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Tim King

Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, speaks at Daley Plaza in Chicago’s Loop, Thursday May 19, 2022, at a ceremony where graduating high school students announced which colleges they planned to attend. All seniors from Urban Prep Academies’ Englewood, downtown and Bronzeville campuses were accepted into 412 different four-year colleges and universities, according to a press release by Urban Prep Academies.

Pat Nabong

Once named Hero of the Year, a Chicago charter school head resigns

The head of Urban Prep Academies, once named a Hero of the Year by People Magazine for founding charter schools that got all its Black male graduates into college, has resigned.

Tim King confirmed his resignation in an email to WBEZ and said he will take over Urban Prep Foundation, an independent organization that raises money for the three charter schools serving about 500 students. The foundation was founded in 2017, but it is unclear whether it has been operational. It has not filed any tax returns, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s charity database.

King’s departure comes as the charter school network is under investigation by the school district’s inspector general and in the midst of financial turmoil. WBEZ reported in June that school district officials wrote a scathing memo about the management and financial situation of the charter school.

CPS did not immediately respond to questions about the resignation of King.

In 2021, King was paid $220,000 as chief executive officer and president of Urban Prep Academies. With its flagship school opening in 2006, it was the first public all-boys charter school, focused on Black males.

It made national headlines, not only for its college acceptance rate, but also for the unique program, developed by King, to instill pride in Black boys, who in general have the worst outcomes in Chicago Public Schools.

But as it rose in prominence, it was struggling behind the scenes.

CPS officials detailed a list of problems in a January 2022 memo addressed to the Urban Prep Board of Directors and obtained by WBEZ through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among the problems cited: Urban Prep was the only charter school that had to get cash advances from CPS to make payroll, officials took out high interest “predatory” loans and failed to pay vendors that provided services to students, leaving students in special education without the support they were legally mandated to receive.

The inspector general confirmed his office is looking into how Urban Prep was allowed to operate in financial disarray for years.

King has been criticized for serving both as executive director and president of the board, creating a conflict of interest and a lack of oversight. In his email confirming he was resigning as executive director, King did not clarify whether he will continue to be president of the board.

Officials with Urban Prep have previously said that the organization’s financial troubles began with mid-year budget cuts in 2015 and 2016 and said that as an organization run by all Black men, they faced racism and didn’t have access to the same capital as other charter schools, which have rich benefactors.

But the organization faces other challenges besides financial. Overall, the Black student population in CPS has plummeted over the past two decades and that has meant fewer students available for Urban Prep. Also, Urban Prep officials complain that when the school district centralized its high school application process, they had less interaction with students and it was harder to enroll them.

At its height, the charter school network served almost 1,400 students, almost three times its current student enrollment.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter@WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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