circling back

With board uninterested in principal's lies, little accountability for Urban Dove principal

When Chalkbeat reported in February that the leader of a transfer charter school in Brooklyn had been forced out of previous jobs in education for his dishonesty, some of the school’s board members seemed stunned.

“I’m very disturbed,” Urban Dove Team Charter School board member Patrick Fagan said then. “I’m not making any excuses. I’m at a loss for words.”

But the board of trustees is now carrying on business as usual, and the school’s principal, Lewis Thomas III, appears to have faced little further scrutiny from those who hired him and who hold the power to evaluate him.

“I understand that people in the past make mistakes, just like the students that we serve,” Fagan told Chalkbeat recently. “I want to get deeper into this. I can’t find the time out of my schedule.”

Fagan was speaking for himself, not the board, which has declined to comment on its hiring or vetting processes or to say whether it looked more deeply into Thomas’ past in the last two months. Teachers at the school said that the school’s founder, Jai Nanda, told the staff in a meeting that the board stood behind Thomas, and board members greeted Thomas warmly at their meeting this week.

In February, Chalkbeat reported that Thomas had been forced to resign as principal of a charter school in Ohio after telling elaborate lies about his past employment, including that he served as a senior adviser to Barack Obama. His exit was reported by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer in 2006.

Thomas was also fired from Phase 4 Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that operates alternative education centers in Pennsylvania, according to the organization’s CEO.

But those jobs are still alluded to and exaggerated on Urban Dove’s own website, which says Thomas served as “chief academic officer” at a charter school management company overseeing 15 schools—though Phase 4 says he was a regional director overseeing one site and sent him a cease-and-desist letter after he repeatedly inflated his job title in public.

The Urban Dove website also claims that Thomas was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for his leadership as a principal in 2006, though Thomas declined to provide any evidence of that award. His experience in the two years prior was being forced out of the Ohio charter school after four months in 2005 and, according to the Plain Dealer, spending just two months at a charter school in Washington, D.C. in 2004.

At the school’s board meeting this week, members were congratulatory as they discussed the school’s progress. Disciplinary incidents were down, and attendance was up from 66 to 73 percent, Thomas told the board members.

If they had any questions about Thomas’ leadership, they didn’t ask them at this week’s meeting—or answer them when asked by a reporter. “It’s not a forum for discourse back and forth,” board chair Michael Grandis said of the meeting.

One staff member said that teachers at the school were too focused on getting their students to come and stay at school to focus on the school leader’s continued bold claims of past employment. The school serves ninth and tenth graders who have accumulated so few credits that they are at risk of not graduating, and uses an innovative schedule focused on sports to keep students engaged.

“He told me he was a lawyer. Then he told me that he was a doctor,” said one staff member, who requested anonymity because they were told not to speak to reporters. In February, Fagan noted that Thomas’ résumé had included a line about being a member of a board of trustees at the University of Illinois—a claim he backed away from when questioned by Urban Dove.

But Fagan said he’s heard no recent complaints.

“No parent has reached out to me with a concern that their student is not being served,” Fagan said. “I have chosen personally, I will look into it after the school semester.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.