Last month, it was announced by the law firm named Internet Law Center that Vanessa Kachadurian lost the cyber harassment lawsuit filed by Hopscotch Adoption, a not for profit, international adoption agency authorized in New York and licensed in North Carolina as a child-placement agency, who, several days later, also published a similar press release on their victory over Vanessa Kachadurian.
Some parts of the press release are of particular importance about Harmony Public Schools, because the Internet Law Center implicitly mentions Harmony’s and some other attacked charter schools’ names:
“Hopscotch and its founder Robin Sizemore, filed suit against Kachadurian in federal court in Fresno in December 2009 in response to a vicious cyber-smear campaign that began in 2006. The plaintiffs were merely one of several adoption and educational institutions to be targeted for abuse by Kachadurian under multiple identities.
It is a gutsy move for a small non-profit like Hopscotch to say ‘enough’ and take on someone like Kachadurian who can devastate a small business,” said Internet Law Center founder Bennet Kelley. This is especially true when, Kelley added, “cyber abuse often escalates online and leads to offline threats of violence in over one in four cases according to data compiled by WHO@ (www.haltabuse.org).”
Small victories like these collectively send an important message that the internet is no longer the ‘Wild, Wild West’ and that you can and will be held accountable for your actions.”
As Harmony Schools Advocates, we see such victories significant, because we now live at a time where people attack whomever they want to and they do this without the requirement of any physical presence. Internet has become the battleground for some mischievous people and they think that they can get away with that approach. Vanessa Kachadurian, with her so many blogs and comments, has been attacking Harmony Public Schools and some other top-notch charter schools for more than a year. As you might recall, Ms. Kachadurian’s stealth and secretive activities towards Harmony were revealed by a blogger in October 2011.
Below, you can also find a paragraph taken from Hopscotch Adoption’s official release:
“Hopscotch and its counsel, Bennet Kelley, founder of the Internet Law Center and author of the highly recognized Cyber Report newsletter, believe lawmakers must consider updating current state defamation laws to cover the emergence of serial cyber defamers or, in Internet lingo, “trolls.”
As Harmony Schools Advocates, we sincerely hope that this judicial victory will become a landmark, an example and a milestone for the future cases.
We, Harmony Schools Advocates, have been told by the owner of Harmony Parent blog that one of the attackers of Harmony Public Schools has been exposed by a blogger. After reading the things claimed by Harmony Parent and the blogger, we were very surprised. You can read Harmony Parent’s post and what the blogger found about this attacker.
To cut the long story short, we will first briefly summarize what was found about this cyber attacker. Then we will relate you Harmony Parent’s experience about this attacker and then share our similar findings.
According to Harmony Parent, a blogger somehow discovered the true identity of the attacker who calls herself a Harmony parent and runs several inflammatory and xenophobic blogs including “Harmony Parent Truth“. It turns out that this blogger does not live in Texas at all. She is originally from Armenia and a resident of Fresno, California. Not only does she operate several alarmist blogs, but she is the type of person who writes under all good news/articles/blogs about Harmony Public Schools. We were always wondering who could just write those huge number of comments and what could be the motivation behind the defamation of the top-performing charter schools in the nation. It is also funny that a California resident constantly writes defamatory things about some charter schools in Texas. The following picture and the paragraph were taken from Harmony Parent’s website, which beautifully summarizes the ignorance and the ill intentions of the attacker:
As a Harmony parent, I am happy on behalf of Harmony Schools and myself, because that person opened her blog after I opened mine under the name of “Harmony Parent”. She was claiming that she was exposing the alleged fraud at Harmony Schools, but now I suppose that what she secretly did was just the fraud itself. Besides, she doesn’t even know that at Harmony Schools, there are PTOs (Parent-Teacher Organizations) not “Parent Associations” as Turgay claims.
