Guest Voices: Maatie Alcindor on NorthStar Academy

Maatie Alcindor is originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts, but has been a New Jersey resident for the past 16 years.  For the past 15 years, she’s been working in the pharmaceutical industry.  She is the single mother of one 20 year old son and of “Bob da Dog.”  I first encountered Maatie in a local issues discussion group on Facebook, as we live in the same town.  The subject of charter schools had come up, and in her posts in that group, Maatie told some of the story she tells here today.  We have never actually met in person, but I was so moved by her story in the discussion group, that I messaged her to ask if she’d be willing to write her story up for wider distribution via my blog and beyond.  She agreed.  Below is Maatie’s story — as she tells it — about her son’s middle school experience at a NorthStar Academy charter school in Newark, New Jersey (part of the Uncommon Schools charter network):  

We were residents of East Orange, NJ the spring before my only child started the 5th grade.   At the time, my son was attending fourth grade at the East Orange Charter School and we loved it. Unfortunately for us East Orange Charter only went up to the 4th grade. Through the NJ State Education web page I found out that the highly touted North Star Academy (NSA) Charter School in Newark was opening a middle school in North Newark not far from my East Orange home!  Soon after, some friends and I attended the prospective parents meeting for the new North Star Academy Middle School.

And that is where the trouble began. From the very first meeting I knew something was not right. I did not like the way we were spoken to but I thought to myself… give them a chance. The successive meetings did not change my initial uneasy feeling toward the administration. We were given application packets and advised that we the parents had to drop off the completed forms. If not, the application would not be accepted. It was explained to us that if we were serious about our children’s education we would make the time to submit the applications ourselves. No other people would be allowed to deliver the packets for us. Even when parents explained that due to their work schedules it would be a problem to bring in the forms, NSA said no accommodations would be made. Imagine my irritation when I arrived at the downtown Newark location to submit my application and was told to just drop it in a bin (no one was there to confirm the submission). There was no reason to force parents to take time from work to simply drop an envelope in a tray; it was just a test of our commitment to follow the schools rules.

We were told to expect 2-3 hours of homework per night and extensive homework packets during weekends and vacations. I expressed concern that the amount of work seemed a lot for an 11 year old child and left no time for other activities or family time.  It was basically inferred that if I cared about my son’s future I would follow their program or find another school and watch him fail. Rules of conduct while in school were even more concerning. Throughout their day the students would get in trouble for such things as talking in the hallway, missing or incomplete homework, uniform pants not being the right shade of beige and the dreaded “not tracking the speaker with your eyes.” Yes, the children would get in trouble for not looking directly at the teacher during their lesson. Even during lunch there were more opportunities to get detention including talking too loud and talking when the principal entered the lunch room. They were expected to stop talking if the principal walked into the lunch room!!!!! Detention was usually an hour meaning that during the winter months the kids that were let out around 4:30 or 5:00 pm which left them to navigate home in the streets of Newark alone by either walking or public transportation after dark.

Though the Vice Principal came across genuine and caring; I found the Principal to be indifferent to parental concerns. The school’s Parents Council was viewed as a “social group” by the school administration and did not influence school policy in any way.  The school secretary habitually did not answer the office phone and was apathetic to parents’ requests to pass information to our children.  Messages for children about changes in pickups or where they were to go after school were routinely responded with “If I see ‘em I’ll tell ‘em” (a lot of times she didn’t “see ‘em”).   We were expected to trust their every action without question. For example, the 5th grade class trip was to Florida Everglades. When I asked which airline they would be flying with I was repeatedly told to just drop my son off at the school and that he would be traveling to the airport with the group. When I went to the Principal directly and asked for the flight information… his reply was that I was having separation anxiety and that I had all the information that I needed to know. I did not allow my son to go on that trip. The following years the Vice Principal and some of the teachers did their best to keep me informed of trip details.

My feelings for charter schools in general are a little more ambiguous. I hated the North Star model but I think if done right there may be a place for charter schools. North Star’s main issue was lack of engagement with the community. It was a school in the community but not of the community. To be honest it felt very racist though I do not think they thought of themselves as racists. The principal took on the air of an overseer, our children were no longer our own but property of NSA to be raised by their rules of behavior. On several occasions I witnessed the surreal scenes of all white “board members” that would come to visit the school smile as the children would beat the African Style drums to call every one to morning circle. The board members seemed very pleased to watch the call and response exercise as the white Principal walked around to check the uniforms of the school’s all black and Hispanic students. Later I asked the Principal why as American citizens the children didn’t just do the Pledge of Allegiance as in any other school? I was told mockingly, that since we were African Americans, the drums represented our history. I advised him that I went to school with predominantly Irish Americans and we never started the day with Celtic music or Toe Dancing.  With only one black teacher on staff at the time I wondered who gave them their ideas.

