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Urban Prep may lose charter agreement for third campus in Chicago

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Urban Prep’s third campus faces an uncertain future amid allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual misconduct at the charter school.

The Illinois Board of Education is planning vote on Thursday to revoke the charter agreement for West campus Urban Prep. If approved, Urban Prep would not be able to operate as a public charter school at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

The move comes after the Chicago Board of Education voted in favor in October terminate its charter agreement with Urban Prep to operate two other campuses in Bronzeville and Englewood after the district superintendent substantiated allegations of misconduct against the charter chain’s founder.

The state controlled Urban Prep West Campus since 2019 after the Chicago Board of Education voted to rescind the charter of organization for the West Campus citing concerns about financial mismanagement and declining enrollment.

The school board allowed the city’s two other prep schools in Bronzeville and Englewood to continue operating under its supervision until last month. Then the board revoked Urban Prep’s charter and put the plan into action take over the schools.

Urban Prep, once considered a darling of the charter school movement because of the success of graduating black boys, suffered a stunning fall after an investigation this summer by a district watchdog confirmed allegations that Urban Prep’s founder, Tim King, had an inappropriate relationship with students during their time at the school and in subsequent years when the student worked in the charter network. King resigned in Junebut vehemently denies the allegations.

Urban Prep’s current leadership sent a letter to Governor JB Pritzker on November 4 asking him to step in and stop the Chicago school board’s actions.

Dennis Lacewell, chief academic officer, and Troy Boyd Jr., chief operating officer, wrote that Chicago Public Schools’ actions are “an attempt to supersede our success in operating the district’s only black-founded and operated charter schools focused on black educational outcomes men with a quasi-district school program that does not serve our community.”

“If equity is a priority in Chicago and Illinois, where we want positive outcomes for our young, smart, black and handsome men, then the future existence and independence of Urban Prep Academies must be preserved,” they wrote.

Both Lacewell and Boyd were interviewed during the investigation. The report says Boyd confirmed he went on a trip to Las Vegas with King and the student after he graduated. During some of the alleged interactions, Lacewell is mentioned as the director of one of Urban Prep’s campuses. The report said Lacewell said “it is not uncommon for King to provide financial aid to former students, even if they are not employed at Urban Prep.”

How a successful charter school turned out

Urban Prep opened its first campus in 2006, before expanding to two more campuses. The charter school has received national recognition for having every one of its graduates accepted to college.

Urban Prep was founded by King an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, named a “Chicago of the Year” by Chicago magazine in 2010 and talked about changing the narrative about black boys at SXSW in 2016.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel advertised the success of the school during his tenure as mayor between 2011 and 2019 and frequently in the local media covered Urban Prep’s college signing day.

But in 2018, the network’s West Campus was placed on an “academic watch” list, and after recommended for closure. School council revoked Urban Prep’s West Campus charteralso citing concerns about financial mismanagement and low enrollment.

Urban Prep turned to c Illinois State School Commissionwhich reversed Chicago Public Schools’ decision to close its west campus in March 2019.

At the time, Commissioner Bill Farmer said the school was “not built for success.

“We are potentially fair postponement of school closure because they’re not going to be able to make the turnaround that’s going to happen,” Farmer said.

The Illinois State Charter School Commission was dissolved by the state legislature in August 2019 and responsibility for reviewing charter school appeals returned to the Illinois State Board of Education.

With two campuses overseen by the Chicago School Board and one state-sanctioned campus, Urban Prep continued to educate nearly 400 Chicago teenagers, most of them black boys. In 2021, faculty at two CPS-authorized campuses went on strike for two days at the beginning of June, when the school year was ending.

Then this summer, WBEZ announced the resignation of the King following an investigation by the inspector general of Chicago Public Schools that substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement.

The report alleged that King groomed and touched a minor female student while he was enrolled. The report said the relationship continued after the student graduated, with the two taking trips to Vegas, Ibiza, London and Los Angeles, and King paying the student’s rent and signing leases for several apartments in Chicago. The student also continued to work at Urban Prep and continued to receive salary and benefits even after he stopped working in 2018, the report said.

At a Chicago school board meeting in October, city prep school leaders, students and staff lobbied the board not to revoke the charter’s license, but members were adamant.

“This is an outrageous report, and it should upset everyone,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said in October, referring to the investigation’s findings about King. “It’s a shame to me that the Urban Prep board had this information and didn’t act quickly.”

During the meeting, district leaders noted Urban Prep’s high academic performance for black boys. But they also noted that the schools did not provide federally mandated services to students with disabilities and did not have enough licensed educators at the school, according to the documents.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said the district believes in keeping the two campuses open. Urban Prep Bronzeville enrolled 222 students this fall, while Englewood enrolled 161 students. Martinez said the district also expects to retain the current school staff.

“We want to make sure high-quality programs continue for kids in Bronzeville and Englewood — that’s important,” Martinez said. But, he added, “we cannot compromise. We need ethical behavior and we need to make sure we protect our children.”

West Campus enrolled 91 students this fall, according to state data. The state board is expected to make a decision on what happens there on Thursday.

Becky Vevea is the Chalkbeat Chicago Bureau Chief. Contact Becky at bvevea@chalkbeat.org.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering K-12 schools. Contact Maurizio at mpena@chalkbeat.org.

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