Harmony Parent is 100% right, because as you will see below, this attacker has no connection with Texas in any way and she is in deep ignorance even about the simplest facts of the Harmony Public Schools. She pretends to be a former Harmony Parent, but she is not even close to it. Therefore, we are concerned about the real motivations of such ill-intentioned attackers who daily keep false and hateful information about Harmony Public Schools.
Harmony Parent also goes on talking about the comments made to his/her blog by this attacker and a long list is where the user names and comments dates are given. On seeing this list, we also decided to take a close look at the comment section of our website if there were any similar ones and to our surprise we found two similar comments:
Ozgur Cengiz (@GooseNetworkUSA) (GooseNetworkUSA@twitter.example.com) Submitted on 2011/10/29 at 4:55 pm
Goose Bumps (Anon@Gmail.com) Submitted on 2011/09/05 at 12:01 am
Both IP numbers (we decided not to publish the IP numbers and the comments) belong to Fresno, California and the top comment as can be seen above was made just a few days ago. Notice that the user names are different from the one in Harmony Parent blog, but they look like each other. You can find the detailed information about these user names on that blogger’s website who revealed the true identity of the attacker of Harmony Public Schools.
We now know that this attacker is from Armenia and it is understandable that she might have experienced some historical problems with the Turks. That is why, she spends a lot of time to defame Harmony Public Schools just because there are several Turks working for Harmony Schools. Maybe for the very same reason, she was utilizing various odd labels for Harmony Public Schools such as Islamic Schools, Gulen Charter Schools or Turkish Schools. Harmony is none of them, but American charter schools that serve thousands of students in the state of Texas for more than a decade.
The claim that the attacker gets any financial assistance or not is not our concern; however as Harmony Schools Advocates, we believe that such settlements should be dealt with as part of the internal politics of the respective countries. We never claim that one party is wrong and the other is right, but what we are saying is that the charter schools, especially Harmony Public Schools, should not be the battleground of some ill-intentioned people who have historical or other types of ties with other nations. Therefore, it is essential that people keep their political, cultural, national and/or religious strife out of education. From now on, community members and stakeholders should be very careful when they read something defamatory about Harmony Public Schools.
Harmony Public Schools are one of the best schools in our nation and this fact is also confirmed by the Department of Education, who will provide almost $5 million to Harmony Public Schools in three years.
We have also learned that Harmony Public Schools became one of the candidates for the Broad Prize for the Charter Schools, a first-time award that will be presented one of the successful charters in Texas.
As Harmony Schools Advocates, we will continue to be the proud members of the top-performing charter schools in Texas.
We, Harmony Advocates, are glad that the media outlets bring such important issues of “scrubbing the toilet” to our agenda. They deem such pieces of news so important that even a news channel in Florida, an irrelevant source of news for an incident in Texas, picks up that news.
While in traditional public schools, people are dealing with the rape issues including the charges against the coaches, teen pregnancy, whose rates creep up to 172 girls only in Midland, drug dealing teachers and the students as the gang members beating another student, Harmony Public Schools continue to be the good examples of drug-free, gang-free schools. On the other hand, among all these serious issues and many more that have not been leaked to media, it is highly “coincidental” for these media outlets to bring such a frivolous issue to their agenda. While we appreciate media’s sensitivity on school issues we expect the same sensitivity on far more serious issues like the ones mentioned above.
We have received the following statement from Harmony officials as they carefully and meticulously deal with the issue:
“Students are regularly asked to partake in chores as part of creating a sense of community and instilling a sense of responsibility in them, however, chores are never compulsory. Students can opt out, and parents are welcome to discuss this exemption with their student’s teachers and the school’s administrators. Harmony has an open door policy in which parents are invited into the school regularly and would encourage parents to directly address any questions with the administration. Certainly we will be clarifying these guidelines with all teachers to ensure that chores are never obligatory, nor should they be equated with disciplinary action. Last weekend, during detention, as a disciplinary measure, students were participating in classroom upkeep when a teacher inappropriately joked about cleaning restrooms. Unfortunately, several students took the teacher literally and they did not notify the teacher before going to the restroom. We are addressing the situation directly with the teacher, students and families involved. Let us reiterate that students are never expected to clean restrooms.”