Parents and students who questioned the school’s methods were seen as discipline problems and were treated accordingly. The work load was assigned as a way to take up their free time. Parents desperate not to have their children end up in the gang infested neighborhood schools were willing to compromise their authority and hand their kids over to NSA with the promise of college dangled continuously in front of them. Those who went on to the NSA Preparatory High School found more of the same heavy handed tactics as before. Most of the male students left for other schools before making it to 12th grade.

The idea of Charter school was appealing to me. We had such a great experience his fourth grade year at East Orange Charter School and we wanted more.  North Star Academy was a nightmare and a decision I will always regret. In 2009, my son was part of the first eighth grade class to graduate from North Star Academy Middle School. That fall we moved to a different town but his four years at North Star had done its damage.  My son’s freshman year in high school was very hard for him. In spite of the hours upon hours of homework that he endured at North Star Academy he did not have any real study or note taking skills. North Star normally gave them their notes and study sheets but did not allow for any independent thinking.  For several years he had trouble engaging in class due to North Star’s passive learning style of teaching. Where North Star allowed for him to repeatedly take the same test over and over in order for them to record the most acceptable score, he was frustrated by the fact this was not the case at his new school. My son is now in his third year of college and he is on track to graduate with his Master’s Degree in Environmental Science in two years. It is a shame that he thinks so poorly of those middle school years and usually uses an expletive to describe his experience. My feeling is mutual. 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Guest Voices: Maatie Alcindor on NorthStar Academy

  1. That is an awful story. I am so sorry your son endured that type of education. I always say schools such as North Star Charter would not be tolerated in suburban districts so why are they being allowed in the urban districts? That mere fact makes me realize it’s a racist policy.

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  2. I’m so sorry for your son’s experiences, Maatie. Our kids only get one shot at their school years and they shouldn’t be so onerous. (A tip – working for the National Park Service is a great gig for someone with a degree in Enviro – my daughter feels very valued for her knowledge and is encouraged to speak up and contribute.)

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  3. Well as of right now I can speak for me and my family all three of my children attend NSA… My son started in K and he is what NPS classifies as Special ED he’s on the spectrum with ADHD…now he is a third grader and yes it hasn’t been as “easy” as NPS but they are very much dedicated and complaint as to his needs and mine… My daughters are both also this year in Kindergarten at NSA and love it!!! I’m not saying that NSA didn’t have their issues at the begging because my niece is a Senior at the High School and did face some challenges but they where always accommodating and adjusted accordingly… They have thought her as a person to speak up she has always voiced her opinion as to many things and they have always listened… All our children attend NSA my three and my three nieces and nephew… Please don’t take one persons bad experience as the only input… Again I am not saying it didn’t happen or that it was right.. But they have come a long way and all for the best!!!

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  4. We have had every type of “choice” school forced into our district with no way to control methodology or outcomes; there is so little oversight, and so little control over how programs are implemented or experienced. While one school is a “success” the next is a “failure.” It is becoming little more than smoke and mirrors.

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  5. Pingback: Parent: I Sent My Son to New Jersey’s “Best” Charter School, and I Regret It | Diane Ravitch's blog

    • -You cannot beat a person who never gives up
      Orestes would continuously bother us. My son would not play, and the principal and coach had to do what he said.
      I asked for a second meeting with the principal Carlos Albares. He did not want to meet at school.
      He would only meet with me in expensive restaurants such as:
      – Ruth’s Chris
      – Steak House
      – Capital Grill
      – Hillestone
      – El Novillo
      The restaurant he chose in this occasion was Prime 112, and we had to go in MY car. His exact words were “Prime 112 it is”. See screenshots attached below from our text messaging conversation.
      I told him Don Shula’s Steak House.
      I made a reservation for Thursday November 13th from 8:30 to 9:00 PM and we were going in different cars.
      I arrived at Don Shula’s at 8:30 PM and he would not arrive. I send him a text message to ask why he was taking long. He said he was on his way and demanded that we go to the bar. He came in and went directly to the bar, without even asking me.
      At our meeting, he told me he controls the police because he was going to run fro mayor. He completely ignored when I told him it was not fair that he do what Orestes wanted because Peter was a prospect. That was the agreement that they came to. He did recognize in our conversation that Orestes and the coach were good friends and that he let them to whatever they desired.
      During our time there he ordered the most expensive Whisky and very expensive food. The total for that night was around $700. He left drunk and did not even thank me!
      (continued on page 3)

