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December 12, 2012

Editorial: Charter should show city school leaders the need for change

The word that state Commissioner of Education Mitchell D. Chester will call for revoking Gloucester Community Arts Charter School’s charter at a state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting next week may signal the end for the public, independent school — a school that just completed its K-8 grade profile with the start of its third year in September.

While James Caviston, chairman of the school’s trustees, said he expects his board to appeal — and there is ample precedent for struggling charter schools to fill out their five-year charter — it would be surprising if the BESE dared to vote down a Chester recommendation, especially one as emphatic as this.

It’s disheartening to hear the tone of past and present city school officials and charter critics who — while rightfully noting that any charter students and families will be welcomed back into the city school system most of them chose to leave — aren’t even hinting that they’ve learned from this experience and are poised to move in new directions.

In making the case for revoking the charter, Chester cites the school’s constant financial struggles, due almost entirely to the fact that it has failed to meet enrollment projections used to set the school’s budget. He also cites a frightening level of staff turnover, which has certainly been a problem, fueled in large part by mid-year budget cuts that have hit the school in each of its first two years. He notes chaotic management, all too true under a board that has all too often shown none of the needed accountability or responsibility to oversee the school’s mission or operation. He also indicated that the school has failed to live up to the educational side of its charter, an obvious flaw given that a site visit this past October found that the school — in transition after Executive Director Tony Blackman cut his own position rather than face more in-year budget chaos — still did not have a defined curriculum.

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