A specific question has been bugging me as I've mulled over the Sonoran Science Academy stories and people's responses to them: Why does Sonoran Science need to hire business managers from Turkey or Central Asia? I can see where there might be a need for math or science teachers from other countries, but bookkeepers? If someone from the school or Daisy Education wants to weigh in, feel free.
And now, here's some additional follow-up material.
• "Strategic ambiguity" — That's what sociologist Joshua Hendrick called the Gülenist tendency toward obscuring its presence one moment and highlighting it the next. That came to my mind as I thought back to an exchange with Mr. Fatih Karatas, the principal of Sonoran Science Academy's high school and middle school, during my tour of the school. When I asked him where he had worked previously, he told me he was an administrator in "LAUSD." I clarified that he meant the Los Angeles school district. I was surprised, because I had heard otherwise.
But then I went back to my office, called LAUSD and otherwise checked into it. That's when I confirmed that Magnolia Science Academy, the Turkish-run charter school chain in Los Angeles, is chartered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. So I wrote Mr. Karatas an email, and he wrote back confirming that's what he meant: "Yes, Magnolia Science Academy is a charter school in Los Angeles Unified School District. "
• HomeVisits© — One of the more unusual practices at Sonoran Science Academy is the home visit. This is a custom that seems foreign to many American parents but apparently is common among Turkish educators, at least those in the USA. The Accord Institute, which is a hub for the Turkish schools in the western United States, describes the home visit plan here. They even used a copyright symbol after the phrase "HomeVisit" in the charter application for Colorado's Lotus School for Excellence.
The Accord description makes it seem innocuous enough, but it has made some Sonoran Science parents uneasy. I interviewed one parent who is a strong advocate for the school, so much so that she heads the parents' association for the middle school and high school on Sunset Road. But that parent, Kimberly Maisto, said she was puzzled by the home visit practice, describing it this way:
"We just sat down and talked about how they (Maisto's children) were doing in class," Maisto said. "It was odd for me."
She chalked up the disconnect, along with her mystification over the sleepovers sometimes held at the school, to cultural differences.
• Does this sound familiar? — If you look at this page of a Fethullah Gülen website, you may think back to many of the comments by parents of Sonoran Science students after Sunday's stories. Here's a quote, but please read the whole thing to get the full flavor. (By the way, a cemaat, as I understand it, is a form of Islamic organization that emerged during the years of religious repression in Turkey.)
The schools may not be considered as Gülen-cemaat schools. But this assumption would deny the fact that without Gülen and the people of the cemaat, who view their work as a religious service, these schools would not exist. Without the tutors and teachers who learned through the socialization in the cemaat that education is the highest religious service, there would be no school in far remote places like Siberia. But as the schools do not stress their religious background, there are other reasons for registering at these schools: Some parents simply want the best possible education for their children without any regard to religious matters.
While you're mulling that, please feel free to take a look at a couple of additional documents: More Daisy Education 990s and another Gülen article. Let's keep the dialog going!