The woman who has essentially served as the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School's principal will not return to her desk for the next school year.
Jody Ziebarth, the charter's head of school, concludes her time at the charter school in June, Executive Director Tony Blackman said Thursday. He said Ziebarth left to pursue work closer to her family in New York.
She leaves as the school carries out more changes to its administrative structure, and Blackman said the school will hire a "director of education" in the coming week to fill her role.
As of Thursday, however, the school had not told parents about the transition; that, plus another stream of changes this year at the public, independent school, was not sitting well with parents this week.
"You find out after the fact," said Toni Moses, mother of a fifth-grade charter school student.
Moses said her son told her that Ziebarth wasn't in her office last Friday, and had left for New York for a few days.
While Blackman said Ziebarth was staying on through the end of the month, Moses said she saw Ziebarth's office mostly packed up when she visited the school this week. Ziebarth also did not appear to be at the school when the Times went there on Thursday. Ziebarth could not be reached via phone for comment on this story.
Moses said she wasn't happy that she had not heard anything about it from the school before then.
Blackman said he intended to notify parents about the change at the end of the school year, after bringing on the new director of education.
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.
"That decision was a mutual one made with the current Head of School last winter. The current Head of School is working through the end of the current school year and then will exit," he said.
The charter's board hired Ziebarth last May. She came from the Cambridge Friends School, a 211-student school, and the only Quaker school facility in the state.
The school hired Ziebarth because of her professional development experience, and work developing the Friends School's bullying prevention and intervention plan as well as teacher assessment programs. The school chose a Head of School rather than a director of education, officials said at the time, because of the charter's enrollment, which rose from 65 to 135 between its first and second years. A head of school is roughly equivalent to a school principal, whereas a director of education fills the roll of a curriculum director.
Blackman said he and Ziebarth started talking midway through the school year about the best use of the school's funds, and the conflicting roles of two senior level administrations in one school. They decided to switch to a director of education, who would work specifically with the teachers.
"Having a head of school and an executive director was conflicting in what the roles would be," Blackman said, "a director of education focuses on teachers."
Since April, James Caviston, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the trustees started discussing a new administrative structure. A new school, he said, has limited resources and places a lot of responsibilities on one or two people. The board, he said, decided on a structure that creates less overlap, now that it has more funding available. The charter school's expecting 180 students this year.
"We have more specific needs because we're seeing a larger student population and more responsibility falls on each person's desk and they need to have more specific skills for the subject matter," Caviston said.
What the school considers stabilizing one of its critics considers a sign of instability.
Jason Grow, the former Gloucester city councilor and one of the city school district parents involved in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state's approval of the charter school, said the change is just another indication of the school's troubled history.
"I worry for parents being sold on the school, especially incoming kindergartners, who may not have the full background on its troubled history and will be entrusting their children to a school that has essentially failed at every turn," Grow said. The charter school, which holds its first eighth-grade graduation ceremony tonight, is adding a first grade and kindergarten next fall to complete its K-8 profile. Mayor Carolyn Kirk will give the school's graduation address tonight.
Moses, meanwhile, said Thursday that Ziebarth gave freely of her time and energy to parents and students, even giving them her personal phone number.
She was, Moses said, one of the best school principals she'd ever had or met.
"I've never met a principal like her," she said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.