, Gloucester, MA

December 17, 2012

Editorial: Ed board owes charter families potential solutions

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will be meeting this morning to decide whether the decide the fate of the Gloucester Commmunity Arts Charter School – reportedly whether students will even get to finish the current school year, let alone whether the school will ever get to live out its full five-year charter.

And with state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester poised to recommend that the school’s charter be revoked, it’s clear that Gloucester’s venture into this alternative education program does not have long to continue.

But while any decision to shut down the school will ultimately be up to a basic “yes” or “no” vote from each of the state board’s 11 members, all should also offer advice to the Gloucester Community Arts parents and students — the majority of whom have seemingly found measures of success at the school despite the many missteps of the school’s Board of Trustees and other officials. And while it may be too much to ask, they should also hear and consider the parents and students case for allowing the school to continue.

For while the adults at the center of this debacle — including Chester and the state board in the past — are all guilty of mismanagement, lack of oversight and all of the other issues on the verge of bringing the school down, it’s important to remember that behind the school’s disheartening test numbers and reviews are still more than 100 Gloucester families who rely in the school and continue to maintain faith in it. And to suggest that they simply return to a school district they had chosen to leave — especially in mid-year, if Chester and the board seek a contrived “emergency” renovation – would be a betrayal of faith that even this state board should want to avoid.

It’s ironic, of course, that the board will base its decision in large part on Chester’s recommendation.

It was his politically-motivated recommendation, of course, that led to the board’s 2009 approval of the Gloucester charter in the first place – over the findings of the Department of Ed’s own Charter School Office that the Gloucester application failed to meet the necessary criteria. Then, as the school faced a mountain of hurdles in opening, it was Chester’s sage September 2010 advice that the school might not be “viable” — leading dozens of parents and students to bolt for the city school system while parents committed to the charter pressed forward and, with Executive Director Tony Blackman, finally got the stymied building and occupancy permits they needed to go forward. Those Chester comments helped ensure that the charter would fail to meet its budgeted enrollment from the start.

Now, after the school – for all its faults — helped both the state and the city schools reel in money from the new federal “Race to the Top” education innovation programs, the state no longer needs the GCACS like it did when it was the only school to gain BESE approval, perceived as a prerequisite to get any “Race to the Top” dollars flowing this way.

Look, as we’ve said previously, there are many reasons to shut down the city’s charter school — from an embarrassing lack of a documented curriculum as cited in the state’s October site visit report, to the constant staff turnover that this year even led Blackman to cut his own position amid a new budget crunch. And, if that is the BESE’s decision today, the school’s own officials have no one to blame but themselves.

But the state’s board members should also keep in mind that, behind all of the muddy politics and financial numbers, there are more than 100 families that this system — including the state board itself — has grossly failed. They deserve to have their concerns heard, and they deserve answers and recommendations regarding where they would now feel comfortable to turn.

They deserve to get them today.