Leaders of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School have promised to investigate fully not only inflammatory allegations in a petition submitted by a small number of parents, their relatives and some teachers, but also the authenticity of the petition, which was submitted to the school’s Board of Trustees last week and was questioned during a closed-door meeting among some board members and a group of parents at the school Friday night.
One participant in the meeting called by Board Chairman James Caviston said the 90-minute meeting at the school was rife with confusion and uncertainty after some charter-parents said the petition they signed had not contained the inflammatory accusations against the school’s executive director Tony Blackman. Those included “child endangerment,” “misuse of federal funds,””mental abuse of students and staff” and “public humiliation” of students,” all outlined in bulleted points on a document turned in to the board.
Blackman responded to the petition’s specific allegations with indignation, and demanded that the writer or writers present their evidence or consider themselves subject to possible litigation, sources at the meeting told the Times.
In a statement to the Times over the weekend, Caviston he said, “We take every student and family concern seriously, even it comes from only one person.”
“There is another layer of due diligence required to investigate the authenticity of the documents,” he added. “I have asked that more information be provided to the board.”
Caviston added that “The rumor mill and innuendo have taken over normal lines of communication.”
“Going forward,” he told the Times Saturday. “We will do a better job.”
In a message emailed sent to charter school parents Thursday night, Caviston told them to expect a story in the next day’s Times (Friday, July 13, Page 1), and invited them to Friday’s meeting as a means of improving communication.
There apparently were two petitions -- or one petition in two parts -- copies of which were obtained by the Times on Friday. The beginning of one petition, which contained the less serious allegations and was more general in focus, accused the leadership of the school, namely Blackman, of “arbitrary, “inconsistent” and “blatantly incompetent” performance. This document ended with the demand for “a formal, independently conducted of Tony Blackman immediately.”
A second petition, or possibly an addendum to the first, contained a list of 14 budgeted allegations against Blackman, identified only as the “executive director,” and asked for a “full and comprehensive investigation by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education before the school board complete(s) negotiations on a new contract” for Blackman. As reported in Friday’s Times, Blackman and the board have not yet agreed on a contract for the new school year, which begins in less than seven weeks.
The list also included allegations of “threats to the staff in what are nicknamed ‘screaming meetings,’ “labor violations” and “multiple ethics violations.” But the petition does not cite any examples or refer to any dates of any such allegations.
The petitioners describe themselves as “a collective of parents, teachers and students.” But neither petition came to the Times with signed names, and the Times has been unable to learn the identity of petition signers.
Although Blackman’s contract expired June 30, he has said he he is actively winnowing applicants to find a new director of education, essentially a curriculum coordinator as the schools begins his first year with a full kindergarten-through Grade 8 program. Enrollment is projected to rise from 135 last term to 180 students in the 2012-2013 cycle.
That person would, in man ways, succeed Jody Ziebarth, who had served as Head of School, essentially the charter school’s principal, but was allowed to leave in the final days of the 2011-2012 school year after she was reportedly told by Blackman and Caviston that her contract was not beng renewed and that the school was restructuring the position.
Loyalists to Ziebarth were present in the audience Friday night, the parent-participant source told the Times. The parent-participant spoke on condition of anonymity due to the wish to avoid retribution by fellow parents and and teachers toward the parent’s child. The author or authors of the petition or petitions did not identify themselves during the meeting, the participant said.
In addition to Caviston and Blackman, who also sits on the Board of Trustees, the meeting was attended by two other board members, Dave Buchanan and Art Beane. Since five members are required for a quorum, the meeting was informal rather than an ad hoc board meeting. About two dozen people, primarily charter school parents also attended.
Approximately 31 names were on the petition submitted to the board, the Times has been told by a board source.
But this source and the parent-participant both said the signers represented a small number of children enrolled in the arts charter school, which, from the moment of its creation by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2009, has been enveloped in controversy, with a cadre of opponents in the Gloucester community viewing the existence of the school as a drain on the public schools through the redirection of both funding and students.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.