have spurred closing to forestall future embarrassment over how political connections helped get the charter school. Did Walcott, who comes from a part of Queens where he would be well aware of the activities of these politicians, decide to cut the cord before more scandals emerge? Does Walcott know something will come out soon?

Today's front page article in the NY Times on the closing of Peninsula Prep Charter School in Rockaway might leave some people scratching their heads given the fact that up to now a serial killer who wanted a charter from Joel Klein, who was the authorizer, could get one. A charter school would have to be outrageous in its actions - like Williamburg/Believe Charters (Williamsburg/Believe Charter with Slimeball Leader Eddie Negron - Charter Revoked) which we wrote about the other day or Ross Global run by celebrity/socialite Courntey Sales Ross in the past (Ross Global Charter to be Closed Along with 11).
For the first time, New York City is closing a charter school for the offense of simply being mediocre.
The announcement this week that the city planned to shut Peninsula Preparatory Charter School, a seven-year-old elementary school in Far Rockaway, Queens, was unusual by any definition. Since 2004, the city has closed only a few of its 142 charters that have opened — schools that are publicly financed but privately managed, and are a source of competition for traditional schools.
But as more of the city’s charter schools have matured, reaching the five-year renewal mark, the Education Department has become increasingly impatient with weak-performing ones. With the closing of Peninsula Prep, which had received a grade of C on each of its last four progress reports, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott seemed to be signaling that the city’s 136 charters will now be held to a higher standard.
And increasing scrutiny of New York charter schools could have widespread implications, prompting a wider conversation across the country about what the bar for closing should be, and how much charter schools should be expected to outperform public schools.
More unusual, the Times piece left out the fact that State Senator Malcolm Smith was the founder of the school and despite denials of still having connections to the school, people in Rockaway believe his influence is still felt. (I saw a tweet from one reporter the day the closing was announced that Smith had given the school a $100,000 in earmarks and speculated about the fate of those funds.) What does happen to this money --- I say give it to PS 215 in Far Rockaway which the DOE is trying to close despite starving the school of resources.

I emailed Anna Philips who wrote the piece and she pointed me to her Schoolbook article the other day where she wrote:
Opened in 2004, Peninsula Preparatory Charter School was founded by State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who served as a board member until 2006. Another Queens politician, Rep. Gregory Meeks, was also a member of the elementary school’s board.
Despite its political connections, Peninsula Prep struggled from the outset. Originally located in a Far Rockaway middle school, it moved into a complex of trailers near a large real estate development owned by one of Mr. Smith’s campaign donors, leaving its students without a gym or playground. For the last three years, it has received C’s on its progress reports from the city.

But what the article doesn't say is that both Smith and Meeks have been embroiled in scandal, with the Times ( State Sen. Malcolm Smith Tied To Scandal-Scarred Charity)
doing a major piece on Smith in October 2010 (see below the fold for entire article which makes no mention of the Smith connection to PP Charter) which opens with this:
St. Sen. Malcolm Smith
Federal prosecutors are investigating a nonprofit group founded by Mr. Smith. They subpoenaed records in February 2010 from his office detailing funds he has directed to community groups over the last decade. Some of the group's employees were also Mr. Smith's aides in Albany.
The article paints a picture of a failed businessman and a shady politician. The staff of an embattled Queens nonprofit overlaps closely with the payroll of state Sen. Malcolm Smith, one of the charity's founders. At least four workers at the New Direction Local Development Group—which is under federal investigation and allegedly fleeced Hurricane Katrina victims out of about $30,000 raised on their behalf—have also worked for Smith at a time when the politician gave the organization about $56,000 in state funds.
Yet Smith was shown political favor by allowing him to open up a charter school. I thought it interesting at the time that this article made no mention of the charter school connection. And the fact that both articles by Anna made no mention of the Smith scandals make the paranoid in me work overtime. But if you click the Malcolm Smith link in Anna's Schoolbook piece it takes you to the Times article about the scandal. Anna is a meticulous reporter and makes it her business to know everything there is to know about education in this city. Having to click to make that connection makes me think that the NY Times editors were concerned about making the obvious connection to scandal in an article about the charter. Why mention Smith (which I view as Anna's way of leading the dog to the bone) without openly mentioning the scandals?

