The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy

Karen Lee, the CEO of the Pinnacle Schools and its wilderness camps, Elk River Treatment Program and Academy, has one hell of a lot of gall. Within days of shopping her programs for turning around the lives of troubled teens to the Huntsville CIty Schools on the evening of December 1, 2011, her two sons were arrested December 9, 2011, in a major drug trafficking bust:

Four people face charges after a huge drug bust in the Valley. . . Agents said they found 24 pounds of marijuana and more than $37,000 in cash. They also confiscated several weapons. Agents charged Stephanie Porter and Charles Lee, Jr. of trafficking marijuana. Also charged are Eric Lee and Corey McDonald. Their bond is set at a million dollars.

The weapons confiscated included “shotguns and rifles.”

Having two sons busted as major drug traffickers hasn’t changed Karen Lee’s spiel. These are excerpts from the message from the CEO herself, accessed today on the Pinnacle website

. . . I placed my son in a program at the age of 16. I remember being desperate and scared. It is a leap of faith to place your trust, much more so your child, in the hands of perfect strangers. I wanted more than anything, to know my son would be safe and cared for. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made. It was also the best. It saved my son’s life and created in me a passion to advocate, wherever possible, for troubled teens and their families. The number one priority of the programs of The Pinnacle Schools is the safety and care of all. . .

The programs of The Pinnacle Schools are just that; a challenge. It is a contest; not necessarily of skill or strength, but of character; the deepest part of who we are as human beings. . .

I invite you to talk with me at any time and look forward to working with you and your teen.

Character. Trust. Would you entrust your child’s well-being to a program modeled on the one that the Lee boy, now accused of drug trafficking, attended? Can his mother do a better job with your child than you can?

How about alleged drug trafficker Eric Lee? Would you choose him as your child’s counselor, his role model? While Charles, Jr., may for all I know be cooling his heels in the Madison County jail, Eric isn’t. He’s out at Elk River — not as a patient or inmate or redskin or whatever the teepee detainees are called, but as a counselor. Could be this breaks no law or industry regulation, but it sure does show an abysmal deficit of common sense.

Now, ordinarily I would say that what their adult kids do isn’t their parents’ problem. But this situation is far from ordinary.

The Huntsville City Schools is entangled with Pinnacle Schools in a $778,000 to deliver services once provided by the Seldon Center. Moreover, at the cost of $750 a day, every day since January 1, 2012, Huntsville taxpayers have reserved 5 beds in the teepees at Elk River treatment program ($191,250 as of today, the 255th day of 2012). Charles Lee, Sr. and Karen Lee founded the Pinnacle Schools in 2005. From 2007 to 2010, their profits increased by $147%. Their 2010 revenue was $3.6 million. It was named to the Inc.5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2011. Remember, all this was before the Huntsville City Schools’ contract.

I can’t summon sympathy for the Lees, who must be heartbroken at the prospect of their sons facing long prison terms. I can’t because they are profiteers of the so-called therapeutic wilderness camp industry. Kids are detained in these remote private prisons with no outside contact other than censored mail, no legal representation, no trial, no sentence, and no release date. Many — maybe most — haven’t even been charged with a crime; their “crime” is being troubled, or, more likely, being troublesome to authority figures — maybe their own parents, maybe Colonel Wardynski. The most heinous serial killer in a real US prison has more rights than any kid at Elk River.

If you want to find out more about these places, start here. Hope you have a strong stomach.

Let’s be clear: these places don’t operate to save troubled kids. It isn’t about character. It isn’t about advocacy. It is about money. Just like drug trafficking is about money.

Since December 14, 2011, I’ve been telling Huntsville City Schools and Huntsville taxpayers that the contract with the Pinnacle Schools stinks.

So how about it, Col. Wardynski and the Board?


11 thoughts on “The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy

  1. I was at this hell hole for 9 months. I knew Eric Lee. he worked night shifts while i was there. and i have to say i am NOT surprised by this. during my stay there i never ever felt like i was there to be helped. we were told we were bad kids who wouldn’t amount to anything. the staff would ridicule and make fun of us. they would laugh at us and call us trashy right in front of us, and if we spoke up and said something they would ‘separate’ us and make us sit in the back of the gym on the floor and eat outside. this place did nothing to help me ‘deal with my issues’ as they called it. cause when i talked about my issues i would be told that they weren’t important. this place should NOT be funded and it does NOT help kids. there were kids i met there who were there for the 3rd and even 4th time. the fact that a place like this exists makes me sick.

    • Thank you so much for writing. I wish others would come forward. I hate like hell to think of any teen being subjected to this.

  2. The fourth person arrested (McDougle) also worked for the place earlier this year. I am more than appalled by all this after finding out about it.

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  4. All one can say “I knew something wasn’t right when she said her sons manipulated her during sales pitch of why she started Pinnacle. I guess the manipulation has continued and she used those skills on HCS and made a substantial profit doing so.

    • This grates, too. From the news story on the Pinnacle site about making the Fortune 5000:

      “Upon receiving the news of The Pinnacle Schools’ Inc. 5000 ranking, Founder, President and CEO Karen Lee said, “The timing wasn’t exactly conducive for a start-up. We had just witnessed September 11th, our men and women were going to war, the banking industry and stock market were crumbling. When I think back on it, I am in awe that we survived. But survived we did – and flourished.”

      Pinnacle started in 2005.

      We had not “just witnessed” 9/11/2001 in 2005. This is cheap, shabby, and emotionally exploitative.

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