TRAVERSE CITY — The man tasked with helping implement a new system to meet needs of students at Traverse City Area Public Schools has been sidelined pending the results of a Michigan Department of Education investigation.
Questions remain whether Grant Chandler, the executive director of the MDE’s MI Excel program and author of the Blueprint, has been suspended or placed on administrative leave.
Bill DiSessa, MDE spokesperson, said the MDE is withholding comment at this time.
However, a June 28 email sent on behalf of MI Excel Assistant Director Beth Brophy and Calhoun Intermediate School District Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Sell to officials from school districts using the Blueprint — which TCAPS is — states Chandler “will be unavailable during the course of the investigation into the MDE’s findings.”
The same email states MDE officials conducted a financial review of the Title I Technical Assistance Grant that “questions the propriety of MI Excel expenditures of federal funds to support the Blueprint work in some of the subscription districts.”
MDE officials, according to the email, advised Calhoun ISD to suspend MI Excel services to 10 districts.
TCAPS, which officially adopted the Blueprint in January, was not one of those 10 districts, but TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma said Chandler will not be at the July 11 and 18 meetings of the district’s Blueprint task force as scheduled. Soma said these events do not impact TCAPS directly and that he does not expect Blueprint services to the district to be disrupted.
“Grant has been an incredible support for TCAPS. His work has helped our students and so has the Blueprint,” Soma said. “Grant has been a wonderful person to work with and has done nothing but support our needs and done so without us having to pay a dime for it.”
In a January interview, TCAPS Associate Superintendent Jame McCall said that West Middle School was identified three years ago by the MDE as a school for Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) because of its under-performing student groups that showed a large gap between the top 30 percent and the bottom 30 percent.
The state provided MI Excel as a resource to help at no cost to TCAPS.
“It comes with a lot of resources that really support our district,” McCall said. “You think about curriculum and curriculum development and writing and monitoring. MI Excel has a whole team of experts that work with us.”
Chandler was one of those experts. He was present at several TCAPS Board of Education meetings in the last year and was also brought on as a consultant in February during the search for a new superintendent after Soma announced his retirement in December.
Trustee Erica Moon Mohr at the time questioned the move to bring Chandler into the fold for the superintendent search and was the only board member to vote against it. She also expressed concerns at the meeting about how TCAPS would react if Chandler left his position.
“What happens if Grant Chandler goes away? That, to me, is a fear if we’re putting all the eggs in this basket,” she said.
Moon Mohr said Wednesday that she heard Chandler was under review by the MDE but did not know why.
“I don’t know exactly what he has done to cross over his qualifications and not his qualifications,” she said. “I keep waiting to hear.”
Soma is also waiting to hear, but he said that because TCAPS is not directly involved that he doesn’t believe he should have all the information.
He does, however, believe this is another example in “a clear pattern of people trying to undermine things.”
Soma has been open about his criticism of the MDE’s investigation into TCAPS’ virtual home-school program that could cost the district upward of $2 million, calling it a state-sanctioned conspiracy and a violation of parents’ civil rights.
“When someone tries to innovate in Michigan for the betterment of children and to improve our outcomes — by some measures we’re 50th in the country — the state of Michigan and specifically the MDE tries to shut them down.”
Chandler did not return multiple attempts to reach him for comment via phone and email. Sell said in an email that a representative would respond to questions Monday.