Smith's pal Gregory Meeks, who was on the PPrep Board, Congressman from the east end of Rockaway is also under scrutiny. Meeks was mentioned the other day (Edul Ahmad Accused of Defrauding Guyanese Immigrants)
(See below for a few quick hits from a google search on Meeks.)

I agree with Anna's speculation that charters will get closer scrutiny to try to stop the growing scandals that in the long-run threaten the charter school movement. Given that most of these schools perform no better than public schools and many perform worse, the question of why create a dual system with wasted resources will continue to be raised. Thus you see charter school slugs who make a living off charter schools -- people like Michael Duffy and James Merriman -- quoted in Anna's article.

I feel that Peninsula Prep Charter is a special case for closing and not necessarily a sign of closer scrutiny due to the scandals engrossing Smith and Meeks (and their mentor Floyd Flake, whose scandalous behavior was also profiled in the NY Times -

Deal Shows How Floyd Flake Can Gain From Ministry -
Jun 17, 2010 – The Rev. Floyd Flake, an influential New York pastor, had a role as both seller and buyer of church-owned buildings.

Oct 9, 2011 – Posted:2:04 AM, October 9, 2011. New York political kingmaker and religious leader Floyd Flake rakes in the cash -- and leaves wreckage ...
Dennis Walcott is from a corner of Queens where he knows full-well these politicians. I would bet he is not happy about these scandals and is sensitive to how they may come back to bite Tweed in terms of authorizing a charter school controlled by these guys.

So in my mind these are the politics behind closing a charter school that under normal conditions would not face closing.

By the way, Peninsula Prep had it's own record of tossing kids as you can see in this piece in the local Rockaway paper The Wave (where I write a column):

The Wave Reports: Peninsula Prep Academy Charter Tosses 5-Year ...
Apr 9, 2011 – The motto of the Peninsula Preparatory Academy charter school on Beach 111 ....

Parent at PPA writes to Leonie
But to be fair, here is an email from a parent at the school sent to Leonie Haimson pointing to the conflcit this school is causing:
I am a follower and supporter of your work for a very long time. However, the last few years my child has gone to a charter school which (while being in contradiction with many of my political and philosophical views on education) have put me into a much more pragmatic position especially with the conditions of where I live, Rockaway. And while I still support your fight for public education on the long term an imminent problem has arisen for myself and 340 other families out here in Queens: our school's charter has not been renewed and it will close at the conclusion of the school year. This means that the children will be pushed into their zoned schools in Far Rockaway and Arverne, NY where 9/10 schools performed WORSE than our school that is being closed down. This, of course, using the same dreaded standards that the DOE used to justify our school's closure, in essence telling our community that PPA wasn't good enough but the inferior (by their standards) and underfunded local public schools will now have to take in 341 new students. Obviously this will affect class size and student-teacher ratio as well for the local schools.

I'm reaching out to you in desperation to see if you could put me in contact with any local activists that could join forces with our parents in protesting, picketing and shaming the DOE for this move. The parents feel betrayed and we have sensed that our best bet is to get outside of the system. I think that although the charter issue may be different than those of traditional public schools, we all face challenges from the same failed policies.

I too am conflicted about working with this parent but I think it would be the right thing to do even Mona Davids sent a rep out to meet with the charter to assist them but they weren't interested.


