Our KELOLAND News investigation has followed the GEAR UP money for months.
We've discovered that millions of federal dollars have been doled out to various organizations, consultants and employees, yielding little to no measurable results in the goal of getting Native American students to college.
The PAST Foundation was the third biggest recipient for getting GEAR UP money from Mid Central over a two year period; with a half million dollars going to the organization.
What is the PAST Foundation? It's an Ohio non-profit that specializes in educational programs and has partners all over the world. One of those partners was Mid Central Educational Cooperative in Platte where the South Dakota Innovation Lab was based.
"In 2012 the PAST Foundation and its partners committed to improve STEM education in rural and Native American reservation schools in South Dakota," President Bill Clinton said in 2014 video.
South Dakota and the PAST Foundation got a shout out from former President Bill Clinton during the Clinton Global Initiative.
"It's now known as the South Dakota Innovation Lab, a statewide STEM professional development program that so far has provided 8,300 students with access to quality education," Clinton said in 2014 video
8,300 students sounds impressive. But have you ever heard of the South Dakota Innovation Lab? It's a PAST Foundation project being run out of Mid Central Educational Cooperative in Platte. According to a report on the pilot program, the South Dakota Innovation Lab was going to transform rural education in South Dakota with a new model of teaching.
The PAST Foundation is headed up by Annalies Corbin who got a degree from the University of South Dakota, but now lives in Ohio. She's seen here in a South Dakota Innovation Lab promotional video:
"South Dakota provides a great landscape for opportunity to explore and experiment on how best to work with rural Native American Communities," Annalies Corbin said in 2015 SDIL video.
Jeff Schneider of Armour, whose title is STEM Coordinator and Science Teacher at the South Dakota Innovation Lab, is also featured in the video:
"Working with PAST Foundation and SDIL partners has really allowed me to try new things to help kids learn in the way that's best for them and it's also allowed me to bring in resources from other places," Schneider said in 2015 SDIL video
KELOLAND News called Schneider's home to find out why the South Dakota Innovation Lab got GEAR UP money. But we were told our questions could only be answered by Mid Central's executive director, Dan Guericke and as you may remember, Guericke isn't talking.
Mid Central was administering the millions in GEAR UP federal grant funds for the state department of education.
According to the Innovation Lab's own report, in 2010, South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp asked Guericke to create a new model of education for rural South Dakota. And GEAR UP Funds were directed through the PAST Foundation in Ohio to Guericke's pet project, the South Dakota Innovation Lab, headed up by various employees of Mid Central, who were the same people administering the grant money.
And the Ohio-based PAST Foundation received nearly half a million dollars in GEAR UP Money from Mid Central.
According to the PAST Foundation's report on the Innovation Lab, while its STEM programs were first piloted in four rural South Dakota schools,
Four Native American GEAR UP schools were later added: Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Marty Indian School and Porcupine.
In 2013 PAST brought in Ohio State instructors to teach four day classes during the summer GEAR UP program at the School of Mines.
PAST Founder Annalies Corbin is an adjunct professor of anthropology at Ohio State.
In all of its reports, the South Dakota Innovation Lab lists Mid Central and Sanford Research as its partners.
But then on September 17, Mid Central Business Manager, Scott Westerhuis shot and killed his family before turning the gun on himself--- hours after learning the state was pulling the millions in GEAR UP grant money from Mid Central following troubled audits involving the funds.
Suddenly partners appear to be distancing themselves from GEAR UP and Mid Central.
Like Sanford Research. Before September 17th Sanford's logo appeared on the Innovation Lab's website. But now it's gone. Sanford Research says the timing is just a coincidence.
"Really the contract was coming to a natural end just after the tragedy as it happened, so independent of the tragedy, this would have happened anyway," David Pearce, President of Sanford Research, said.
Sanford says The PAST Foundation is a reputable organization and its partnership was to provide educational materials for schools.
"So what was happening with that group, was really saying this is the direction education should go; so we started to pull away from that because that's not the role of Sanford. We just want to say, this is really cool; this is the type of science we're doing, rather than this is the type of curriculum that should be developed for children," Pearce said.
The PAST Foundation has deleted a website where it offered teachers a $1500 stipend and continuing education credits to join it and "GEAR UP and the American Indian Institute for Innovation for training in STEM education.
There's no mention of GEAR UP funds being spent on that program in South Dakota's grant application to the Federal Department of Education nor is The PAST Foundation listed as a partner in the grant.
I repeatedly called the PAST Foundation in Ohio and sent emails to Annalies Corbin for weeks, to ask how the South Dakota GEAR UP grant dollars were spent, but have not received any response. I began looking into the history of the non-profit which Corbin started in Montana and moved to Ohio.
According to its 2014 tax returns PAST had revenue of $2.2 million dollars. PAST paid out nearly $1 million in salaries. Corbin pays herself $177,000 a year.
If you take a look at the PAST Foundation's Facebook page, you can see there's a lot of money being spent on new learning labs at its Ohio corporation.
It's also interesting to note--the numbers look promising in the pilot report on the South Dakota's Innovation Lab. But the data was only collected from the four schools that were not on reservations and were not part of GEAR UP.
The PAST Foundation also partnered with Dakota Wesleyan University to offer a master's program in STEM Education in 2013. That program was eliminated last week.
The provost of the University tells KELOLAND News that there just wasn't enough interest--only four students had completed it.
The South Dakota Department of Education also provided us with a statement acknowledging that Mid Central had the PAST Foundation do work in GEAR UP Schools:
Regarding the PAST Foundation and GEAR UP, as part of the GEAR UP work, MidCentral had engaged The Past Foundation to do work in some of the GEAR UP schools. That work included providing workshops, professional development opportunities and support for teaching staff related to the concept of problem-based learning, which is a unique model for approaching learning and instruction. When teachers use problem-based instruction, they engage students in learning that is hands-on, multi-disciplinary and aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems - often within the context of a local community. The participating teachers, who would be SD teachers, were paid stipends for this work---Mary Stadick Smith/ Director of Operations and Information/South Dakota Department of Education
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