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Strange Days at FIA

Illustration by Josef Gast

It started with an anonymous letter sent last June to parents of students at Florida International Academy, an Opa-locka-born charter school with a troubled past. "The Verdict Is In!!!!" screamed the letter. "Ms. Mitchell Must Be Fired!!!!"

The letter went on to allege that Ms. Mitchell, the executive director of the school, was regularly insulting students with such epithets as "crack babies, ignorant, retarded, stupid," and "slut." "She divulges personal information about other students to other parents and she constantly insults the staff and the board members behind their backs." The letter, which included an inspirational passage culled from an old Black Panther screed, suggested parents should boycott the school until Mitchell was replaced because: "She is unprofessional. She is vindictive, and she is symptomatic of the problem that is turning our kids into a permanent underclass."

The subject of all this concern is Ms. Sonia Cossie Mitchell, a tiny, well-dressed woman in her fifties, who speaks with a lilting West Indian accent that ranges from syrupy to stern. Mitchell steps out from behind the desk in her office, hand extended, a resoluteness on her round face as she prepares to debunk the allegations launched against her in the letter, and subsequently by former employees and parents. She apologizes for the chaotic, unfinished look of the place, explaining that the school just moved from its collection of modular classrooms behind an old Opa-locka church to this two-story edifice at 76th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, abandoned a year earlier by another charter school that had a hard time. (See "Lesson the Damage," New Times, May 17, 2001).

Sitting in a plastic chair beside the desk is Mamie Davis, a large, sturdy grandmother in her seventies who has put five foster children through FIA, the last of whom is still attending. Also in the room, hunched in a corner chair, is a clean-cut white guy with the whiff of mid-career lawyer about him. He's introduced as "my friend and attorney, Alan Sackrin." Mitchell seats herself behind the desk and takes a breath as she prepares to relive the tortuous events of the past year. "A year ago, they nailed me to the cross," she begins with a world-weary sigh that fails to stir the puffy cloud of expensively highlighted hair framing her face.

Mitchell briefly outlines the events that transpired after the anonymous letter was dispersed to parents last June. "There were a lot of things going on, more letters, petitions," she recalls. "We had a meeting and most of the parents were there and supported me. But [the accusers] could present no evidence. I thought it was over." It turned out to be only the beginning. Her long-time friend and former assistant director Reginald Williams quit and wrote a letter to the school's governing board, decrying the "reckless and destructive verbal abuse" his former boss allegedly heaped on students and school staff. A teacher named Dwan Hunt also wrote a letter, as did a former aide, Shanika Bradshaw. Several members of the governing board began to question every decision Mitchell made, and even attempted to oust her main ally on the board, chairman Vance Phillips.

As head of a struggling charter populated mostly by African-American sixth- through eighth-grade students, largely from low-income families, many with learning difficulties or behavioral problems, Mitchell is used to formidable odds. "It's been hard, but I'm tenacious," she remarks, perfectly shaped eyebrows arched for emphasis. Mitchell says the allegations against her are solely the fabrications of "jealous people" who envy her position. "I haven't done everything right, but God knows I've tried," she asserts. "Do I go up and down these kids sometimes if their skirt is too short, or they are cursing?" she asks rhetorically. "From age seven I was boarded in a convent school, so I'm strict. But I don't use words like [slut or retarded]."

Mamie Davis listens and nods, causing the enormous blue flower on her hat to tremble slightly. "Miss Mitchell is the best thing ever happened to FIA," she declares, peering sternly through her gold-rimmed glasses and adjusting the grip on the fuzzy leopard-print handbag in her lap. "She's determined to make FIA work. Miss Mitchell will be a gen-u-ine angel." Mitchell inclines her head approvingly, adding with conviction, "This is a charter school. Those parents would be down on my neck [if the allegations were true]. People do not leave their children in the hands of an administrator who's abusing them."

Yet that's exactly what Williams, Hunt, other former employees, and some parents say happened. Dwan Hunt claims Mitchell more than once viciously laid into students she thought were misbehaving. "She would tell them they were 'monsters, Godzillas,'" remembers Hunt, an eighth-grade social studies and reading teacher. "She said she didn't know why they came to school and she was ashamed to be associated with them. The kids would be upset, and she'd sometimes have to call the police on a child," because they'd come after her. Williams alleges: "I've heard her refer to some of those young ladies as 'whores.' I've heard her tell some of those young men they'll end up in prison. It's appalling."

