The woman who served as the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School's principal for the current school year has left, and will not continue working with the school through June as school officials had told the Times and the state.
Jody Ziebarth, the charter's head of school, said in a phone interview Friday that she packed up her office the previous Friday. She said she left looking for work out of state, but has no plans to come back before the end of the school year.
A spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and charter school Executive Director Tony Blackman had said Thursday that Ziebarth had left after coming to a mutual decision with Blackman regarding the school's administrative structure, and that she would stay on through the end of June. The school will hire a director of education — more a curriculum director than a principal, or "head of school," Ziebarth's title — to fill her role in the coming weeks.
That decision, Ziebarth said Friday, wasn't mutual.
She said that Blackman and James Caviston, chairman of the school's Board of Trustees, met with her on a Thursday afternoon in April. She said that, at that April 26 meeting, they told her she wouldn't have a job at the charter school next year.
Nothing before that, she said, told her she should be seriously job hunting. After that, she said, she didn't hear much from the school administration, and didn't have their help with any transition.
"Honestly, I'm not there anymore because for someone in my position it's very late to be finding a principal's job," Ziebarth said.
Ziebarth, who lives in Cambridge, said she hasn't found one yet.
The only email Ziebarth said she received from Blackman was dated this past Monday, when Blackman asked her to check and see if she could access the report cards, so the mailings wouldn't be held up. Ziebarth said she hasn't been able to do that yet.
"I was surprised to find your office empty," Blackman stated. "Some staff are under the impression that you have left permanently. I hope this is not the case for continuity for students and also because of the year-end celebration."
Ziebarth spent six years as the principal of Cambridge Friends School and left after the charter's board hired her last May. She said she wanted to be on the ground level, putting a new school together.
The Gloucester charter school saw a rough year in 2010-2011 before Ziebarth came on. The 64-student school weathered a stiff cut to its resources and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education placed it on probation for a litany of reasons before allowing it to continue under eight conditions.
The school, Ziebarth said, didn't have an educational leader, and that's what she came on to do. She said she helped design and establish a full curriculum that, among other efforts, brought the school up and out of probation. She said she helped bring a staff of young teachers together to deal with what she termed a difficult population of kids. The teachers, and the school's educational program were her concern. The head of school, she said, should have handled the school's operation.
"(Blackman's) not an elementary education teacher," Ziebarth said. "That's why I was hired."
Blackman and Caviston did not return calls for comment on this story.
J.C. Considine, spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in an email that the school will have a Director of Education and Instructional Coaches instead of a Head of School in the coming school year. The decision, he had stated, was a mutual one made with Ziebarth last winter. He said she would be working through the end of the current school year.
"We did not make that decision," Ziebarth emphasized Friday.
Ziebarth said she and Blackman did talk about the school's administrative structure. When the school's enrollment came in last fall at 135 students, down from an expected 180, she said she thought money might be too tight to support both administrative positions.
There was work enough for both of them, she said.
"(But) there was a lot of salary going into our two positions," she said.
Keeping two administrators, Ziebarth added, didn't look good when the school's teachers took a 5 percent pay cut because of the budget shortfall.
Ziebarth is the latest in a string of staffing losses and changes at the charter school, which is due to begin its third year in the fall and is based in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park.
The district's Special Education Director, Les Kiehn, resigned in February. The charter also lost its music director, Jeremiah Gallant, who moved to Vermont, Blackman said.
Last year, the school cut several teaching staff in the middle school programs due to budget constraints.
The school, Blackman said, was able to keep up its educational program even with the cuts.
Blackman said the school is hiring two general education teachers for kindergarten and first grade, several special education inclusion specialists, an instructional coach, school counselor, and new special education director. The school is opening a kindergarten and first grade in the fall to complete its K-8 profile.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.