- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

The principal of the District’s oldest charter school is a convicted felon with a lengthy record of arrests and was on probation in June when he took charge of the school, according to court records reviewed by The Washington Times.

Clarence Edward Dixon, principal of Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill, was rejected by D.C. public schools as an applicant for a school administrator position in 2000 because of an extensive criminal record, a school official said.

Instead, Mr. Dixon ended up at Options two years after he was released from federal prison in Kentucky for committing almost $40,000 in credit-card fraud, an amount he continues to pay off as part of a court-ordered restitution, federal court documents show. His probation on that conviction ended in July last year.

Before being hired to head Options, Mr. Dixon worked as a special education teacher for Prince George’s County public schools and as the principal at Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School, also known as Edgemeade, a nonprofit private school in Upper Marlboro for troubled boys.

Staff members at Options said they had been suspicious of the principal since he joined the school last summer.

“I saw the [court-ordered monitoring] bracelet, but he just said it was from an old DWI [driving while intoxicated] charge that caught up with him,” one former staff member said. “Obviously, [Options management company] Chancellor Beacon didn’t check.” Criminal-record checks conducted by The Times turned up no drunken-driving arrests or convictions.

Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc. is a private company based in Coconut Grove, Fla., that manages 81 public charter and private day schools in eight states. The company operates two public charter schools in the District. Chancellor hired Mr. Dixon and pays him about $75,000 annually, school officials estimated, to run the school, which was chartered in 1996 and has 148 students in grades five to eight.

“If this is true, my issue is, how in the world could this happen?” Vickie Frazier-Williams, vice president of communications at Chancellor, said after being told of the criminal charges. “We don’t hire people without checking their background thoroughly. And we don’t hire people with [criminal] records.”

Ms. Frazier-Williams contacted The Times later to say that the company had decided to put Mr. Dixon on administrative leave pending an internal investigation of the principal’s background.

The Washington Times first reported last week that school staffers at Options had complained that Mr. Dixon improperly instructed them to continue coaching students on test-taking during a period of standardized testing three weeks ago. The matter is being investigated by the D.C. Board of Education’s charter school oversight agency.

Mr. Dixon and Charles Vincent, president of Option’s board of directors, denied any cheating on the tests.

“There was no wrongdoing,” Mr. Dixon said during a board meeting Monday night. “That issue has been resolved.”

Mr. Dixon, reached by telephone Tuesday, declined to speak to The Times about his criminal record, directing inquiries to Greenbelt lawyer David Alexander, “a friend of the family.”

Mr. Alexander also declined to comment. “I never talk about my clients in the media,” he said. “My statement is no statement.”

Mr. Dixon was first arrested in the District in 1987 on a charge of marijuana possession and in 1990 on a charge of unauthorized use of an automobile, court records show. Both charges were dismissed.

In 1989, 1990 and 1991, he was arrested on theft charges in Montgomery County, court records show. All three of those charges were dismissed.

But in 1992, he was indicted on theft and fraud charges for buying a car under false pretenses at a dealership in the District, D.C. court records show. He was convicted of theft and ordered to pay $2,240 in restitution. Later that year, the District ordered a fugitive warrant after Mr. Dixon failed to appear in court or pay restitution.

Also that year, he was arrested in Memphis, Tenn., for speeding, and he produced a driver’s license in someone else’s name. A search of the car by an officer turned up Mr. Dixon’s real license, Memphis police records show.

During the next four years, the District issued warrants for Mr. Dixon’s arrest, according to court documents.

In 1995, Mr. Dixon, who was working as a teacher in Tennessee, began racking up credit-card bills in a fraud scheme that eventually totaled $39,493, court documents show. He was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to five months in prison, five months of electronic monitoring and three years of supervised probation with spot drug checks and no access to credit. He was ordered to pay $39,493 in restitution.

Less than two months after his release from a federal prison in Kentucky in July 2000, Mr. Dixon took over as principal at Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School, school officials confirmed.

He resigned May 11, 2001, four days before the school was caught up in controversy over the death of a 17-year-old student. A school employee was acquitted of causing the death.

Soon after, he was hired by Prince George’s County schools as a special education teacher at Ridgecrest Elementary, county officials confirmed.

There is no record that Mr. Dixon is certified to teach in Maryland, state education officials said.

Prince George’s County personnel officials did not return calls seeking comment on the matter.

But a former police officer who has worked in school security around the region and who declined to be named said that being convicted of a nonviolent crime such as credit-card fraud did not necessarily disqualify someone from working at a school system. What automatically disqualifies a candidate, he said, was a conviction of certain violent crimes, such as child molestation or rape.

Mr. Dixon has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in special education, university officials confirmed. According to a copy of his resume, he started his career as a probation officer in Nashville, Tenn., in 1992 before moving to the Cumberland “Hill” (actually Hall) Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville as a clinical educator in 1993.

Cumberland Hall was closed four years ago, and parent company officials were unable to verify his employment.

In 1995, he joined “Tennessee Public Schools” in Nashville as a special education teacher, according to his resume. Mr. Dixon listed a position in 1998 as an assistant principal at Nashville Public Schools. Officials there said they had no record of Mr. Dixon working there.

Vance Rugaard, director of the teaching licensing division of the Tennessee Department of Education, said there was no evidence that Mr. Dixon ever worked in an administrative capacity in a public school in Tennessee.

“He has never been issued an administrative license,” he said. “He falsified that resume.”


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