The Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to revoke the operating charter for Urban Prep Academies and start the unprecedented process of taking over the celebrated but troubled all-boys school.
It represents a stunning turn for the city’s only all-boys public school known nationally for nurturing young Black men on the South and West sides and getting 100% of graduates each year into college. Urban Prep leaders, students and alumni fought the takeover.
The school district recommended the non-renewal of the school’s charter for violations related to alleged sexual misconduct, financial troubles and the refusal of Urban Prep’s board to comply with conditions set by the district.
Urban Prep can appeal to the Illinois State Board of Education. But the action by the Chicago Board of Education marks the beginning of the end for the charter school network. Urban Prep was known for students proudly wearing blue suit coats and ties and for a daily creed where they repeat in their belief in their potential, brotherhood and the community.
School district officials and board members on Wednesday said they believe in the Urban Prep model and emphasized that Urban Prep’s two high school campuses wouldn’t close. Instead, they will either become part of an existing high school or a CPS school. Current staff will be asked to re-apply for their jobs and the school district said it will try to keep teachers and others in place.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez told the Board of Education that CPS’ main goal is to change the governance of the two high school campuses, one in Bronzeville and the other in Englewood. They serve about 340 students.
A third Urban Prep campus is run by the state. Earlier this month, the state board of education issued Urban Prep a “notice of revocation.” The state said Urban Prep must provide a corrective action plan and the state board will vote at its Nov. 17 whether to allow the campus to continue operating.
“I want to assure you that we will continue these programs,” Martinez said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “They will have success. I am confident in the skill set in the district. We are not going to allow any of these students to fall through the cracks.”
Martinez said he sees the value of single sex schools and will look at incorporating the culture and practices of Urban Prep into the district-run programs. But Martinez said this action was needed.
Before the vote, Urban Prep officials, as well as students and parents, argued against the takeover.
Troy Boyd Jr., Urban Prep’s chief operating officer, told the board many of the issues brought up by the school district were old and resolved. He said there are no current safety or ethical issues at Urban Prep.
The charter school is in “good financial standing,” according to CPS, and its two CPS campuses received the second highest rating from Illinois, Boyd said.
Urban Prep officials also called CPS’ takeover attempt an “attack,” and said the school district is “more interested in dragging down our leadership and school than in the successful education of young Black men.”
Before the vote, board members heard from many Urban Prep students. They spoke of the brotherhood experienced by students. They talked about starting Urban Prep as boys and being shaped into men, showing them a good example of what a Black man should be.
They said Urban Prep is a safe environment where teachers care.
“We have fathers at Urban Prep, people who have shown us to be proud Black men,” said Latrell Scott.
Miles Brown, a junior at Urban Prep, said the school has given him opportunities that children that look like him don’t usually get. He said he went on college tours every year.
“If there was ever a time I needed support, the staff made themselves available for us for check-ins,” he said.
School district officials and board members said they could see that staff at Urban Prep care about the students.
Board member Sendhil Revuluri said there is conflict between his belief in the model and the program and what he said was an unwillingness of the charter management to put students first.
CPS Chief Portfolio Officer Alfonso Carmona detailed the case against Urban Prep.
For years, the taxpayer-funded charter school was mired in financial problems, needing cash advances to make payroll and taking high interest loans. In addition ,students with special needs didn’t get services for months and only a third of teachers are certified.
Carmona said Urban Prep is in better financial standing now, but that is attributable to a Paycheck Protection Program loan the charter received. The program provided businesses money to offset losses during the pandemic and avoid laying off employees.
Carmona said the CPS inspector general found Urban Prep overstated their employees in their application. He also said the inspector general is still investigating why the charter school faced so many financial problems.
But this immediate action appears to be driven by other factors. These include the way Urban Prep executives have responded to an inspector general investigation that substantiated sexual misconduct charges against its executive director as well as the unwillingness of Urban Prep’s board to comply with conditions demanded by CPS demanded.
Carmona said Urban Prep minimized the sexual misconduct in communications to parents, against direction of school district officials and refused to investigate the sexual misconduct, saying that it had better ways to use its money.
Board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland lambasted the former executive director and Urban Prep’s board for the way it handled the sexual misconduct case. “No one is above accountability from harming Black children,” she said.
Tim King, the founder and former executive director, strongly denies any allegations of sexual misconduct. King filed court documents asking a judge to reverse disciplinary actions against him by CPS.
But Todd-Breland stressed that Urban Prep’s failures are not tied to students or parents.
Martinez described Wednesday’s decision as “sad,” but he said it was necessary.
“We cannot compromise,” he said. “We need to have ethical behavior and we need to make sure we are protecting our children.”