A state tally showing more than 53,000 students on charter school waiting lists is overstating demand, according to a Globe review of state data.The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in tallying the waiting lists statewide and for many individual communities, including Boston, frequently counts the same students more than once.
Several parents at a Dorchester charter school are calling for the ouster of the executive director and the chairman of the school’s trustees, following a firestorm over the layoffs of the principal and five other employees...
“We don’t want Smith Leadership Academy to close,’’ said Ayesha Moore, whose son is in the eighth grade. “We want the people who are ruining it to leave.’’
But Karmala Sherwood, the academy’s executive director, said the school had to lay off the employees, mostly administrators, to remedy an unexpected budget shortfall of more than $100,000. Fewer students enrolled than anticipated, cutting into per-pupil aid, which averages about $10,000 per student...
But the turmoil at Smith Leadership Academy shows that charter schools are not immune to the same kinds of budgetary problems and academic challenges that can afflict traditional public schools.
Students at Smith Leadership Academy, where math and science are taught in single-gender classes, often score lower than Boston public school students on the MCAS, and the state has labeled the academy for restructuring to fix persistently low scores. For instance, fewer than half the students scored proficient or higher on last spring’s MCAS exams.
In May 2011, a state review revealed a number of problems with instruction, saying that too many teachers failed to challenge students - relying too heavily on lectures and worksheets - and that the school lacks a coherent curriculum.
WORCESTER — The founder of the city’s newest charter school has submitted her resignation, the second time she has parted ways with a school she created.
Julia Sigalovsky, executive director of the Spirit of Knowledge Charter School, submitted her resignation Friday, effective July 10, according to Richard Langevin, chairman of the school’s board of trustees. The resignation came just before the board was due to meet and discuss her evaluation, he said.
Parents said yesterday that the school had not lived up to its academic promises and that their children had felt bullied by staff. Shawn Yates of Worcester, who with his wife, Tess, leads the school’s Parent Action Team, said he hopes Ms. Sigalovsky’s resignation will be “a positive change.” The couple has not decided whether their daughters will return in the fall and will be looking for changes in how the school communicates and collaborates with families. He said the small class sizes, interactive learning and enrichments promised had not been fulfilled.
Maydee Morales of Worcester pulled her daughter out of the school before April vacation. “She was having anxiety attacks,” Ms. Morales said. “It wasn’t that the work was hard, because they can all do the work.” She said she had expected advanced curriculum and encouragement for her daughter to go to college, and instead found staff members skeptical of her daughter’s ability to get there.
“It was not tough love. They were not encouraging,” Ms. Morales said. “They actually put a lot of kids down.”
She and two other parents are writing a letter to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which granted the school its charter, to inform them of their concerns, which include mistreatment and safety issues...
Director applicant withdraws, three board members not replaced / Are things coming apart at the Cape's only charter middle school?
The school room where last night's Cape Cod Charter School's (CCLCS) Board of Director's meeting was held had the feeling of a bunker with beleaguered people hunkered down to avoid an attack. The skylight was half covered with a tarp to protect us, and gave added meaning to the board's earlier decision to have their last director Kathy McNamara find a new home for the school.
But that prospect seems dimmer than ever as it was announced that the board's choice to replace recently resigned director McNamara had pulled her name out of consideration as the school's 8th director in its 16 years of existence...
Present Chatham school principal Lisa Sjostrom was expected to be introduced at last night's meeting, but instead board president Norman Michaud said she had withdrawn her application...
Perhaps more ominous, three members of last night's eight member board are retiring after the meeting, and the nominating committee reported that no new names would be submitted for consideration until at least the September board meeting.
The next three months are important in the negotiations to buy the Regal Cinema building on Route 137 in Harwich, and these departing board members were on the school's building committee.
All this while contending with the demands of newly unionized teachers and trying to raise two million dollars to buy the Regal Cinema building which the school has under a sales and purchase agreement...
The school plans no salary increases, but that depends on the ongoing negotiations with staff which has recently joined an ALF/CIO teacher's union.
One assumes the negotiations will be more vigorous than in the past. One of the reasons suggested for the teachers joining a union was resentment over funding for the new school building in Harwich rather than pay raises for the teachers.
Some teachers have reportedly complained about the extra work which may accrue to them with the new Harwich location drawing more Mid Cape students needing extra tutoring and/or special ed...
MALDEN — State officials on Monday placed the Boston Renaissance Charter School on probation, formally putting the school on notice that it must improve student academic performance or risk closure when its charter comes up for renewal in two years.By a tally of 7 to 1, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted for probation, despite pleas from Renaissance school leaders who fear the designation will unsettle families, hurt staff morale, and hinder fund-raising efforts...
WORCESTER — Data from two local charter schools showed the School Committee last night that the two schools are not likely to help solve the achievement gap in this city, one of the goals the governor cited when he supported legislation to increase the number of charter schools in the state.
Information was presented on students at the newly opened Spirit of Knowledge Charter School, which serves Grades 7-9. The district found data on 85 percent of the school’s students from when they were Worcester public school students and found that those students scored higher on the MCAS exams than the district average. In other words, Chief Research and Accountability Officer David Perda said, the schools took “the more academically able.”
Committee member Jack L. Foley made the obvious prediction. “We should not be surprised if their MCAS scores are higher than our average score and they claim success,” he said.
That, in turn, would be used to justify the charter movement, said Mayor Joseph C. O’Brien. “This is not about closing the achievement gap. This is about ... creating elite opportunities for successful students.”…
MALDEN - Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll will ask the Board of Education to vote next week to immediately suspend and revoke the charter granted in 2002 to the Roxbury Charter High School for Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship (RCHS). If approved, the school will shut its doors at the start of the winter break next week and will not reopen after the new year.
