View Full Version : All NYC Former Gates Foundation Head Tom Vander Ark’s New York-Area Charter Schools Falter

07-15-2011, 09:04 AM
From the N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/nyregion/tom-vander-arks-new-york-area-charter-schools-falter.html) by Anna M. Phillips:
After years spent directing the distribution of more than $1 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into hundreds of schools across the nation, Tom Vander Ark set his sights on the New York area, with a plan to create a network of charter schools of his own.

Mr. Vander Ark, the foundation’s former executive director of education and a national leader in the online learning movement, was granted charters in 2010 to open a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and two others in Newark. The New York school, Brooklyn City Prep, also got space in a public school building — a precious and controversial commodity — hired a principal, and welcomed applications from 150 eighth graders this spring.

But after spending more than $1.5 million of investors’ money on consultants and lawyers, Mr. Vander Ark, 52, has walked away from the project, and the schools will not open as planned this fall, leaving others involved stunned and frustrated.

“If we had plotted a worst-case scenario, no one could have constructed the current situation,” said Mr. Vander Ark, saying the weak economy and the difficulty of establishing charters in New York and New Jersey “led to less success than we had hoped for.”

In an e-mail to the board members he had recruited, Mr. Vander Ark added, “I have a lot more sympathy for nonprofit leaders now that I’m on this side of the table.”

Those he has been working with had a harsher assessment.

“He’s flying 30,000 feet on the air, but can’t do it on the ground,” said Joshua Morales, a former official with the New York City Education Department who was hired by Mr. Vander Ark to develop the schools.

While many new charter schools are asked to take a year for planning, it is relatively rare to require two, and unusual for a founder — in this case, a well-known figure in education reform — to walk away.

A former businessman and superintendent of a Washington State school district, Mr. Vander Ark doled out more than $1.6 billion in Gates Foundation money from 1999 to 2006, much of it to create and support small high schools. In 2008, he founded City Prep Academies, a for-profit organization intended to create and operate charter schools that combined traditional classroom teaching and online learning. He said the group was financed by $1.5 million from Revolution Learning, a venture fund where he is a managing partner.

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