SUPES Academy stories win national award

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Deputy Editor Sarah Karp has won second place for investigative reporting from the national Education Writers Association for a series of articles that delved into the details of CPS’ questionable $20 million, no-bid contract with the for-profit SUPES Academy.

The contract to provide principal training was approved quietly by the School Board last summer and was the largest no-bid contract awarded by the district in recent years.

On Monday, CPS Inspector General James Sullivan said the investigation spurred by this report was ongoing.

EWA’s judges praised the articles. One wrote that “Catalyst Chicago battled far above its weight in digging up the details behind a no-bid contract in Chicago Public Schools. They are doing praiseworthy watchdog investigative reporting.”

Another judge wrote: “Very admirable digging into this contract and this organization, which is clearly fraught with conflicts of interest.”

Prior to being hired as CEO for CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett worked for the SUPES Academy as a coach. The owner of SUPES Academy, a for-profit-company based in Wilmette, also runs two other consulting companies, Proact Search Inc. and Synesi Associates.

Karp’s reporting detailed how school leaders can be trained by SUPES, placed in jobs by Proact and then earn extra money working as coaches and mentors for SUPES Academy, which provides professional development for school leaders.

The stories also led to the resignation of the superintendent of Baltimore County, Maryland schools, who had been working for SUPES as a coach and mentor for Chicago principals at the same time that his district had its own contract with SUPES for principal training.The Baltimore County district was unaware of the superintendent’s work until Catalyst’s stories were published.

Numerous principals complained that the SUPES Academy workshops and training were low-quality.

The first-place award in the category, Investigative Reporting/Education News Outlets, was given to the Chronicle of Higher Education for a series on the Gates Foundation and its influence on education policy.

The Chicago Sun-Times won first place in the Large Newsroom/Investigative Reporting category for its stories on corruption at UNO charter schools.

“This American Life” won first place in the Investigative Reporting/Broadcast category for its two-part series on CPS’ Harper High School. The same series won a Peabody Award.