As Harmony Advocates, we hope within this piece of news there are no ill intentions as to tarnish the good reputation of Harmony Public Schools, who is one of the purest faces of Texas educational system. The situation is unfortunately nothing but making a mountain out of a molehill.
A few weeks ago, Secretary Education Arne Duncan criticized the education quality of the public schools in Texas. Despite being the parents of a charter school system, we believe the Secretary went a bit too far in his criticisms. It was also obvious that there were some political concerns behind those harsh words rather than academic ones.
Somebody had to respond to this bad publication and as expected, Robert Scott, TEA Commissioner stepped up to issue an official response. Donna Garner, in her blog, exactly quoted Mr. Scott’s response which was adorned with facts and figures. One thing was very obvious in Mr. Scott response to Mr. Duncan: Mr. Scott emphasized the Texas’ support to STEM education stating that Texas has 59 STEM schools.
Here comes the burning truth: out of those 59 STEM schools, 17 of them are named Harmony! Let us put it other way: Almost one third of the STEM schools in Texas are Harmony Public Schools. This is a remarkable feat, right?
It seems Ms. Garner is on the same page as well, despite the fact that she has been very tough on Harmony Schools lately. Considering that Donna Garner never pens something good about Harmony Schools, we are surprised by the fact that she copied, in her blog, Mr. Scott’s response, which was a testimony to Harmony Schools’ success.
Donna Garner must surely know that Harmony Schools are the proud members STEM initiative. So, can we go too far to boldly claim that a new bright day is rising for Donna Garner? Is she going to become a new addition to Harmony Schools advocates? Is she going to stop writing false claims about Harmony Schools? Let us hope so.
Of course, time will tell.
Dear Donna Garner,
We are writing this letter on behalf of all parents of Harmony Charter Schools. We have recently read your articles on Harmony Schools and we are deeply saddened by some of the inflammatory expressions you uttered against Harmony Schools. As a result, we have decided to pen this letter to ask you a few simple questions. We are sincerely hoping to get the answers of these questions (along with the evidence you will put forward).
1) Have you ever been to any of the Harmony campuses? Which one and how was your experience there?
2) Have you ever talked to a Harmony parent other than the imaginary ones? If not, more than 10 thousand parents are ready to tell you their own unique Harmony experience.
3) Have you ever talked to a Harmony student or a current Harmony teacher? If so, what kind of feelings about Harmony did they express to you?
4) Did you know that we, the parents of Harmony, take our kids to school every single day? Since Harmony is unable to provide school buses to all zip codes, we display a great deal of sacrifice and commitment for the education of our children. Among us are some parents who eagerly bring their kids from far distances up to 25 miles.
5) How can you make such bold predictions and assumptions about a schools system that has 36 campuses as well as thousands of students? What is your evidence while making such serious generalizations?
6) Have you ever witnessed the effort of a Harmony student diligently working on his/her science fair project? Have you ever observed the meticulous efforts of a MathCounts student? Have you ever been with a student trying to memorize the weirdest words of English for his/her upcoming Spelling Bee competition? Is it fair to ignore the efforts of hundreds of Harmony students?
7) Why don’t you write anything about the rebuttals to your claims? We have been reading, in various websites, that all of your arguments have already been refuted. Does ignoring them help you get rid of the truth?
If your answer is “no” to all or most of the questions above, then why do you give Harmony a bad name? Besides, can you show the same sort of courage to tarnish the name of another charter operator like KIPP or YES Schools just because of the nationality/religion/ethnicity of their founders?
We, the parents of Harmony Charter Schools, are inviting you any of our campuses in this beautiful state of Texas. Please do come and meet with the admins and staff there. Tell us about your concerns frankly. You can get their physical address on their respective websites. Please do not worry, we “will not protest” your arrival. Your safety and security is 100 % guaranteed. You will even be safer and more secure than your home.