 

Hunt and others contend that most parents who became aware of Mitchell's salty tongue either removed their children from the school, or figured their kids were exaggerating. Because it courted students with poor records in the public schools, some parents felt the charter school was their child's last chance to get straightened out before high school. Wanda Mota, whose daughter Jasmine just graduated from FIA, says she doesn't blame Mitchell for getting frustrated with the kids sometimes. "I don't know what she said to Jasmine, but it can't have been more than what I said," she says, absolving Mitchell. "Jasmine is a handful; she has attitude on top of attitude. [Mitchell] turned my daughter around."

Long-time teacher Cheryl Batavia will allow that Mitchell "is a very colorful person in her speech," but hasn't heard her say anything out of line. "She's very professional," she adds. Far from being the evil harpy her enemies would have you believe she is, Mitchell is a wonderful person, Batavia claims. "She helps everyone -- students, parents, teachers," she insists. "She genuinely cares about everyone. Very devoted to the kids, spends many extra hours, and digs in her own pockets."

Mitchell's supporters portray her as a strong woman who cares deeply about the children in her school, going to great lengths to "save them." Yes, she's "a feisty little person," as Mota calls her, but she also acts "like a mother" to the students. Even some students don't see Mitchell's choice of words as abusive. Latoya Hanna, who finished eighth grade this summer, says Mitchell can get upset sometimes, but it's not bad. "If you say something to her she don't like, she gets highly upset. She don't curse, but she go off on kids and everything. She just say, 'You're acting like a bunch of animals.'" "I think she's a great lady," argues Gerardo Adames, whose son Daniel spent three years at FIA. "My son's been doing great and Ms. Mitchell has always treated him great. The problem those people have over there is jealousy, something where somebody wants to take her place."

In her office, Mitchell echoes Adames's sentiment almost exactly. She believes the criticisms are motivated by a power struggle between her and several former staffers, as well as governing board members. "They are jealous because they are no longer here and would like to be here," she maintains. "There's a lot of 'You're not going to make it.' But we have been prospering. Although we're an F school ['failing school,' according to a state grading system], most of the students have made gains from last year." Mitchell charges that Hunt is "a pathological liar." When it comes to Williams, the explanation is not as simple. "He was like a brother to me," she says with emotion. "He turned on me." Then, getting angry: "These hands are clean and they are going to stay clean. I don't have to destroy my enemies. They will destroy themselves."

If it almost seems that there must be two very different women walking in Mitchell's size-five shoes, the warring personalities within the school itself have produced a similarly tumultuous year of contradictions. New Times interviewed more than two dozen people -- teachers, parents, students, and others affiliated with the school -- and emerged with a complicated portrait of both Mitchell and the school. As different factions within FIA fought for control, each side claimed it had the best interests of the children at heart. Meanwhile the school continues to rank near the bottom in state measures of student learning, earning an F on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, after a D the year before. "They got an F rating, and I have to blame that on this [conflict]," criticizes Terri Roberts, a contractor who manages the school's finances. FIA, however, has had its individual successes. Some of its students have joined the National Honor Society, and others have seen improvements in performance, which parents credit to small class sizes and extra tutoring.

Reginald Brown, a former FIA governing board member, says he's not quite sure how it happened, but clearly, "something went wrong." "This is a school run entirely by African-Americans," he opines gravely. "We should flourish in an environment like that." Brown, whose daughter attended the school, says he lost faith in Mitchell and fellow board members. "I believed in the mission, and I still believe in charter schools," he confesses. "I think sometimes you just need to change leadership."

 

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. As a charter born in the predominantly poor and working-class black community of Opa-locka, Florida International Academy was supposed to be a new break for kids who had slipped through the cracks of the big, impersonal public system. Its governing board included community members and parents, many of whom were long-time schoolteachers themselves. FIA, which opened in 1998, survived a rocky couple of years after its founders nearly ran it into the ground financially. It survived an influx of students with criminal records and a constant exodus of low-paid teachers who couldn't handle the pressure. But can it survive this latest crisis?


