Charter school under scrutiny

Teachers allege mistreatment

leader suspended

March 14, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

One of Anne Arundel County's two new charter schools is in turmoil after its director was suspended amid allegations that teachers were treated improperly, and county school officials installed veteran educators in the charter's top two posts.

Jon Omural, who had been Chesapeake Science Point's director and principal, as well as one of the charter school's founders, was informed March 6 that he was being suspended with pay, said Al Aksakalli, a co-founder of the math, science and technology school in Hanover.

In addition to allegations made against him by a handful of teachers, Omural lacks state certification to be a principal - something school officials did not realize until last week, said Kenneth Nichols, deputy superintendent of Anne Arundel County public schools. Omural's future with the school is dependant upon the results of the investigation, which Nichols said he hopes will be completed by next week.

"We are talking to all employees, past and present, asking them the nature of what they observed," Nichols said.

Omural did not return messages left on his cell phone.

The investigation of Omural has turned up personnel and management issues, Nichols said, and a visit to the school led to the discovery of a dirty building in dire need of cleaning.

However, Aksakalli denies that the building was dirty and added that the school system has been uncommunicative about the reasons for Omural's removal.

Aksakalli said yesterday that the county school system, has, in effect, taken over the charter school.

"If we're responsible, we should be allowed to have our representatives in the school. If we're not allowed to do that, we shouldn't be responsible at all," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."

The investigation is the latest setback for Chesapeake Science Point, which has been beset by problems since before the school opened in September, a week late. The school was recently audited by the school system.

Charter schools receive public funds but determine their own curriculum and schedule. Anne Arundel's other charter school is run by KIPP, or Knowledge is Power Program, a San Francisco-based organization. Five charters opened in Baltimore in the fall, joining seven schools that converted to charters.

Anne Arundel's investigation began as a look into the operation and "efficiencies" of Chesapeake Science Point, Nichols said, adding: "It's gone beyond personnel. We've discovered a number of things we've had to fix."

For example, a school maintenance crew labored over three days to clean up the school, costing the school system $10,000 in overtime.

"It looked like it hadn't been cleaned since they moved in," Nichols said. "It was very unkempt."

The school system also will do some painting and hang some decorations to "spruce up" the 20,000-square-foot space, located in an industrial park on Mercedes Drive. He said the system also will likely take on routine maintenance and cleaning tasks and charge Chesapeake Science Point.

But Aksakalli said the school already employs a cleaning person who comes daily.

"All they did was buff the floors," he said of the school system's maintenance crew.

The school system also added a special education teacher and a social studies teacher to the school's teaching staff of seven.

David Hill, former principal of Glen Burnie High School, is acting dean of students, a position similar to a vice principal, and Karen Keyworth, former principal of the Anne Arundel County Learning Center, is acting principal, Nichols said.

The recent problems began two weeks ago when dean of students Kisha Webster resigned and sent a letter home with the 103 students criticizing the school, Nichols said. Days later, teachers filed a grievance with the county teachers union, alleging mistreatment. When school officials were made aware of the grievance, Omural was removed because the nature of the allegations was deemed to be serious, Nichols said.

Once Webster left, the school system learned that Omural did not hold the proper state certification to serve as principal and therefore could not conduct some of his duties, Nichols said. According to biographical information on the Chesapeake Science Point Web site, Omural has a bachelor's degree in English as a Second Language from Selcuk University in Turkey and a master's degree in psychology from Lahairoi Bible College in Augusta, Ga.

Aksakalli said that county officials have known all along that Omural wasn't certified and that that's why the board of directors created the dean of students position.

"The individual we wanted to have in charge of the school should not only have an education background, but also [a background] in finance, public relations" and other business skills, he said, adding that the director job was envisioned as a school CEO. The school system is responsible for the pre-employment background checks on the school's employees, he said.

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