Hope to meet you in our schools.
Harmony Public Schools have been accused of spending a great deal of money on travel by some bloggers who use the figure listed under “Travel” in IRS Tax form 990. When the word “travel” is taken literally, it might only mean as someone’s trip to somewhere else via plane, car or any other means of transport.
However, the term “travel”, especially in related to Form 990s, means more than the sheer trip. Besides transportation, it includes all other expenses such as meals, hotel, parking, workshops and training and registration fees. It is a fiscal requirement to list all these expenses under “Travel” section.
On top of that, these accusers are trying to label these expenses as international trip expenses only. However, like in any other school systems, these expenses cover workshops, student field trips, teacher training travels, administration training travels and student Science Fair/Competition travels.
These are explained in details at Financial Accountability System Resource Guide by TEA where you can also find the charter schools version. However, these bloggers seem to be more interested in baseless accusations than the facts and the procedures.
Also, unlike the closely located campuses of an independent school district, the campuses of Harmony Public Schools are scattered throughout the state of Texas. There are 36 Harmony campuses all over Texas including all major cities. This naturally requires more travelling for a teacher or an administrator among the campuses.
One important point that needs consideration is that most of those trips are fully or partly funded by the money raised by various student/parent fundraising activities.
Finally, the finances of Harmony Public Schools have been meticulously audited for more than 10 years and if there had been some “misused” money as alleged by these bloggers, it would have been made clear by the auditors of TEA. It is unfortunate once again for the bloggers to distort the truth and mischaracterize the spending practices of Harmony Schools.
Yet another day and the community members and the public are facing another example of a bad news reporting and yellow journalism. Retired teacher Donna Garner published an article entitled Harmony Charter Schools – Not Really ‘Miracle Schools’ on August 15th 2011 and displayed a grave example of ignorance, deceit and fabrication in news reporting. As Harmony Schools Advocates, we would like to inform community members with correct and accurate information without any manipulations or deceit. Here are the facts compared to those false claims made by Ms. Garner:
1- Newsweek is independent, reliable and prestigious weekly news magazine published by The Newsweek Daily Beast Company, who has no ties to those “Miracle schools” mentioned in their article. Being designated as a “Miracle School” by Newsweek was a lofty recognition for Harmony Public Schools. This designation made by Newsweek is completely done by their independent research and analysis regarding all those “Miracle Schools” mentioned in the article. Newsweek rankings were based on graduation rates, college enrollments upon graduation, the percentage of students who take tests for Advanced Placement courses, and the average college entrance exam scores, not on State Accountability Ratings as claimed by Ms. Garner. Nevertheless, Harmony Public Schools will continue to live up to this designation.
2- Ms. Garner claims that nobody monitors Harmony Public Schools during TAKS administrations. This is a very serious yet unfounded claim that can totally be invalidated by the on-site and online visits made by TEA during TAKS Administration sessions in the past years. For instance, in 2009 – 2010 School Year, TEA made an on-site visit to Harmony Science Academy Brownsville during TAKS Testing, yet they did not report anything unusual or any testing irregularity. Harmony Science Academy Austin received an on-site visit by TEA in 2008-2009 TAKS testing calendar and the auditors did not report anything contrary to testing security and confidentiality. These two examples should alone suffice to invalidate the false claims of Ms. Garner.
3- Ms. Garner’s claim about aiding students during testing days is yet another baseless claim. District Testing Coordinators of Harmony Public Schools, every year, receive rigorous training by TEA and sign an oath of confidentiality. Those Coordinators then train Campus Coordinators and Test Administrators about secure testing procedures to prevent any testing irregularities and security breaches. Training minutes, signatures and list of attendees are documented at each campus for audit purposes. More than 90% of Test Administrators are certified American Teachers. All testing personnel are aware that any security breach or an intentional aid will result in the termination of their jobs and revocation of their Teaching License in Texas.
