When administrators or teachers physically lay hands on students, it is high time for reflection on the part of not just the school leadership and families who send kids to these schools, but indeed for the community as well. As a young person who has finished school but is still childless, sometimes I feel left out of conversations about schooling, but as a community member and a voter, I have a voice and am entitled to an opinion. And sometimes, egregious violations of the public trust rise to the level of involving everyone, not just people who are directly involved with a school.
All this comes as preamble to the really serious, upsetting story that the New York Post released today regarding an assistant superintendent’s behavior at a charter school not far from me, in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The administrator, Chi Tschang, is the assistant superintendent of Achievement First middle schools. He allegedly “aggressively grabbed an 11-year-old boy he was kicking out of class last month.” This kind of assault, reported by the student’s mother, is nothing new for Tschang. He received public criticism earlier this year when he drove a misbehaving student home in his personal vehicle.
This guy, who of course has excellent credentials and is fully backed by Achievement First, is getting a bit of negative attention from the media, but not for the first time. Before coming to New York, Tschang was the founding principal of a KIPP school in Fresno, California. He served as principal until 2009, when he resigned amidst allegations of extensive emotional and physical abuse. Though some of the abuse accusations targeted teachers and other school personnel, the most significant charges named Tschang personally.
Fresno performed an in-depth investigation into the allegations, which were sent to the Board of Education by several concerned parents. The findings of an independent investigation are available online, thanks to the Post. After reading through it for a few pages, I was too disgusted to continue. The charges range from forcing students to sit outside during extreme weather to legitimate assault; Tschang at one point acknowledged “I do remember shaking a kid.” He also admitted to putting an empty trash can over the head of one child while they spoke. There are 29 separate charges for improper conduct in the report. A few more (note: student, parent and some teachers’ names are blacked out in the report):
“21. Student _____ said that in December of 2007, Mr. Tschang todl him to get on his hands and knees and bark like a dog. _____ said it was a metaphor to get him to stop joking around in class.
28. Parent _____ reported that Mr. Tschang took student glasses away from him because _____ was constantly adjusting his glasses. _____ is totally dependent on his glasses and cannot see without them. Mr. Tschang admitted to taking _____ glasses away.”
For me, the actions which Tschang has admitted to are enough to bar him from working with children again. Parents over and over again complained about his behavior, and the City of Fresno found really shocking complaints from students and parents. Yet Achievement First stands by this man, despite his violent disciplinary measures and unacceptable behavior. This is a story that simply must be picked up. The violence in Fresno was never covered broadly, and it seems that regardless of the fairly conclusive findings from that investigation, Tschang had no problem finding a new job in Brooklyn, less than a mile from where I live. Some courageous writers did chronicle the Fresno problems as they happened, and for a good report, take a look at this entry at Schools Matter.
At this point, there are a few things which we as citizens can do to try and rectify this pretty horrendous situation. First, as anyone who follows charter schools must know, publicity is very important. I encourage others to write about this story, to share it with friends and neighbors, and to write letters, op-eds and blogs about Tschang. You can also contact Achievement First or the state Charter Schools Institute at SUNY, which has offices in Albany and Manhattan.
I hope that, with enough community input, AF and others who oversee the school will take action and at the very least, investigate the behavior Mr. Tschang has been accused of while in New York. My heart breaks reading about the awful way this guy has and continues to treat children, and I’m committed to doing something about it. The charter movement has lots of wealthy backers, and so for citizens to be heard, we need to speak loudly and assertively. Tschang was known in California for telling parents who complained that KIPP is a school of choice, and that if it wasn’t a good fit, they were free to send their children elsewhere. So if you know an AF parent, please share this with them, because they can and should consider withdrawing their students from schools where they could be victimized so easily and without any real oversight.
So please, take action, share this story, make something happen. Because Education is and should always be nonviolent, safe, and respectful. Schools just have to be places where kids and adults share mutual respect and trust, or else no learning of value can take place. Until Mr. Tschang shows that he respects students and parents, he should not be allowed to work with kids. Period.