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New chief of troubled Magnolia: ‘I’ve done this work before’

Vanessa Romo | January 9, 2015

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Magnolia Science Academy 6 LAUSDLong time education reform advocate, Caprice Young, is taking over the troubled Magnolia Public Schools charter network, but it won’t be official until a set of test results come in.

“I’m waiting to get my tuberculouses results,” she said, laughing on a phone call from her office. “Then I can actually set foot on a campus and be around children.”

Young, who is a divisive figure in California education politics for her strong advocacy for charter school expansion, says she’s excited about the opportunity to turn around the controversial charter school organization with 11 public charter schools serving close to 4,000 students in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara and San Diego counties. She is taking the reigns from interim CEO, Murat Biyik, who held the post for less than six months.

“I’ve done this work before,” she explained, referring to her efforts that made Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, a network of charters she’s credited with saving from imminent closure.

A financial audit by LA Unified last year concluded that Magnolia Public Schools doesn’t have the cash-flow necessary to be solvent, owing more money than it costs to continue operating all eight of its campuses within LAUSD. As a result, two schools had their charter renewal applications denied but are operating under a court injunction, while a third campus will close at the end of the school year.

Young’s response? “It’s not uncommon for charter schools that have grown a little quickly to have financial problems or organizational problems. But those are very fixable. And I’m coming in to fix that.”

Another issue that has dogged the schools’ operator in the past has been its ties to the Gulen Movement, a Turkish Islamist group that has founded schools, think tanks and media outlets around the world.

At an LA Unified board meeting in March, Inspector General Ken Bramlett confirmed claims of the association, “We have done some looking into that allegation and there is some evidence that some members of the Magnolia organization do have ties with the Gulen movement, but we have not found anything currently that would be grounds for denial.”

That’s not an issue for Young, either.

“I haven’t seen a connection but, I’m not in the habit of asking people about their religious beliefs,” she said. She acknowledges that Magnolia has “had Turkish leadership form the start” but says, “my impression of them is that they run great schools.”

And if there is a questionable relationship to Gulen, Young contends she was hired by the board, in part, “because they knew I wouldn’t allow anything to go forward that wasn’t appropriate.”

Young will leave her job as President of the National Charter Resource Center in the spring. “I’ve made several commitments that I have to see through,” she said.

But she did not specify if that included continuing to work with the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District, a tiny rural school district under fire for approving charter schools outside its borders. LA Unified is suing the l district for opening three charter schools within the LAUSD boundaries.

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