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My special report today about charter school administrator Mike Hazelton made a passing reference to a Los Angeles-area school that he helped start while working at Las Banderas Academy in the town of Colton outside San Bernardino. Here’s the full story.

A corporation that Hazelton headed, New Education for Communities, Inc., helped start Media Arts Academy of Centinela in 2004. It opened in the city of Hawthorne and was originally intended to be an International Baccalaureate school, as Las Banderas planned to become. Hazelton talked to the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California about the school in 2003 when its opening was delayed:

Still, Hazelton seemed upbeat about the delay, saying it gives everyone more time to find a school and hire and train teachers.

“We want a quality program, a great one, and that required more time than we had,” he said. “We didn’t want to open something that wasn’t up to our standards.”

The breakdown in talks over potential school sites wasn’t the only bump in the road for founders. The school also didn’t receive a $450,000 start-up grant as expected, reportedly because founders misjudged the application deadline.

Media Arts Academy later evolved into High School for the Recording Arts, better known as “Hip Hop High,” where students could record music between classes. (Check out some amazing photographs of the school from the Los Angeles Times here.)

I didn’t include the school in my story because Hazelton’s involvement in the school after it opened was unclear. Years after Hazelton had helped start Media Arts Academy, it faced similar questions about its financial management and potential conflicts of interest on its board as did Theory Into Practice Academy, where Hazelton last worked.

Hazelton was working at Cortez Hill Academy in downtown San Diego in 2007, when the Centinela Valley Union High School District warned Media Arts Academy that its charter could be revoked if it didn’t fix several problems at the school, including ongoing deficits and a failure to keep verifiable attendance records. The school district also alleged that conflicts of interests were posed by having employees on its governing board. Its letter is not addressed to Mike Hazelton, nor does it mention him.

A year after the school district warned “Hip Hop High” that it could be closed, the charter school ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Murphy thought the charter was valid until 2009, but the school district said it lapsed at the end of 2008, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times:

[Interim superintendent Jose] Fernandez said the issue was simple. “Their application expired. They basically ran the clock out,” he said. Asked why he hadn’t given [Principal Jennifer] Murphy any warning, Fernandez said, “I think she should know her renewal date better than myself.”

Its website attributed the problem to “clerical errors made by the founders of the school.” I tried to reach Murphy to talk about the school, the errors and whether Hazelton was involved, but couldn’t reach her by phone. An e-mail went unanswered.

Curious about other details of the Mike Hazelton story? You can e-mail me with more questions or comments at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

EMILY ALPERT

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