- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Officials of the District’s oldest charter school have decided to terminatetheir management company less than a week after they learned that their principal was a felon on probation when they hired him in June.

During a closed meeting Tuesday night, the Options Public Charter School board of trustees unanimously voted to ask Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc. of Coconut Grove, Fla., to resign, according to sources close to the board.

“They did what they had to do,” said a school official close to the issue. “They didn’t have a choice.”

Options board members declined to comment.

“We talked about where we are and where we need to go,” said Charles Vincent, president of the school’s board. “The questions are what do we do, how much do we do and when do we do it?”

Mr. Vincent declined to elaborate, saying the board had agreed to keep its discussions private.

Options officials began reconsidering their relationship with Chancellor Beacon after The Washington Times reported last week that Principal Clarence Edward Dixon had been convicted twice and had spent five months in federal prison in 2000 for credit-card fraud. Chancellor Beacon fired Mr. Dixon on Friday.

Mr. Dixon has declined to speak to The Times about his criminal or professional record. He has directed inquiries to Greenbelt lawyer David Alexander, who also has refused to comment.

Officials close to the board said its members had been torn over whetherto get rid of the management company, which they hired two years ago for about $250,000 annually after losing confidence in school administrators.

“They came in and did a great job behind the scenes, restoring order, hiring staff, getting the school back into shape after the mess it fell into,” one school official said. “But still, they are trying to run a school from Miami, and that is impossible to do. They have to be here, or things like this fiasco will happen.”

Chancellor Beacon is a private company that manages 81 public charter and private day schools in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The company was formed early last year after Chancellor Academies (founded in 1996) merged with Beacon Educational Management (founded in 1993).

The company serves about 19,000 students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, making it the country’s second-largest for-profit charter school management firm. The largest is Edison Schools, which serves more than 110,000 students in more than 20 states.

Chancellor Beacon Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Octavio J. Visiedo is a former schools superintendent of Dade County, Fla. The company’s president and chief operations officer, Wade T. Dyke, is a former deputy chief of staff for the federal Education Department.

The company also manages the Meridian Public Charter School in the District.

Company officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Options’ move marks the second time in two months that Chancellor Beacon has been asked to give up management of a school.

Last month, Philadelphia officials canceled a $2.9 million contract with Chancellor Beacon to manage five elementary schools. Teachers had complained that the company had failed to reduce class sizes, provide professional training and materials, or establish an after-school program, and they said the company’s hands-off operating style had led to little school improvement.

In the District, some school officials praised Chancellor Beacon for acting quickly to secure a larger site to move Options this fall. They said the company could not have known about Mr. Dixon’s background because two police checks came back clear. And they praised the company for moving quickly to investigate Mr. Dixon and terminate his employment after learning of his criminal past.

But Options officials also were under pressure to act promptly to restore confidence in the school to avoid being placed on probation, school officials added.

D.C. school board officials, who oversee 16 of the city’s 39 charter schools, have said they don’t believe Chancellor Beacon has done a good job of managing Options.

“Chancellor dropped the ball in too many places,” said Brenda Belton, executive director of charter schools for the D.C. Board of Education. “No one person is to blame for the [Dixon] hiring. But the test scores are not going up. They didn’t provide professional training as they promised. These are the things a management company does. … It was a bad marriage.”

Teachers and parents had complained for months to Chancellor officials, the D.C. school board and the Options board about conditions at the school, according to interviews with teachers, parents and documents provided to The Times.

Ms. Belton said Chancellor Beacon should have responded sooner.

“But they aren’t here,” she said. “They don’t know this community. They didn’t know when to recognize the red flags.”

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