  1. Congressman Gregory Meeks Admits He's Been Subpoenaed ...
    Apr 15, 2010 – Things are getting so bad for scandal-plagued Queens Democratic congressman Gregory Meeks that he had to acknowledge on the House ...
  2. Meeks passes the bucks on scandal (video) - New York Post
    Mar 16, 2010 – Gregory Meeks ended weeks of dodging yesterday, taking to TV to insist he's in the dark about ... Meeks passes the bucks on scandal (video) ...
  3. US Cricket Team ensnared in Queens scandal involving Meeks ...
    Dec 25, 2011 – A Queens scandal that threatens to engulf Rep. Gregory Meeks has an unusual collateral victim — the US Cricket Team.
  4. New York Papers Scrutinize Meeks Loan Scandal Figure | National ...‘frien...
    Jul 21, 2010 – New York Papers Scrutinize Meeks Loan Scandal Figure ... Gregory Meeks (D-NY), is today scrutinized by the New York Times and New York ...
  5. The Last Tradition: Democrat Gregory Meeks Changes Story on ...
    Mar 15, 2010 – Gregory Meeks claimed that "every dime" raised by a charity he ... It's the biggest scandal the legacy media purposely does not report. Why do ...
  6. Meeks Scandal Impacts US Cricket Team | ...
    Meeks Scandal Impacts US Cricket Team. 2011-12-30 / Top Stories. By Howard Schwach. Congressman Gregory Meeks has been enmeshed in scandal for ...
  7. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks Passes The Bucks On Scandal - Hip Hop ...
    Mar 18, 2010 – Embattled U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) ended weeks of dodging yesterday, taking to TV to insist he's in the dark about the gone-missing ...
  8. Gregory W. Meeks News - The New York Times
    ... W. Meeks. Commentary and archival information about Gregory W. Meeks from The New York Times. ... N.Y. Senate Leader Tied to Figure in Loan Scandal ...
NY Times piece on Smith below

Richard Perry/The New York Times
Updated: Oct. 22, 2010

Malcolm A. Smith, a Democrat, has represented the 14th District in Queens in the New York State Senate since 2000.

Federal prosecutors are investigating a nonprofit group founded by Mr. Smith. They subpoenaed records in February 2010 from his office detailing funds he has directed to community groups over the last decade. Some of the group's employees were also Mr. Smith's aides in Albany.

In October, the state inspector general said Mr. Smith was one of two state senate leaders who showed favoritism to a troubled bidder on a casino project who was donating to Democratic candidates and had ties to key political figures. The findings have been referred to federal and state prosecutors and the Legislative Ethics Committee.

A Failed Business, a Success in Politics

Mr. Smith learned Queens clubhouse politics from his mother, a Democratic activist, and worked after college as an aide to a councilman, Archie Spigner. In 1983, he took a junior economic development post under Mayor Edward I. Koch and volunteered as president of a nonprofit group that redeveloped run-down housing.

Mr. Smith's life was changed profoundly when he went to work in 1986 for the Rev. Floyd H. Flake, who at the time served in Congress, and whose Allen A.M.E. Cathedral has been a major force for economic and social renewal in the black neighborhoods of southeast Queens.

Though energetic and determined, Mr. Smith struggled at times to get political footing. While still running Mr. Flake's Congressional district office, he lost two campaigns in two years, a bid in 1990 for State Senate and one in 1991 for City Council.

In 1991, he started Smith Development Corporation, a real estate and construction business, and built several dozen moderately priced homes in the Rockaways that helped begin a revival of the area. But by the end of the decade, Smith Development was bankrupt and Mr. Smith was sued by a court-appointed trustee who alleged that he had diverted money owed to his creditors into subsidiaries under his control. The suit was settled for about $12,000.

As Mr. Smith's business foundered, however, his political career took flight. When a Queens state senator left office in 2000, Mr. Smith's allies — including Mr. Flake and his successor in Congress, Gregory W. Meeks — moved quickly to sew the seat up for him. By then well established in the community, Mr. Smith won overwhelmingly in a special election, running simultaneously on the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Working Families ballot lines, a rare feat. In the Senate, he positioned himself as a pragmatic, business-friendly Democrat with little attachment to conservative or liberal orthodoxy.

A Leader in the State Senate

He formed a close relationship with David A. Paterson, then the deputy minority leader, and became popular among Senate Democrats. This popularity helped Mr. Smith survive the 2006 scandal of a paternity lawsuit filed by a former aide. Mr. Smith, married with two children, eventually acknowledged that he had fathered a daughter with the aide, declining to name the woman. That year, Mr. Smith won a bid to succeed Mr. Paterson as minority leader.

