A data-sharing agreement between Sweetwater Union High School District and South Bay Community Services/Promise Neighborhoods continues to be withheld from the Reader and the public from whom the data was collected.
South Bay Community Services provides a variety of services to families and individuals in South San Diego. In 2012, Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan awarded the local agency a Promise Neighborhoods five-year grant.
According to the SBCS website, the $60 million grant, which is also comprised of local matching funds, is “to execute a community-led plan that will support academic excellence and college-bound aspirations for all children in Chula Vista’s Castle Park neighborhood.”
A December 3 Reader article included email snippets from Castle Park Middle School principal Robert Bleisch. In the emails, Bleisch writes to former Sweetwater chief financial officer Albert Alt and tells him that Promise Neighborhoods is withholding “a good chunk of cash” — 100k — in exchange for a data-gathering agreement with the school district.
Bleisch was anxious to get that money to buy T-shirts, a stage, banners to impress Arne Duncan when he visited the school last September.
It’s worth repeating one excerpt written by Bleisch to Alt on August 5. The subject of the email was “Data-Sharing":
"Just a kind reminder if you can help us get this data-sharing agreement signed. FYI-They’re [South Bay Community Services] holding up money until I deliver on this [smiley face] need this [Promise Neighborhoods] money to pay $17k for a new stage and $3000 Flags, $5000 cafeteria college banners for Arne’s visit.
To date, neither the district nor South Bay Community Services has been willing to release the data-sharing agreement to the Reader.
In a December 10 interview, representatives of South Bay Community Services said they would get back to the Reader with the date of the data-sharing agreement — that hasn’t happened yet.
However, the Sweetwater district did provide an invoice for a 288-square-foot stage that Bleisch wanted. The invoice is dated August 7. The district also provided a copy of a check from the Associated Student Body account dated August 8. Later in the emails, the CFO promises to reimburse the student funds out of the general funds.
Mauricio Torre is director of SBCS’s youth and family services department. He also supervises the Promise Neighborhoods project. Torre is addressed in an email referring to the data agreement.
On December 10, I had an interview arranged with Torre at the South Bay Community Services office in Chula Vista. In addition to Torre, the organization’s CEO, Kathryn Lembo, also attended the interview. Also in attendance was the organization’s public relations consultant, Patty Chavez, and another woman who was introduced by Lembo as her assistant.
As I attempted to conduct the interview with Torre, Lembo continually interrupted. Asked about the interruptions, Lembo said, “I’m the CEO of this organization, Susan...and that’s my choice, isn’t it? I think I can help Mauricio with this interview and I think I have every right to.”
Lembo said data collected by Promise Neighborhoods uses a software program named “Efforts to Outcome” and that the data helps to ensure that people are benefiting from the services. She also stated that no data had been received from the district other than attendance records.
Regarding principal Bleisch’s emails that refer to South Bay Community Services/Promise Neighborhoods "holding up money" in exchange for the data-sharing agreement, Lembo said, “That’s completely untrue. I’d like a copy of those emails because that’s slanderous against the organization, my organization…. If someone is saying that to get their boss to do what they want them to do or to get them to look good, that’s slanderous of the organization.”
Lembo said, “I do all the budgets for the agency and there wasn’t $100,00 being held for the school district.” She also stated that there has been no transfer of funds to the district other than money for a software program named “Achieve 3000.”
Questions remain about the data sharing. Some readers may recall that Sweetwater had a big push in July and August to enroll students into a private university — Alliant.
In an August 6 telephone interview Lembo acknowledged that academic advocates for the Promise Neighborhoods had been calling 11th- and 12th-grade Sweetwater students about post-secondary opportunities and new information about Alliant. Lembo said the academic advocates were calling students based on their grade point average.
Note the tie-in of all the dates: August 5 is also when Bleisch was pressuring the district to get the data-sharing agreement to South Bay Community Services.
At the December 10 interview, I asked Lembo where Promise Neighborhoods academic advocates get the list of student names and phone numbers. Lembo responded, “From the district.”
She said she did not think the academic advocates — though making their calls based on grade point averages — had the individual kids’ grade point averages; they just had the kids’ names and numbers. (The academic advocates work out of Castle Park Middle School.)
As a follow-up question, I asked Lembo — “This is before there was a data-sharing agreement and before there is a privacy…?” Lembo interrupted and said, “I need to get back to you back to you to tell you when the data-sharing agreement was finalized because I don’t know the answer to that question….”
Lembo did not respond to a December 19 email request for the data agreement, the date of the data agreement, or contact information for “Xavier.” (Lembo had said "Xavier" would know the date the district turned over the information to the academic advocates.)
Instead, consultant Patty Chavez responded that South Bay Community Services would not be able to provide a copy until the week of January 6 and “As for Xavier, if there are specific questions you have for him you can do so through me. As we discussed at the last meeting, I'll serve as your point of contact.”