Dalton Elementary getting new charter management

Dalton Elementary in Baton Rouge is changing hands after the charter management company selected by the state to run the school began collapsing after the abrupt resignation of its CEO, who admitted he lied on his résumé and failed to mention a prior prison sentence.

Instead, Dalton is being handed over to a California-based group already opening new charter schools in Louisiana, the state-run Recovery School District announced Thursday.

Family Urban Schools of Excellence , based in Hartford, Connecticut, has been disintegrating since its CEO, Michael Sharpe, resigned June 21, admitting he lied about earning a doctorate and failed to mention he went to prison 25 years ago for embezzling $100,000.

Sharpe’s departure was quickly followed by the departure of other administrators. Six schools in Connecticut have dropped FUSE since, the Hartford Courant has reported. Those include Hartford-based Jumoke Academy on Friday. Jumoke, which is made up of three schools, was founded by Sharpe in the late ’90s and was the basis for FUSE’s reputation.

FUSE was in the process of taking over Dalton, but it had not yet opened the school. That was supposed to happen next month.

The state of Louisiana initially stuck by FUSE, but last week state leaders reconsidered and asked if Celerity Educational Group, out of Los Angeles, could take over instead.

Celerity is in the midst of taking over Lanier Elementary and Crestworth Middle schools in Baton Rouge, as well as taking over Woodmere Elementary in Harvey in Jefferson Parish.

“Effectively, FUSE in Connecticut no longer existed,” said Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District.

Dobard said Celerity has agreed to keep on Arneisha Brisco, who was taking over as Dalton’s principal under FUSE, and is speaking with the staff FUSE had assembled to see whom it wants to keep.

Letters are being sent to parents explaining the change and a parent meeting is being organized for next Wednesday night at Dalton.

Dobard said Celerity was planning to start another elementary school in the future and its takeover of Dalton just accelerates that process. He said Dalton places greater emphasis on project-based learning and technology than FUSE did.

“It was a sudden turn of events, but we think it was a fortunate turn, so we can end the uncertainty and have a great school year,” he said.

Dobard said he sat down Tuesday in Baton Rouge with FUSE’s interim leader, Heidi Hamilton, and explained the changes. He said Hamilton agreed to start the process of voluntarily handing its charter back to Louisiana.

Calls Wednesday to FUSE’s main office phone number in Hartford didn’t go through; the number is no longer in service.

Reached on her cell, Hamilton, who served as chief of staff under Sharpe, wouldn’t discuss whether FUSE was voluntarily returning the charters. She would say only that she’s thankful Celerity is willing to take over and that the group has a good academic reputation.

“We’ve met with Celerity and we’re working closely with them to ensure a smooth transition,” Hamilton added

Craig Knotts, regional vice president for Celerity, said the transition has moved quickly. He said the state was smart to act quickly, and Celerity is set up as an organization to move quickly.

Knotts said he’d like to keep as many of the current Dalton staff as possible, though he said not all the jobs match up. He said teachers retained will take part in a three-week training institute Celerity is holding starting Friday for all its Louisiana teachers.

Knotts said FUSE is working with him on the transition and he’s committed to making it work.

“We want to make sure that the end result is a good school for the Dalton community,” he said.