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Noble disciplined 7 staffers for postcards, then gave one a raise

One of the mailings to Chicago Public Schools students' homes from the privately run Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Three more high-level Noble Network of Charter Schools staffers have been disciplined for their roles in using student data improperly obtained from the Chicago Public Schools to send out recruitment mailers — including one who was promoted to a higher-paying job within weeks of the reprimand, documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

A total of seven Noble employees now have been disciplined over the postcards that were sent, using CPS’ internal list of students citywide, to recruit for Noble’s 18 Chicago campuses.

Estee Kelly, principal of Gary Comer College Preparatory High School. | YouTube
Estee Kelly, principal of Gary Comer College Preparatory High School. | YouTube
Trent Epley, principal of Gary Comer College Prep Middle School. | Gary Comer website
Trent Epley, principal of Gary Comer College Prep Middle School. | Gary Comer website

Among those included in the newly revealed batch of punishments were two school principals. Estee Kelly heads Gary Comer College Preparatory High School, 7131 S. South Chicago Ave., making $123,000 a year, and Trent Epley, makes $120,000 overseeing the Comer middle school campus, 1010 E. 72nd St., according to data the privately operated, government-funded charter network released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The punishments consisted of a “formal letter of reprimand” placed in each of their personnel files on Oct. 28, after Noble said it concluded an internal investigation of how it obtained private student data used last fall to mail recruitment postcards to middle-schoolers.

That’s the same reprimand that was meted out to four other Noble workers whom the charter chain named in December, including its director of student matriculation.

Noble’s president Eric Thomas has called the letters of reprimand “a serious action in our organization” and says, “We took immediate steps to tighten our enrollment process and ensure we were compliant with CPS policies.”

Noble representatives wouldn’t specify what each of the disciplined employees did, though the Sun-Times previously has reported that an executive assistant who got the list in July forwarded it to the principals within minutes of sending it from her own personal email to her Noble account.

The CPS employee accused of slipping the children’s names, home addresses, school and grade level to an executive assistant at Noble has been fired, according to a Chicago schools spokesman who would not identify her.

No one from Noble was suspended or lost pay.

Trey Thompson was promoted and given a $7,000 pay raise about six weeks after being reprimanded. | LinkedIn
Trey Thompson was promoted and given a $7,000 pay raise about six weeks after being reprimanded. | LinkedIn

One of the Noble employees who was disciplined — Trey Thompson, who was an enrollment analyst when the postcards went out in September — was promoted in December to the post of enrollment operations manager, records show. His new job came about six weeks after he was reprimanded, the records show, and included a $7,000 pay raise that boosted his salary to $75,000 a year.

In an online profile, Thompson, a former Noble classroom teacher, says his job is to “develop analysis and predictive models to guide student recruitment strategy at the Noble Charter Schools.”

None of the disciplined Noble employees responded to messages seeking comment.

The glossy mailers went out to more than 28,000 students, according to Noble, which tailored the cards and the schools listed on each one by geography.

“There is still time! Enroll your child in one of the strongest performing middle schools in Chicago! Gary Comer College Prep” read one of the full-color postcards. “Limited seats are available for grades 6-8th at Gary Comer.”

The arrival of the mailed recruitment pitches in late September caused a furor among some parents who were angry about the breach of children’s privacy and prompted concerns that the privately managed charter operator was trying to undermine enrollment at CPS schools as the Chicago Teachers Union was threatening to strike in mid-October.

CPS allots money to each of its schools based on the official count of students that’s taken on the 20th day of classes — which this school year fell on Oct. 3. With the total number of students citywide projected to plunge by five digits and per-pupil funding cut versus a year earlier, schools faced the prospect of losing funding and teachers if they didn’t have as many kids as possible in class on the count day.

The unusual inclusion of the children’s names and current schools on the mailers also led some parents to worry that the confidential data must have come from CPS.

CPS officials said that wasn’t the case, that they didn’t authorize the release or sale of children’s names or addresses.

Noble officials initially said the charter operator had paid an outside company to do a bulk mailing to households in certain neighborhoods, with kids of a certain age as part of routine marketing efforts. But its own internal probe later revealed an improper breach.

After parents complained, CPS’ inspector general launched an investigation that is continuing.

Three of the other staffers disciplined by the charter chain had exchanged emails about getting the postcards out. Noble’s matriculation director Simone Santiago signed off on paying at least $13,000 for them. Dean of operations Bradley Johnson received a copy of the student list. And student recruitment officer Jonathan Chaparro handled the details of the mailings.