Gloucester Community Arts Charter School

The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, expected to continue operations through Friday, instead closed its doors for good today after a “going away” party for students, the few remaining teachers and parents, and a 12:45 early dismissal.

Board of Trustees Chairman James Caviston told the Times that a final vote by the Board of Trustees on a shutdown of the school won’t come until the trustees meet tonight, but acknowledged that today marked the public, independent school’s final session. With a continued declining enrollment, the school is essentially insolvent and cannot meet payroll or cover any more days’ pay for staff, several sources told the Times this morning...

Even in surrendering the school’s charter under pressure last month, the GCACS trustees had expected to keep the school open through the end of its third school year, as part of bargain reached with the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. But enrollment further declined in December and last week, resulting in a reduced money flow to the school from the state, which provides fjunding to charter schools based on a per-pupil basis. On top of that, a lower line of credit from outside lenders prevented the school from gathering enough funds to remain open through June, according to school trustees...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
“Charter gets low MCAS marks.” Gloucester Daily Times (MA), 9/20/2011
The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School has come in below the state average — and in many cases, well below Gloucester city elementary and middle school students — in showing proficiency across all grades and categories in the 2011 MCAS tests.

The spring 2011 tests, released on a school-by-school basis Tuesday by the state's Department of Education, marked the controversial charter school's first Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test results after it opened in September 2010.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
STAFFING, SPECIAL ED SHAKE-UPS AT CHARTER SCHOOL, March 5, 2011; Gloucester Daily Times (MA)
The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, dogged by questions about its viability and denounced by critics as a drain on the city's public school district, has gained students but undergone a staffing shake-up and is still addressing special education program concerns, acting Board of Trustees Chairman Joe Knowles said Friday…

At the same time, he said the school still does not have a director of education, and will not immediately replace a departed director of arts integration, a position that Knowles noted was "important, obviously, to an arts-integrated school."…

Knowles declined, however, to characterize a recent discussion he had with state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. He did say he would make available a written report back to Chester that is to follow up that discussion sometime after it has gone to the commissioner.

Later on Friday, a state Education Department spokeswoman confirmed that Knowles and the commissioner had spoken, but offered no details.

Nancy Labrie of the commissioner's office said that a special education corrective action plan had been received from the school and was being reviewed by department staff…

Last month, the charter school's executive director, Tony Blackman, acknowledged that the school had failed to meet one condition set in its December reprieve from probationary status — the hiring of an education director.

Filling the job — essentially the school's principal — by Feb. 1 was one of eight conditions included in a recommendation by Chester that was ratified by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on a vote of 8-2 in December at a formal board meeting in Malden.

The board's action at that meeting effectively lifted a 2-month-old probation order that had been imposed on the fledgling school, which opened in September, and allowed the school to retain its charter…

In addition to filling the director of education's post by Feb. 1, another of the eight conditions imposed by the state that was due by Feb. 1 was the submission of a plan for correcting deficiencies in the charter school's special education program.

Knowles said a special education report had been filed by the school and was "pretty well implemented right now."

According to the official minutes of a Feb. 3 meeting of the charter school board's program committee, however, roughly a third of 23 student individualized education programs were judged to be inadequate at that time and there was discussion of possibly providing makeup services in the summer when budgetary pressures might lessen…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A week after the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School hired two administrators to run the publicly-funded independent school, the organization has not said how much each will earn or provided job descriptions for them.

Yesterday Chairwoman Amy Ballin, for the second time this week, said she did not have any information about the hirings and referred all questions to a member of the organization's hiring committee who has not returned phone calls…

…The reluctance of the charter school's trustees to provide information about its operations is particularly puzzling considering the scrutiny the school has been under for nearly two years, much of it on issues of openness.

Opposed by almost all elected city officials and many public school parents before it was approved in February 2009, the Gloucester charter school has been under a microscope, mostly a result of political taint caused by the state officials who approved it.

State Education Secretary Paul Reville lobbied state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to approve the Gloucester charter to appease charter school supporters and political allies with the power to derail Gov. Deval Patrick's education agenda.

Chester endorsed the Gloucester charter against the recommendation of his own office staff and was later accused by the state's inspector general of lying to lawmakers and presiding over document shredding that covered up the machinations of the approval process.

In the wake of that controversy, Patrick, Reville's boss, endorsed legislation filed by state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, that would have killed the charter. The language was stricken from a larger education bill.

Through it all, the charter school has endured under intense scrutiny from local opponents who have described it as a publicly funded private school that will drain resources from Gloucester's public schools.

The last two months had seen a streak of good news for Gloucester Community Arts, with the signing of a building lease in Blackburn Industrial Park and enough applications from prospective students to force lotteries in two grades.

While appearing resigned to the school's opening in the wake of the lottery, die-hard charter opponents have maintained complaints about a penchant for secrecy among the school's leaders.

The charter school's budget has not yet been set by the state but is expected to be in the neighborhood of $1 million in the first year.

The Gloucester hirings come as the Obama administration this week announced that Massachusetts finished 13th out of 16 finalists competing for a pot of federal money for states that take aggressive steps to reduce achievement gaps.

Partially to improve its chances of winning the money, the state passed a law increasing access to charter schools.

The Times has filed a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law for a copy of Blackman and O'Connor's contracts.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



The Perimeter Primate said...

Comments to Millot:

Please remember that they are still intensively going forward with this turkey of a school.

As of this writing they have failed to sign a lease for a site, they have no head of school, have done no outreach of any kind, have tried to change their enrollment from 4-7 to K-2 (and failed) and have no teachers, curriculum, no nothing.

And yet they still stand to take away money from our district, are paying consultants, etc.

This fiasco continues apace in Gloucester, no one has had the political will to kill it. They seem to be leaving it up to us citizens to seek a legal injunction (which we will).

If they want Gloucester to be the high-water mark for charters in the Commonwealth, they are doing a 'heckofajob'.

Posted by: James | February 05, 2010 at 10:55 AM

As a Gloucester resident, I can concur with Millot's analysis: the process rose to the level of fiasco early on and only got worse. The only thing missing in his political analysis is the long arm of influence extended by Secretary Duncan on many states in promoting the unfettered expansion of charter schools. Money, in this case Race to the Top, is a powerful carrot in desperate times.

Posted by: Bob | February 08, 2010 at 11:09 AM

The Perimeter Primate said...

A reader mentioned that the link wasn't working from his end. It works for me, but if you want to go there yourself, place this in your browser:

The Perimeter Primate said...

"It's time to put brakes on misguided rush to open charter school" (Gloucester Times opinion, May 27,2010)

The Perimeter Primate said...

Gloucester critics of charter school sue (6/29/2010)

"A group of parents filed a lawsuit yesterday against the top state education officials, alleging that they approved the opening of a charter school in Gloucester in “blatant violation’’ of the state Board of Education’s regulations governing the granting of school charters..."

The Perimeter Primate said...

JUDGE: STATE 'BLATANTLY VIOLATED' LAW, August 23, 2010, Gloucester (MA) Times

A Superior Court judge Monday denied a bid by 15 local parents and the city to stop the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School from opening this fall.

But, in a ruling that turns the spotlight back on state officials, Judge Richard Welch III refused to dismiss the parents' lawsuit and wrote that the case presents "considerable evidence" that the state education commissioner and Board of Education "blatantly ignored and violated state law when granting the GCA charter for political reasons."...

The Perimeter Primate said...

The drama continues: "School opens in defiance of officials; State may revoke Gloucester charter"

Excerpt: "State officials, who have accused the school of violating laws and question its viability, urged administrators not to open and parents to send their children to other schools."