Controversial charter school principal Ben Chavis pulls up stakes
Bye Bye, Ben
Controversial charter school principal Ben Chavis pulls up stakes and
leaves his school to someone else.
By Robert Gammon
Published: July 25, 2007
Under fire recently for his heated run-in with a Mills College professor
and her grad students, foul-mouthed educator Ben Chavis has resigned as
principal of American Indian Public Charter School. Chavis, who won
national accolades for his school's test scores and local scorn for his
controversial teaching methods, said he moved to Tucson, Arizona to spend
more time with his grandkids. "I had a great experience there," he said of
American Indian. "I never had so much fun fighting liberals in my life."
Full Disclosure learned of Chavis' resignation after receiving a packet of
documents sent by American Indian Public Charter School to the Oakland
Unified School District as part of the district's inquiry into Chavis'
behavior. Included in the documents were the minutes from American Indian's
March 15 board of trustees meeting, which included this bombshell: "Dr.
Chavis has noted that he will work part time next year, 2007-2008 ... This
will also be his last year as the director of American Indian Public
Charter School." The board meeting occurred just hours after the Mills
Chavis said his resignation had been in the works for years, and had
nothing to do with the Mills run-in. "Everybody has known about it for two
years," he said. He also said that he will make himself available to work
part time this upcoming academic year, but he doesn't think the school will
need him. He said he has been replaced by Isaac Berniker, a graduate of
Dartmouth College. American Indian board president Rose Hing-Lee had no
Over the past half-decade, Chavis has become the most celebrated educator
in the East Bay. Last year, American Indian scored a perfect 10 on the
state's Academic Performance Index, and was named by the Bush
Administration as one of the best 250 schools nationwide. But as first
reported here in May, Chavis got in hot water after Mills College professor
Sabrina Zirkel and several of her grad students accused him of calling grad
student Unity Lewis "a fucking black minority punk" during a March 15 visit
to American Indian. The Mills group also said Chavis had asked one of his
own female students if a boy "was still trying to suck your titties."
Though he readily admits to motivating students with racially charged
language and humiliating taunts, Chavis denied making the "suck your
titties" comment. He said he called Lewis "a dumbass minority" and "an
embarrassment to his race."
Because American Indian is a charter school, the Oakland school district
had no direct authority over Chavis. But after the Mills allegations, the
district launched an inquiry and demanded that the school's board members
fully investigate the incident. In a June 4 response letter to the
district, Hing-Lee acknowledged that Chavis' actions were not "appropriate
or professional." She said the board fined Chavis $700.
But Kirsten Vital, chief of accountability for the school district, said
last week in a letter to American Indian that the charter school board's
investigation "was insufficient." Vital demanded a more thorough review and
said the district planned to continue its inquiry. However, with Chavis now
gone, it's unclear what will happen next. School district spokesman Troy
Flint said district officials were not aware of Chavis' resignation.
Vital also said in her July 13 letter to American Indian that she and other
district officials observed "inappropriate and offensive" behavior by
Chavis during a June 6 school visit. Vital said Chavis, in front of
students, described a former employee as a "white bitch" because she did
not do her work. Vital also said that one student said she was forced to
clean the boys' bathroom as punishment for misbehaving. District officials,
Vital said, considered the latter incident "to border on the line of
something which would need to be reported to Child Protective Services."