When the Democrats took control of the Senate after the 2008 elections, Mr. Smith was elected by its members to be majority leader. But it was not easy. For weeks after the elections, the Senate was in limbo as Mr. Smith tried to woo several reluctant Democrats whose support he needed to ascend to the post. Many friends and advisers said he had become inexplicably overconfident about winning the post; some questioned whether he even wanted the top job at all. Mr. Smith's support for same-sex marriage also caused problems, and his advocacy nearly prevented him from becoming majority leader.

Lackluster support from within his own party continued to plague Mr. Smith, who was criticized as ineffective throughout his tenure as the Senate leader. He absorbed much of the blame for the government's indecisive action on a rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Mr. Smith was later forced from the leadership after two Democrats bolted the party, returning the Republicans to power. After a week of chaos in the state capital, the two rejoined the Democrats, and Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, became the Senate leader. Mr. Sampson became president of the Senate and majority leader; Mr. Smith was named the Democrats' titular leader.

In February 2010, federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from Mr. Smith that detail all monies he has directed to community groups over the last decade. Public records show that four current or former officials of a Queens nonprofit group or a related charity founded by Mr. Smith and Congressman Weeks — a group to which Mr. Smith has directed some $56,000 in state funds — have spent some time on the Senate payroll working for Mr. Smith, and two were among his highest paid staff members.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the nonprofit group, the New Direction Local Development Corporation, and a related charity set up to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, and they issued a subpoena at the beginning of February for records from Mr. Smith’s Senate office that show all the money he had directed to community groups over the past decade.

In October, the state inspector general said Mr. Smith was one of two state senate leaders who manipulated the choice of who would build New York City’s first casino, leaking information and showing favoritism to a troubled bidder that was donating to Democratic candidates and had ties to key political figures. Mr. Sampson was the other lawmaker.

In a scathing 308-page report on the competition to install video slot machines at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, Inspector General Joseph Fisch described a chaotic and ultimately doomed process that was without formal rules or objective criteria, and was awash in “unrestrained political considerations,” lobbyists and targeted campaign contributions.

The report says that the bidder, a consortium called the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, marshaled funds at the behest of the state’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, casting “a taint on the motives behind the Senate leadership’s support of” Aqueduct Entertainment. Citing possible violations of laws governing public officials by Mr. Sampson, Mr. Smith and Angelo Aponte, the appointed Senate secretary, the inspector general’s office said it was referring its findings to federal and state prosecutors and the Legislative Ethics Committee.

After complaints of favoritism surfaced, Mr. Paterson reversed the selection in March. The casino is now being built by a subsidiary of an international entertainment company, Genting New York, which won a follow-up competition.

Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on the right for important bits.


  1. Just as shady, is the issue of locating the school close to Arverne By the Sea as a selling perk for Smith's real estate buddy. Wonder how many buyers that lured?!?!?!

  2. Yes, Norm, we sent a representative to a PPrep parent association meeting in 2010 to warn them about the mismanagement, corruption and low academics at their school. We asked them to demand answers from their school about why their children were in trailers, where's the money etc.

    They were not interested because as usual they believed school leaders and board members.

    It's nothing new for us. We went to East NY Prep and RGA to warn those parents too, they refused to believe us.

    There are other parents at charters we're warning now, and they don't believe us.

    Lastly, we're pleased Opportunity Charter was renewed. Working with those parents and CEC3 (Noah & Christine) we fought back against the "evil" empire that wanted their space. We launched a website, petition campaign to Regents members, electeds and DOE, media campaign, held a rally with a march around the school and threatened legal. We raised hell for OCS

    The online petition was successful with over 600 signatures and heartfelt pleas for the school.

    I'm sorry for PPrep families and hope other charter parents take note. Stop drinking the Kool-aid when you know your school's mismanaged and not providing a quality education for your children.

    PPrep will close at the end of the year. Nothing anyone does will change that.

    PPrep parents should join with other Rockaway parents and demand DOE fix the district schools.


    Mona Davids

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