So far I’ve gotten two questions from readers — one about the mechanics of teacher transfers in different San Diego-area school districts, and one about hiring more Latino educators. Two questions and already I’m swamped! You guys are tougher than my editor.

I’m calling around for answers on the first question. The second might be larger than a blog post — but I may have some leads. While I wait to get the full story on teacher transfers, here’s some more back story on the two-part investigation we finished publishing today.

In May a worried mother from the San Diego suburbs, Katherine Flesh, called to tell me about a guy named Mike Hazelton, a charter school administrator who had presided over several schools that had suffered deficits, allegations of conflicts of interest, or both.

It took four months to piece together the documents and track down and interview the families, teachers and principals in Hazelton’s past before we published the story, “The School Guru Who Promised Rescue and Brought Ruin.”

It got a lot easier after the Encinitas Union School District publicized the documents that raised its concerns about one of Hazelton’s schools. Whistleblowers at that school were happy to help, sharing their research and tips. But there was still plenty of digging to do with state agencies, school districts, and ordinary families who had their own stories about Hazelton.

(And before I forget, fellow reporter David Washburn helped smooth out the story to make it more readable and nix all the edu-speak. I owe him immensely.)

Something struck me about those families’ stories. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are run independently, and they are an educational phenomenon that has had dazzling successes. I’ve seen them myself: the dramatic turnaround of Keiller Leadership Academy in southeast San Diego, the quirky Museum School where kids link art with the classroom.

But the saga of Hazelton and his schools revealed the risks of the freedom that charter schools enjoy — risks that worry leaders and critics of the charter school movement alike. Becoming an independent charter school usually means handling your own finances and operations. If mishandled or abused, finances can sink an otherwise thriving school.

It raises a larger question: How can school districts and charter schools minimize those risks without infringing on the freedom that has allowed charter schools’ successes?


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