4- Harmony Public Schools are lottery-based open-enrollment public charter schools. When a new Harmony campus is opened, students are randomly selected from the lottery. In the subsequent years, the lottery practice continues for open spots. It is understandable that students might wish to stay or leave Harmony Public Schools for certain personal reasons. Harmony Public Schools do not discriminate students based on their academic achievement or social/ethnic background. This was actually one of the reasons why Newsweek designated two Harmony Public School campuses as “Miracle Schools”.
5- At the very beginning of the article Ms. Garner used an expression “12 mother schools”. It must be very unfortunate for a former Texas teacher to forget how school districts operate as a unit. In Texas, public schools work as Districts under which many campuses operate. For example, Houston ISD is currently working as five Regional Districts (so called “mother schools” in the article). Harmony Public Schools are operating under 11 Districts (not 12) and each district governs a portion of the campuses. The information about these 11 districts and their campuses can be obtained at Harmony Public Schools website.
6- Within the article, another interesting example of lack of proper research was to mention the name of Harmony ISD in Upshur County (230905) as a part of Harmony Public Schools. If Ms. Garner had done proper research before jotting down this article, she would have noticed that Harmony ISD in Upshur County is not a part of Harmony Public Schools. Harmony ISD is an independent public school district operating in Texas since 1938, but Harmony Public Schools started their operations in 2001. We think that the expression of “12 mother campuses” is directly linked with this false information. We also believe that Ms. Garner owes Harmony ISD and Harmony Public Schools a big excuse for her inept news reporting.
7- In 2011 Texas Education Agency have increased the expectations from all Texas Public and Charter schools and removed the Texas Projection Measure from the Accountability Rating System, therefore resulted in a reduced number of schools receiving exemplary rating compared to 2010 Accountability Ratings. As Harmony Public Schools we believe that Texas Education Agency is responsible for explaining why not many public schools have received exemplary ratings this year compared to 2010. Regardless of this fact, Harmony Public Schools have shown better performance again compared to Texas Public Schools both district-wide and campus-wide. When we look at the “Real” numbers from TEA’s Accountability website, Harmony Public Schools display a remarkable success despite the changes to the Accountability Rating System. At the district level 73% of Harmony Public Schools received High Performing ratings whereas state average is around 40%. Among these 73% high performing districts, 18% have received exemplary rating compared to State Public Schools which is only 5%, as opposed to claim in the article and 55% received recognized rating as opposed to claim of 50% in the article. None of the Harmony Public School Districts have received “Academically Unacceptable” rating during in 2010-2011 School Year. Campus-wide comparisons of Harmony Public Schools and State Public Schools also display a similar result: again, none of Harmony Public School Campuses have received “Academically Unacceptable” rating compared to Texas Public Schools, where Academically Unacceptable rating is 7%. Based on campus-wide comparisons from TEA accountability data, 64% of Harmony Public School Campuses have received high performing ratings (24% exemplary and 40% recognized) and 36% of them have received “Academically Acceptable” rating. Summary of these results can be seen in this report. Ms. Garner is also making another serious mistake for not publishing comparable results and yet claiming her article to be based on numbers.
8- Adequate Yearly Progress ratings of 2011 indicate that all Harmony Public School Campuses have met their AYP during 2011 as opposed to Texas Public Schools (only 66% of them met AYP) and other Texas Charter Schools (only 52% of them met AYP). At the district level a mere 50% of Texas Public Schools Districts have met AYP whereas 91% of Harmony Public School Districts have met their AYP. Only one Harmony Public School District could not meet AYP at Mathematics subcategory. A summary of these AYP statistics can be found in another report.
9- The rest of Ms. Garner’s article is filled with fabricated and false allegations against Harmony Public Schools yet there is no need to go into any further discussion.
We hope that Ms. Garner will return the excuse that she owes Harmony Public Schools and hopefully will stop distorting and manipulating the facts about a reputable School District in Texas.
PS: All the corresponding data and more can be obtained from the 2011 Accountability Ratings on TEA website.