, Gloucester, MA

November 25, 2012

Editorial: Charter school review has context

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — There is no question that the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, as noted by state Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, still “faces substantial challenges to its ability to implement a viable and effective school program.”

But when Chester makes his presentation regarding Gloucester’s charter school at a Board of Elementary and Secondary education today, he should also be sure to note that the school’s single, most significant hurdle has been the fact that its enrollment has, for a third straight year, failed to meet the numbers projected — that those shortfalls have forced school leaders into dire budget cuts under the state’s per-pupil budgeting system, and that the first year’s shortfall that triggered much of this was largely his own fault. It was in September 2010 that Chester — after shepherding it through despite negative recommendations from his own Charter School Office — suddenly questioned whether the school was truly “viable.” And 26 of the school’s 90 first-year students pulled out.

Today’s review of the school comes on the heels of a damning site visit report. And the school began its third year after a tumultuous summer, during which a handful of former charter parents — through serious charges filed with the Board of Trustees, but never even remotely documented and refuted by board officials — tried to bring down Executive Director Tony Blackman. With the school facing a new budget crunch, Blackman eliminated his own job, turning the school’s operations over to Director of Education Beth DelForge. And it was in the midst of that October transition that the Department of Education carried out its site review.

Perhaps Chester and the board should put the GCACS back on probation, as they did amid its first year. But MCAS numbers show the school has improved, and more than 120 families have chosen it as a better option for their children than the Gloucester Public School system — a choice they deserve to have under Massachusetts law.

Each of these families deserve the same five-year precedent granted the state’s other charter schools in the past. And neither Chester nor the state board should waver from that today.