Sonia Mitchell was a brand-new English teacher at FIA's inception in 1998. Formerly a 26-year employee of BellSouth, she had taken advantage of a buyout offer to retire from a mid-level management job, got a master's degree from Barry University, and was soon teaching her first classes. Only a few months later, she was suddenly promoted to executive director of the school when founders Walter Stanley and Lise Holash were discovered to have records precluding them from working in public schools. They were ordered out of management by the Miami-Dade County school district, which oversees charters. FIA was also nearly closed because of financial problems and the broken-down, unsafe condition of the building.

During the first few months of her tenure in 1999, Mitchell relied on the expertise of the same folks who'd gotten the school into trouble in the first place. Then, as she developed her own management style, she began to understand what a mess she'd inherited. "The lady before Ms. Mitchell [former director Holash] was only in it for the money," contends a former employee who worked under both women. "She'd take 'em blind, crippled, criminal, and crazy, as long as they were old enough." (Charter schools are paid by the state based on how many students attend the school. FIA had about 200 last year. School records show that there were a number of students with charges on their records, from assault and battery to grand theft.)

A daunting situation for anyone to enter, much less a new teacher with no experience. Nevertheless there was great hope among staff and parents who had stuck it out. A former employee (who asked to remain nameless) thinks Mitchell was actually at her best when the school was in the most trouble. "When we was fighting everyone -- the school district, the landowner -- everything was okay," the woman holds forth. "Then when that was smoothed over," she started to see enemies inside the school.

In the beginning, even Mitchell's current enemies considered her to be a bright, enthusiastic administrator who could turn the school around. She was also backed up by her friend and well-respected assistant director Reginald Williams. Williams had also retired from BellSouth, after twenty years as a service technician. He got his degree at Barry as Mitchell had, and followed her to FIA, hired initially as a sixth-grade teacher. He was later promoted along with Mitchell.

Williams is a meticulous fellow, with the measured speech of a Carolinas Baptist, neatly trimmed mustache, and a receding hairline cropped short. In another life, he might have been a preacher. Mitchell, he discloses, was a woman he liked and admired for years. But as he watched her lose control of her frustrations in running the school, he came to the opinion that her treatment of students and staff was hurting more than helping. "I just want to see the school prosper," he avows quietly. "Children need people who don't look down on them. I just want the right people to run this school so these kids have a fair chance."

Over a meal of turkey legs, candied yams, seasoned rice, cabbage, cornbread, and sweet tea at a Miami-Dade residence, Williams admits that handling some of the students would be a challenge even for a saint. Some of them had behavior problems because of chaotic situations at home. "There were some children I'd meet before school secretly so they could take a shower because they smelled, because the water was not turned on at home," he recalls. "I kept a toothbrush, soap, and a washcloth for each of them." Teacher Dwan Hunt says the kids would "test you," and some days it was all a teacher could do just to keep them in their seats, much less teach them. "One time I had a student kick my door in, cursing me out," she laughs.

In an environment like that, many teachers burned out quickly. A review of school records shows that FIA had major problems hiring qualified teachers, and in getting them to stay once they were hired. Part of the problem was the low salaries (roughly $27,000 to $30,000, after a significant raise last year) offered by the cash-strapped school. Every year since 1998, more than half of the dozen or so teachers on staff either quit or were fired. "We could never really keep good teachers there because of the treatment they received [either from students or Mitchell]," Williams says. "She would just hire a body in there and in a month or two, they'd be gone. A couple times, a student beat on teachers and nothing was done." Former language arts teacher Romi Desir, who now works at a middle school in Broward County, agrees. "When you have a school with no security guards, kids with arrest records, and low pay, it becomes, 'Why should I be here?'"

 

The employees believe Mitchell's lack of previous administrative and teaching experience, combined with the sometimes combative situations among students, staff, and parents, caused her to feel insecure and many times overreact. "I heard her verbally abuse staff and students," Williams claims. "Sometimes she would just go off and her behavior was bizarre. I would confront her privately in her office and tell her she was out of line." Former aide Shanika Bradshaw says she heard Mitchell call one student "a waste of sperm." "But he was not that way," she protests. "He was sweet, a good kid. She would provoke him because she didn't like his momma." "It was appalling to me how abusive she is toward those kids," Williams grieves. "One time I had to restrain a student who wanted to attack her." "She told a kid, 'You going to end up in prison,'" Bradshaw remembers. "'Yeah, from killing you!'" the kid spat back defiantly.

