Nearly three months after its belated and tumultuous opening, there are a number of legal and procedural clouds still hovering over the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School.
And the school's critics may believe there is reason to revoke the school's charter right now. Indeed, at least one School Committee member, Roger Garberg, and a city school parent and plaintiff in an anti-charter lawsuit, former City Councilor Jason Grow, have written letters to the deciding state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, urging its members do precisely that when it convenes Tuesday morning in Malden.
But for all the lingering questions — the contract bidding violations, the new open-meeting law compliance problems cited Friday in new findings by the state Attorney General's Office, the state board's butchered approval process that has dogged this school from the start — there is not one clear reason why the state's education decision-makers should tell Gloucester Community Arts' 70-odd students and their parents that it's time to pack it in.
With the school operating soundly in its fully renovated, "permanent" new home, there is no reason for state officials to tear up the successes these students have achieved during the first half of this school year, no reason to force them back to schools neither they nor their parents seem to want to attend — and no reason for Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester or this state board should to abruptly undo what charter Executive Director Tony Blackman and his teachers are doing for these students and their parents over the past three months.
While the state board has to make a significant decision tomorrow, its members and Chester should enter their meeting with one option already off the table; they cannot revoke the charter in a fashion that either shuts it down almost immediately, or leaves the school a lame duck heading into the second half of the academic year.
Time and time again we hear that it's the children who are supposed to be the priority in debates over public education. And that should be the case now.
Yes, critics are correct in reiterating that the process leading to the charter's approval was deeply flawed and politicized.
And yes, there are the AG's office complaints, which cut to the efforts by school site property owner Mick Lafata's contracting for work on his land and buildings without going through the bidding process before hiring construction contractors.
Now, AG Martha Coakley et. al. have confirmed that the school's trustees — still chaired by the generally unresponsive Amy Ballin — have snubbed the state's open meeting laws.
Yet while all of those issues continue to spark intense, bitter debate among state officials clinging to their authority, and absolutely polarized far too many Gloucester adults, anyone who merely walks through the Gloucester Community Arts ' Blackburn building cannot help but feel the lively, positive energy emanating from classrooms where students in grades four through seven — paired in multi-age and multi-grade groupings — go about learning all of their prime subjects with an artistic flair, and creating some truly amazing art of their own along the way.
Will the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School succeed? That remains to be seen — and Gloucester Community Arts ' first standardized test scores will offer some insight into that.
But this school, its students and its parents, who have all learned some important lessons about civics and community activism along the way, deserve the chance to see if their alternative truly works — and whether it also inspires city schools to improve their educational model along the way as well.
Tuesday, the state education board should give them that chance by either extending or lifting the Gloucester charter school's probation.
There is still time to resolve the outstanding legal and bureaucratic issues — still time to reconsider, if the school's scores show it to be failing.
But this is no time to shut the door on an ongoing education program that is very much up and running. This is no time to revoke the Gloucester Community Arts School charter; indeed, it's time for all to give this school at least a chance to succeed.