      Things got worse after our meeting…
      The day after the “meeting”, Friday, November 14th, there was no confidentiality.
      After practice, the coach called the team to meet. The objective was to pressure Daniel because of the meeting. He wanted to know why “that guy’s dad (myself, Daniel’s father) did not meet with me before going to THE PRINCIPAL”. (There is a law that does not permit parents to meet with the coach to talk about a disagreement or a situation.)
      During this meeting, the coach was psychologically abusing my son, Daniel. He asked the same question over and over, “Why didn’t that parent come talk to me?” He would continuously look at Daniel. This was deliberately and obvious bullying in front of all the other kids.
      Some names are:
      Miguel Pitcher
      Aron Hernandez
      Dany Ramos
      Victor Fleitas
      Kenny Goodrich
      They all quickly knew the meeting was for Daniel; the whole team knew. The coach said “I need to speak to the player whose dad spoke with Albares! ASAP” and he looked at Daniel.
      Afterwards, they all left except for Daniel. Daniel said “Why did you meet with everybody if you knew it was my father? Who told you coach? I knew that the meeting was for me. Your looks and words told not only me, but the whole group. I did not know my dad was in that meeting.” He said all of this with fear.
      November is a month in which the sun goes down early. They took advantage of this and cornered Daniel against the fence, behind third base. The coaches, Regee and Nalepa (a big guy, 6’ 4”), intimidated Daniel, as if he was in a prison. They mentally destroyed Daniel. As a result of this, he lost 15 lbs. in 20 days. In page 4, there is a before and after picture of Danny during this time.
      Slade Park is a public park that Hialeah Educational Academy (HEA) uses. Multiple witnesses observed what happened without being seen. This was on the night the coaches had my son cornered against the wall.
      I asked around and I already have various witnesses that were there. For the moment, they wish to remain anonymous. However, they are ready to testify if they are questioned. I personally have the names and phone numbers.
      After what happened, Daniel became isolated. He would not eat or sleep (the pictures in page 4 speak for themselves). There is a letter from Psychiatric Doctor Rosa Turned attached also in page 4.
      (Continued on page 5)