"One time she told a student in front of me, 'You make me sick to my stomach. I know your parents are sorry they had you,'" alleges another former employee. "These kids already have low self-esteem and problems at home, and instead of picking them up, she'd talk about their problems in front of people." Williams maintains most of the troublemakers were good kids who just needed a little understanding. "Once you find out what their circumstances are, you can deal with them," he offers.

Assistant principal Joe Jackson says students aren't treated any differently at FIA than they would be at any school. "A student might get yelled at, but some students you can't yell at. Some are sensitive and some are hard-core. Some won't pay attention unless you yell at them. But I've never seen a student abused."

Williams alleges Mitchell kept a "hit list" of students she didn't like and wanted to either expel, or convince their parents to withdraw them. "Twice a year, you'd do a count to get [state] money," he claims. "As soon as the count was over, she'd tell me to get rid of those kids. I would throw the blacklist in the trash. Most of the time it was kids she didn't like, and some of them she did get rid of." With employees, it would be either firing them, or making work so unpleasant they'd quit. "She felt like I betrayed her when I wouldn't back her on getting certain employees," Williams says. "A gulf developed between us."

Beyond the verbal attacks, Williams and other former employees claim that Mitchell tried to make the school look better by giving students grades they didn't earn, and attempting to cheat on the FCAT. Williams: "[At the end of the '00 -'01 school year], she wanted to change the scores on the FCAT. I was the test coordinator. She said, 'We are going to change some scores.' I said, 'We aren't. You can if you want, but you will have my resignation on your desk in two minutes.' I made sure everything was sealed up and sent, so there could be no tampering." (An anonymous employee sent a letter to the school district this year, alleging that Mitchell was planning the same thing. The district asked Mitchell to provide assurances no tampering would occur and sent an observer. Mitchell counters, "How stupid would I have to be to announce that in a faculty meeting," as the anonymous accuser suggested. Besides, she points out, the school scored an F.)

Shanika Bradshaw was hired as a teacher's aide in October 2000, but says that because of the high staff turnover, Mitchell used her as a teacher much of the time, though she has no degree. She charges that Mitchell instructed her to change grades for students who hadn't completed course work. Another former teacher, currently working in a Miami-Dade County public school, acknowledges that after she left the school, she discovered that some students who were supposed to be in her class, but rarely showed up, somehow got passing grades. "I didn't give these kids grades because they weren't in my class," she insists. "I don't know who graded them, but they got grades. That's been an ongoing problem with other teachers who were terminated and the kids were given grades under their names." Dwan Hunt claims Mitchell told her she "couldn't fail any children" on the final. "I failed some anyway," she says.

 

After an initial interview (in which Mitchell suggested New Times was in league with disgruntled ex-employees to "destroy this school"), she declined to return phone calls. According to her lawyer, "Ms. Mitchell has informed me that there were a few F grades changed to D in situations where the F was given to a student without prior parent contact. Under those circumstances, the school had no choice but to change the grade to D."

Cynthia Dennis, a parent who pulled her daughter Kimberly from the school after her sixth-grade year, says she used to do surprise "pop-up" visits to the school to check on her, and Mitchell didn't like that. "You would see a lot," she remembers. "Every time I went, the classes were out of control. One afternoon when they were misbehaving, they had them out walking around the yard in the dead heat of the sun." Dennis says she put her daughter in the school because Kimberly has a learning disability; she thought the smaller classes would help. But she noticed that Kimberly never seemed to have homework, and was getting grades Dennis thought too generous. She said Mitchell ran hot and cold, acting "sweet" one time and "cruel" the next. Eventually Dennis did what she says other parents she knew did -- leave. "I felt like one year was wasted," she complains. "There was no structure. In some classes, they had mainly aides teaching, not solid teachers. [The school] left her further behind." Kimberly went to Charles Drew Middle in Liberty City the next year, and her mother said the staff there has helped her to catch up.

Reginald Brown, the former board member whose daughter attended FIA, recalls an incident in which his daughter was made to feel "like a little harlot" because she and a boy at the school liked each other and were sitting next to each other on the school bus. "The mother had a problem with her son liking our daughter and apparently she had more influence than us with Ms. Mitchell," he relates. "She [told] my daughter she couldn't ride the bus. She said she shouldn't be sitting a certain way or wearing certain clothes. When you're saying that in front of other students, kids aren't stupid. My daughter came home almost traumatized every day."

