A charter school for high-risk students championed by former Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer is under investigation for possible academic and financial misconduct.
The district is reviewing the academic and business operations of Harper Academy, 1215 NE 34, school district spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy told The Oklahoman. She declined to provide details.
On Wednesday, the school's interim principal said she was recently hired out of retirement to replace the school's principal, who was “released due to academic deficiencies.”
“My understanding is the board was not happy with her performance,” Sondra Ansivino said.
The state department of education lists Tamra Washington as principal of Harper Academy. Attempts to reach Washington were unsuccessful.
Neither Melvin Perry, Harper Academy's chief operating officer, nor Chandra Graham, identified in documents as president of the school's board of directors, returned calls for comment Wednesday.
Touted on Facebook as a “center for transformation and success,” Harper Academy is an alternative charter school that serves high-risk students, including dropouts, pregnant teens and those with behavioral problems.
“The kids are troubled. The kids strike me as young people who are really in need of dynamic leadership,” said Mark Flemon, who manages a nearby restaurant frequented by Harper Academy students.
About three weeks ago, Flemon noticed that many of the students were leaving school early and said some of them told him it was because “they didn't have enough instructors.”
“I was surprised. I hadn't seen anything like that before,” Flemon said. “The children said it was the second time it had happened.”
The next day, a teacher and restaurant patron told Flemon that Washington had been let go as principal, he said.
In January, board members denied the charter school's first application at the request of a school district committee that evaluated the applicant's budget, programs, services and other details.
In April, the board, which included three new members, voted to approve the charter school's application following an impassioned plea from Springer, who retired Aug. 30. Springer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is the largest district in the state with 45,000 students attending 84 schools, including 12 charters.
Charter schools, an alternative to public schools, receive funding from the district but do not follow the same rules and regulations as public schools.
One of those schools, Marcus Garvey Leadership Academy, was closed when the Oklahoma City School Board voted not to renew its contract.
The panel reported the Harper Academy investigation Monday night after meeting in private. It could decide the same fate for this school, whose contract will be terminated in June unless the school board voted to renew it.
“In the case of Harper, we want to make sure that protocols are met,” said Dave Lopez, the school district's interim superintendent. “We think it's important to get all the facts.”