      Figure 1 Before​​​Figure 2 After

      Daniel told his mother “I hate this live and myself”. He had many thoughts of suicide.
      Daniel was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The law requires special treatment to this kind of student. The only one who received special treatment was Peter Valdrich!
      The whole team and their parents were there. Witnesses:
      Miguel
      Aron Hernández
      Andy García
      Brando
      Víctor Fleitas
      Dany Ramos
      Kenny Goodrich
      77% of the team was interrogated. (They were subpoenaed and they coincided)
      Dany García
      Bandos parent
      Migueles parten
      Kenny Goodrich’s dad (a subpoena would show proof of bribery) – Obstruction of investigation (a criminal charge)
      He was a witness of the physical abuse on Daniel. He told me “They abused your son.” He called my house (on the phone speaker). Witnesses heard this call.
      After this, he met with Albares who promised his son a scholarship if he did not testify. After this, he did not want to speak anymore with me about the abuse, he would blatantly ignore my calls.
      I now want to continue discussing the mental abuse and bullying against Melanie, my 11 year old daughter, by Regee Rodriguez, science teacher/baseball coach.
      Regee IGNORED Melanie and his face showed that he had taken things personally against my daughter.
      Melanie came home one day and let me know that she felt insecurity and she had lost the passion she had for school. On a scale of 1-10, her interest in school was a 10; now she was more of a 5. Melanie is a very dedicated young girl. She is very disciplined and she was always happy to show her report card consisting of straight A’s.
      When Albares asked me to transfer Melanie from Hialeah gardens, he asked me if he could speak to her. Melanie did not want to go, so he promised to take her to Starbucks. He gave me strategies so that they would let me transfer her to HEA. This was because HEA did not transfer students during the school year. It is a charter school that requires registration during the previous school year. He violated that rule when he saw Melanie’s grades. He wanted to have her in HEA; a girl like that would give HEA even more honors.
      He never took Melanie to Starbucks, and Melanie noticed that he did not keep his promises. Albares was ignoring my daughter after all the issues. He was taking things personal with Melanie. My question is, WHY?
      The principal of Hialeah Gardens School cried when I asked to transfer Melanie. She said “Please do not take her. Please think about it at least three days”. But I had already told Albares I would, and I did three days later. This caused much sadness to Melanie’s principal, counselor, and teacher.
      Back to Albares, he later told me “You are suing MY school?” He seems so believe he is the owner of the school.
      The incidents kept getting worse as described by Melanie. Please see a statement from her below.
      “Kittens? Go ahead with the sue… I have my lions… I’m ready”. This is what Albares would say. He was trying to tell me that no lawyer would win.
      Mr. Albares would always brag about his connections. Those words were said in the meeting that my wife and I had with him. The reason we met was to stop the abuse that he was permitting. I told him “Please stop, or you leave me no choice but to sue you”. My wife asked for another meeting, but this time with Regee Rodriguez (the coach) present. My wife understood that this abuse was very real. She generally does not involve herself in sport-related matters, but this was no longer about that… This was about the proven abuse of our children!
      Martha, in a very demeaning way, told us while we were waiting to meet with Albares, “If you don’t like how we treat your kids, change them out of this school!”
      I asked her “Do you know what IDIA means?”
      She was surprised and could not answer.
      “Of course you don’t know. That is why there are so many problems here. Very few of you know how to deal with students with ADD”, I said.
      My wife responded, “That is not the right thing to do… taking our kids like as if we were in Cuba? No! Please locate your boss that he is already about 30 minutes late.”
      Martha told us to come in. Albares came late with Regee. Why? He was planning how to respond to us, apparently. The meeting did not last long because the coach came with some papers, fraudulent papers. He was trying to convince my wife why Daniel was benched. He focused the attention on my wife and tried to convince her.
      I looked at the stats he had. “He is a liar, a false coach! Look my love, there are the right stats”, I said. “Our son is the second prospect after Peter. Peter is in 12th grade, traveling the whole country. Daniel is only in 11th grade and naturally strong, with a healthy, nutritional diet.” I was letting them know that “it is likely that Peter was using steroids. It does not surprise me as Regee in many occasions would tell stories to the team about when he would use steroids and how he would get a noticeable improvement. What he SHOULD have told them is the damage that steroids cause on teens and how it is irreversible.” They were both surprised!
      “Where did you get those stats?” Regee asked me.
      I said, “From the official location, real stats. Not like the ones YOU falsified. The only truth is that you have abused Daniel a lot; physically, mentally, even his self-esteem was destroyed. That almost left us with just one child! Thank God that the psychiatrist helped him mentally and gave him written authorization to not come close to you for 15 days. If not you would have thrown him out. You hated my son and you hated me! You said you would kill me in front of the whole group for slashing your tires (a false accusation).
      Look, you are a coach without principles. You came to even ask me for money so that you would THINK about putting Daniel in. You even accused me of slashing your tired. You are being investigated. Just like you also said I stole the money for more than 200 Marlins tickets. I paid you with checks and have proof! Just like you obligated every player to buy 10 tickets for $250. Many poor parents paid and the tickets DID NOT SELL. Yet Daniel and I sold ours. More than 200 and not in the position that Mr. Albares chose like the 100 best tickets. Why? Why did he want 100 tickets in the front? Why so many?
      The 100 tickets all together (1-100) came to reach a value of more than $200. It would be a huge problem if an investigation proved that only a few of the 100 tickets were taken by Mr. Albares.”
      “Carlos Albares tickets were sold on Stub Hub”, they said (this was a lie).
      I continued, “Albares and Regee, where is the bat you promised you would gift to the student who sold the most? Yes, where is Daniel’s bat? He sold more than Albares. It is another crime to lie to an adolescent with mental problems. You never gave him any bat.”
      “Mr. Albares”, said my wife, “What about the hard hits on my sons knees. Why does he have those?”
      This was analyzed behind closed doors, and it stayed behind closed doors. Logically, they convinced Kenny’s dad so that he would not speak of that matter anymore. Why would that be logical? Because like I have said many times, Kenny Goodrich Sr. had notified me of the abuse. And he did not do what he had to do, bring the matters to the police.
      Albares responded, “Look, I support my coach in everything he does”.
      I got up very upset.
      “It is over”, I said. My wife also added, “Respect is more value than prominence. I leave this is God’s hands.”
      “Let’s go”, I said. I took out my wallet and looked up Mr. Steve Rosie’s business card. Upset, I threw it over the table and I yelled, “Look at this kitten, like you called the ex-FBI agent. Albares, you will see who is the lion. You or Mr. Rosie!”
      Before I left, I looked at him, pointed my finger, and said, “I assure you I will be the Martin Luther King of this dictatorship that you have implanted”. When I left he tried to convince me not to call Mr. Rosie. But it was too late. Every day the City of Hialeah would call me to meet with us and would ask us not to involve a lawyer… that they would fix everything.
      “I can’t”, I would say. “I’m sorry but I already hired a lawyer.”
      “Mr. Albares never told me about you guys”, they said.
      “Thanks!” I responded.
      Page | 7

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  6. Pingback: Ed News, Tuesday, May 10, 2016 | tigersteach

  7. The challenges you encountered was so well articulated here. Your mention of the teacher-directed methods that do not engage children in problem solving, inquiry, and experimentation is often missed when a school seems to tout rigor, which is really time consuming busy work. Happy to find your blog. And happy to hear about your son.

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    • Welcome to my mown World .
      True friends tell good things jehain your back and bad things to Yuor face .
      I’m not an hero , I’m a foregrin, I lost my son , thanks .
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      Conciences should be clean

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  8. Pingback: Guest Voices: Maatie Alcindor on NorthStar Academy | rey3016

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