Another parent, Vanessa Spivey, says she didn't like the way Mitchell would reveal personal details about her son's home life to school staff, such as, "What's wrong with Demetrious is his father isn't in his life." She says when she confronted Mitchell, the woman talked down to her. "She want to talk to you like a child," she complains. "When you're a concerned parent, she treats you like a dog." Spivey says what bothered her the most, though, was hearing from her son about the way Mitchell would berate the students. "If you keep telling a child, 'You bad,' that's what they is going to be," she argues.

That's why, on August 9, 2001, Williams wrote a letter to the school's governing board decrying the alleged verbal abuse his former boss heaped on students and school staff. "I have personally heard Ms. Mitchell comment, and I quote, 'I hate children,'" he wrote. "She has also referred to various students as 'a classroom straight out of hell'... she called [one student], 'a stinking liar, and an idiot.' This literally destroyed [him]." Calling Mitchell's behavior "damaging" and "out of control," Williams pleaded, "This must be stopped!"

A Little History

In August 1998, FIA opened as a combination middle and high school in the Nile Gardens neighborhood of Opa-locka, a city that is itself almost a metaphor for unrealized dreams. Its founders had long experience running private schools, notably the South Florida International Academy in North Miami. So when the charter-school movement started up in the mid-Nineties in Florida, they were among the first to line up at the public trough. Not unexpectedly, big promises were made to the parents who would move their kids from the public system, to this experimental halfway point between bankrupt tradition and a free-market education.

In retrospect it's clear that the group of private education entrepreneurs who originally put the school together were speculating that they could leverage state funds into a profitable business by offering marginal services. It would work because the population they targeted had nothing to lose. They were disillusioned with the public schools, watching their kids fall behind, and needing desperately to believe there was a better way.

 

So when founders such as Jack Kirschner, who later became principal of the school, promised a million-dollar school complex, small classes, and teachers with doctorate degrees, parents signed up in droves. Two private schools Kirschner had previously helmed had had problems; one was almost shut down in 1997 because it was illegally operating out of a storefront, and the other had accreditation problems in 1996. (Kirschner passed away last year.)

But months after FIA opened, the operation was decidedly makeshift, with students crammed into rented classrooms in a dilapidated church with no air conditioning. State officials called the school, with its inoperable toilets and broken windows, "unsanitary, cluttered, and unclean." Kids were eating trucked-in cold lunches under tents outside, and learning from decades-old books. Seven teachers out of a dozen quit in the first four months. On top of that, it was discovered that two teachers, the school's co-founder and director, and another co-founder, all had been banned from working in the public school system.

According to school records, co-founder and director Walter Stanley had some legal difficulties, including a dismissed 1972 homicide charge, a dismissed 1973 burglary charge, and a dismissed 1979 drunk-driving charge. Co-founder Lise Holash (who still runs the private South Florida International Academy), was a former public school teacher fired in 1992 after a student filed and substantiated a battery complaint, school records showed. The situation was similar for David Archer, a former elementary school teacher, who was hired, then fired after a background check revealed previous arrests for unemployment compensation fraud; and for Harry Reasor, a former middle and high school teacher, who'd been kicked out of the public schools after numerous arrests related to drunk driving.

Given the horrid conditions, the Miami-Dade school district moved to shut the school down, but it was saved at the eleventh hour when the school board was cowed by a show of community support and wagon-circling led by then-state Rep. Willie Logan and Opa-locka mayor Alvin Miller. The problem employees, it was promised, were no longer affiliated with the school. A few months later the school moved into a new modular complex it had built behind an old Catholic rectory.

But the problems continued, with more employees quitting or being fired, and major debt mounting. It's surprising nobody went to jail, says Terri Roberts, a financial expert at the Rader Group, a management company hired later to straighten out the school's finances. "When we first got involved with the school [in late 1999], they were in a bad situation," she recalls. "They were in extreme debt and not paying their payroll taxes. By June of 1999, they were $194,532 in the red." Employees often waited more than a month for paychecks, and had to dig in their own pockets to buy supplies. The school's operators had also entered into several questionable business deals, and ended up paying an incredible $35,000 a month in building and equipment leases. The Rader Group was later able to renegotiate those leases to a fraction of that cost, and managed to draw up a tax repayment plan that appeased the IRS. After many sacrifices, the school ended this June $36,000 in the black. Roberts supports Mitchell and chalks up the conflicts to a power struggle that may have roots in the racial and class differences between the largely African-American staff and parents, and Mitchell, who is an East Indian raised in Jamaica and educated in an English convent school.

