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The Mind Trust in Indianapolis has been the central engine of charter creation in that city and holds itself up as a model charter authorizer.
Until it was “deceived” by a would-be charter operator with a rosy vision, according to this story by Stephanie Wang in Chalkbeat Indiana.
To launch a “transformational” middle school in an overlooked eastside neighborhood, Indianapolis charter advocates turned to a man students call Coach T.
For two decades, Tariq Al-Nasir ran his Stemnasium enrichment programs with a mission of helping Black and brown students realize their “superpowers” in science, technology, engineering, and math. With a resume boasting advanced degrees from MIT and Stanford, Al-Nasir put forward a vision of education in which hands-on lessons in coding, flying drones, and tinkering with robots could change children’s lives.
Calling him “brilliant” at working with students, the influential charter incubator The Mind Trust gave Al-Nasir a two-year, $800,000 fellowship last summer to develop Stemnasium Science Math Engineering Middle School.
But a Chalkbeat investigation found that the rosy charter pitch painted over troubling details — lawsuits, financial troubles, questionable academic credentials — that escaped notice by city charter officials and The Mind Trust.
A bankruptcy filed six months before Al-Nasir won the prestigious fellowship showed that he had accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts while running the programs that inspired his charter proposal — including a nearly $500,000 judgment in a lawsuit that alleged Al-Nasir wrote bad checks to cover outstanding Stemnasium bills.
His resume lists a bachelor’s degree from New York University, a master’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate from Stanford University — each earned at times when the employment section of his resume placed him at jobs in other cities. All three of those institutions told Chalkbeat they had no records of Al-Nasir’s attendance.
The lawsuits and financial scandals did not deter The Mind Trust but lying about his academic credentials did.
The Mind Trust cancelled his fellowship.
What is even more shocking than the candidate’s misrepresentations was The Mind Trust’s failure to conduct a review of his background.
Without the inquiries from Chalkbeat, it’s unclear whether Al-Nasir’s money troubles or unsubstantiated educational claims would have come to light. The Indianapolis mayor’s office, which oversees more than 40 charter schools in the city, is often named among the strongest charter authorizers in the nation. But its director acknowledged that officials don’t vet new applicants’ financial histories or even run a simple free search on a public database of court records that would reveal lawsuits.
The Mind Trust displayed neither accountability nor transparency. Its naïveté and gullibility embarrassed the candidate as well as the organization. It failed to vet him or to conduct due diligence.