by David Safier
This is interesting. I wrote yesterday about Arizona Virtual Academy sending student papers to India to be commented on and scored. To get official confirmation for my information, I spoke with Mary Gifford at the school. I summarized parts of our conversation in that post.
I was nosing around the internet today and came across the minutes of a June, 2008, meeting of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. Mary Gifford is one of the eight members of the board. Her title is Superintendent Designee. I looked up the term "Superintendent Designee" in the Arizona Statutes concerning charter schools. There it is in 15-182, the first named member of the board:
The state board for charter schools is established consisting of the following members:
1. The superintendent of public instruction or the superintendent's designee.
It means exactly what it sounds like. If Tom Horne -- or whoever is Supe at the time -- isn't there, the designee speaks and votes for the Supe.
One of the primary tasks of the Charter School Board is to oversee charter schools. Yet a top administrator of one of the schools speaks with the Superintendent's voice.
Conflict of interest, anyone?
THIS IS CURIOUS: I went on the Arizona Virtual Academy website to find Gifford's title. I couldn't find her name anywhere in the list of administrators, teachers or support staff. Yet when I googled "Arizona Virtual Academy" + "Mary Gifford," I found her listed at various times as Entity Administrator and Contract Signer, AZVA Director and, on the 2008 State Report Card for AZVA, as Principle (yes, I spelled that as it's written. It's not a typo).
Has Gifford moved on?? This may be a clue. When I returned her call, it was to a phone with a 571 area code. That's an Arlington, Virginia, area code. K12 International Academy, which I assume is K12 headquarters, is in Herndon, Virginia, which is just a bit northwest of Arlington, near the Washington-Dulles International Airport.
If Gifford is now working directly for K12, Inc., it makes some of her somewhat evasive answers during our interview even more evasive. I'll tell you more when I find out her current status.
UPDATE: It looks like maybe my hunch was right. Here is a press release with Gifford listed as the contact person announcing the new Texas Virtual Academy at Southwest. That sounds more like a corporate function than something she would do as head of AZVA.
If Gifford is working for K12 and not as part of AZVA, let me run a few dates by you. The press release is dated Oct. 24, 2007. The Charter Board meeting where she's listed as the Superintendent Designee is June 9, 2008. That would mean Gifford is acting at Tom Horne's surrogate at a time when she's employed, not by a state charter school, but a publicly traded corporation that runs online charter schools all over the country.
Has the conflict of interest just escalated? Maybe I'm wrong. If so, someone please correct me. I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation for all this.
MAKE A COMMENT OR SEND ME AN EMAIL: Lots of people out there can add information to this story about AZVA's educational outsourcing. If you're one of those people, please click the "Comments" link below or email me directly.