Why Was Nothing Done?

You'd think with all the allegations of reprehensible behavior flying around, that the school's governing board, or the Miami-Dade school district, would have swooped in, investigated, and determined the truth. But several factors kept that from happening, the most noticeable being a dysfunctional board whose members were openly warring with each other.

Also, initially the accusations against Mitchell were made anonymously, so the board and district felt they couldn't be taken seriously. In August 2001 the governing board, led by three concerned parents, held an open forum to discuss their "Mitchell concerns." Only a couple of dozen parents showed up, however, and most of them spoke in favor of Mitchell. (Mitchell's detractors claim she stacked the deck in her favor by getting the forum delayed three months, until most of the parents with serious problems had moved their kids to different schools, and packed the meeting with her fans). "She has their support," notes Carlo Rodriguez, a school district administrator who oversees charter schools. "I think that is a big statement." Rodriguez says the district heard the allegations and did investigate, but ultimately didn't have the evidence to prove them. "Everyone here respects the barriers she's overcoming with that school. It's doing much better."

 

Alwyn J. Melton -- A.J. to most -- remembers the meeting. He was one of the concerned board members who'd asked the chairman, Vance Phillips, to organize the forum. Melton, a stockily built county corrections supervisor, with chubby cheeks and soft brown eyes that make him look younger than 33, describes himself as a once-naive supporter of Mitchell, so much so he even wrote a letter to the Herald defending FIA. Melton's history at the school began like most of the others who end up serving on the board. He enrolled his daughter there in the '00-'01 school year; he began volunteering help with fund-raisers and such.

Soon Mitchell asked him to join the governing board, which had recently lost members. For a few months everything was going fine. But then Melton's constant presence at the school led him to develop friendships with some of the employees. He began hearing things that didn't match what he heard from management. "I started picking up little things," he reveals, such as parents complaining that Mitchell had unnecessarily called the cops on their children, or the high turnover of teachers -- that they had quit in disgust, or were fired for questionable offenses. "I got mad," he says. "The board was never told. [But] it's negligent not to report to the board."

Melton, who quit in March along with two other board members, is not the only one to gripe about being kept in the dark. He, Reginald Brown, and another former member who asked not to be identified, each charged that Mitchell would take any items regarding teacher hirings or firings, money, or response to district officials, directly to chairman Vance Phillips. He would often sign off on letters, and the rest of the members would only hear about it later.

In January a group of them, led by Melton, tried to oust Phillips from the board for what they considered his illegally unilateral decisions. But the board attorney warned the members that they had no solid reason for removing him, and could leave themselves open to legal challenge if they persisted. By March Melton and members Gennie Brown and Inez Corbett had resigned in disgust. In May a new group of parents (including Mitchell supporter Mamie Davis) became board members, and Phillips stayed on.

In fact, the one constant on the barely functioning FIA governing board in four years of turmoil has been Vance Phillips, long-time proprietor of Famous Mr. Vance's Beauty Salon in Opa-locka. When he picks up the phone there, it sounds like he's speaking from a nail-polish madhouse. He says he doesn't have time to get into the soap opera he's been part of for the past year. "What?" he barks. "I thought we'd resolved all that."

Phillips says some of his colleagues at FIA were simply frustrated because they didn't understand the proper role of board members versus school administrators. Some of them saw him as part of the problem. "I was blown out of the water," he says. "They accused me of a lot of different things but it never could stick." In his opinion, the school is on the right track. "We've come a long way," he fairly crows.


Back in her office, Mitchell points out that the school district renewed her contract this summer, that attendance is high, and most parents report satisfaction with FIA on school climate surveys. Assistant principal Jackson thinks the school has accomplished a lot, considering its financial difficulties, the troubled histories of many of its students, and internal battles. "We were graded an F, but that's solely because of the students we try to help. We get a lot of students who are reading at the second- and third-grade level. If we were graded on how far we bring them from that, we would be an A school."

"I'm here to do one thing," Mitchell asserts. "That's to take care of the school. These kids trust me." Hunt, Williams, and a half-dozen other FIA veterans say that trust is misplaced. "Those kids are going through school being promoted and they aren't learning anything," Williams charges. "Then they get to high school and they will struggle and fail."


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