Letters to the Editor

Tony Habit: NC New Schools’ growth created its downfall

Regarding the June 12 news article “After New Schools’ collapse, financial questions emerge”: The News & Observer has appropriately reported on the closure of NC New Schools. Because the organization benefited from the trust and investment by foundations, corporations and government, the public should expect accountability. Unfortunately, the series of articles written about NC New Schools has not accurately reported key facts.

After 10 years working in increasingly cramped quarters in which some employees were “triple-bunked” in small offices, NC New Schools secured new office space to accommodate the significant growth of the workforce. Contrary to what has been reported, the organization did not pay rent on both facilities simultaneously. Rather, we structured a deal that allowed us to move into the new facility rent-free for eight months; the cost per square foot in our new office was nearly 15 percent less than the former office. The new office also provided technology for use in training teachers across five states that was considerably less expensive than the traditional approaches we had been required to use before the move. Finally, the furnishings for the new office were financed and amortized over many years, reducing the short-term financial impact to a minimum.

I have always insisted on the highest ethical standards for myself and those with whom I work and am confident that, when all is said and done, there will be no indication that funds provided through grants and donations were misused in any way. Though there were failures in financial management, those failures were borne by rapid growth and personnel shortcomings in the finance department, which we were working diligently to correct at the time the board decided to cease operations.

Most importantly, what has been lost in the recent coverage is the tremendous good NC New Schools achieved over the last 13 years. The organization succeeded in brokering collaboration among leaders in community colleges, universities, public schools and business and industry to accelerate innovation in the public schools. That included the creation of the largest network of early college high schools in the country, new university-based STEM education-themed schools, models of personalized learning to meet the needs of each student and replicable approaches to link education in rural schools with promising jobs for the future. Some of North Carolina’s top high schools were served in this network. Countless administrators, teachers and students across our state have benefited immeasurably from the good work we did.

I am devastated by NC New Schools’ abrupt closure, not only for our extremely talented and passionate team of education thought leaders who have lost their jobs, but for our many network schools and communities with whom we partnered to change the life trajectories of their students. I am very proud of that work and remain committed to public school improvement and the advocacy that has been my life’s work.

Tony Habit

Former executive director, NC New Schools

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the article. A correction about the rent appeared Wednesday.

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