A letter was sent to leaders of RCHS late Monday to notify them of Driscoll’s recommendation.
“This is not a decision that I take lightly, but closing this school down is absolutely the right thing to do,” Driscoll said. “We as educators have a responsibility to our children, and it is unacceptable to me to leave students in that school any longer than necessary. This school has been in a downward spiral both financially and administratively for some time, and while we have tried to give them time to resolve their issues, the obstacles they face now are too big to overcome. Closing their doors is the best option for everyone.”
This recommendation is based on evidence that the school is not financially viable and does not have a strong enough governance and administrative structure to provide sufficient oversight to the operations of the school. As a result, Driscoll said he fears the 107 students enrolled at the school are simply not getting the education they deserve.
If approved, this would be the first time the Board of Education will have voted an emergency revocation and suspension of an operating school’s charter since the state’s charter school movement began in 1993.
The school received a Commonwealth charter in 2002 and opened in September, 2003. Their curriculum focus is on business, finance and entrepreneurship, and was chartered for grades 9 through 12, with a maximum of 400 students. It is currently in its second year, with an enrollment of 107, rather than the 175 projected on the school’s original growth plan.
Driscoll said his decision was based on several issues:
The school is experiencing significant cash flow problems, due in large part to the school not reaching its enrollment projections. Currently, the school is projecting a deficit of $113,000 for the current year, which could result in the school being forced to close its doors on its own accord later in the current school year.
The school has no viable financial plan for addressing its facility needs. The school is currently leasing a former parochial school; the lease expires at the end of next year. If the school remains at this location, it will need to address significant ADA compliance issues as well as expand the facility to accommodate its planned enrollment.
The school has had serious governance problems, leading DOE officials to conclude that the school’s Board of Trustees has not provided effective oversight to properly address the major issues facing the school.
The school has failed to implement required procedures and programs relating to special education and English language immersion.
The school is not complying with state and federal requirements regarding student record keeping and documentation of Title I eligibility.
DOE officials have been in contact with the Boston Public Schools, and have been assured that seats will be made available after the new year for any RCHS students who choose to enroll in Boston.
“I know that this may be a difficult transition for some, but what matters most to me that our students get the best possible education in our schools," Driscoll said. "This is what’s best for these kids.”
WORCESTER — The state commissioner of elementary and secondary education has recommended that Seven Hills Charter School be put on probation, according to a memo he sent to the state board.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote on Seven Hills' charter Monday, and Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester recommends that the board impose several conditions on the charter's renewal, including that it demonstrate that it is an academic success by December 2012.
Mr. Chester's concerns include that the school has not met federal and state improvement benchmarks (called adequate yearly progress) in any subject since 2005, although some subgroups of students have met their goals in some subjects. The department's review of the school also found that eight teachers (one-fifth of instructional staff) were fired or left at the end of the 2009-2010 school year (including all of the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers) and that the school has had a different governance model for each of the last five years, although it has had the same leader throughout those years. During the 2009-10 school year, the school's board of trustees, which is supposed to have nine to 25 members, dwindled to four, three of whom quit the following year, when eight more joined….
HAMDEN — The former operators of a charter school will have to pay back the state because they allegedly spent state and charitable money on Armani suits, silk pajamas and other personal uses.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal Wednesday announced a $176,707 settlement between the state and directors of the former Highville Mustard Seed Charter School.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit against former school Executive Director Lyndon Pitter, his ex-wife, Nadine Pitter, and former board Chairwoman Fatima Ennis. Blumenthal reached the agreement on behalf of the state departments of Education and Consumer Protection…
The suit was filed by Blumenthal in July 2007, after a state investigation revealed malfeasance within the Highville Mustard Seed Development Corp., which ran the school at 130 Leeder Hill Drive for nine years. After cooperation from state officials and parents, the school reopened as the Highville Charter School under the auspices of a new board of directors…
Lyndon Pitter was executive director of the school and corporation starting in 1998. Nadine Pitter was associate director and school nurse, and Ennis was a corporation board member and later board chairwoman. Neither they nor their lawyers from the Bridgeport firm of Winget, Spadafora and Schwartzberg could be reached Wednesday.
The state’s lawsuit alleged that Lyndon Pitter spent $78,539 in questionable charges, including Armani suits and silk pajamas, a down payment on a car and salary advances. Nadine Pitter allegedly did not work full time although she was paid a full salary. Ennis allegedly approved unauthorized payments to Lyndon Pitter in 2006 and 2007.
As a result of the investigative report and other matters, the state Board of Education put the school on probation and considered revoking its charter. But parents teamed up with Blumenthal, state education officials and others to save the school.
A Superior Court judge in Hartford was persuaded to appoint a receiver to save the school by transferring the charter to a new corporation and resolving outstanding claims against the corporation. It was estimated the school was $1.5 million in debt, and that at least $200,000 was misused…
The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School says its mission is to provide its students a world-class education that incorporates “selected core virtues and the fundamental ideals of our American culture, which are embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.’’
But the Malden-based school has provided incomplete responses to the Globe’s requests for payroll records, sought under the state’s public records law beginning on April 21.
The paper’s request for payroll data was made about the time that local residents began to raise questions about Mystic Valley’s finances after the school paid $4.4 million in cash for a vacant car lot in Malden. Since it was founded 12 years ago, in rented space, the charter school has amassed a $10.1 million real estate portfolio that includes three houses, two school buildings, and a fire station leased to the city…
But for more than six weeks, the Globe has been trying to obtain an accurate account of the names, job descriptions, and gross annual salaries of Mystic Valley staff. Payroll data were promptly provided by city officials for public school employees in Malden, Medford, Melrose, and several other local communities…
“We’ve responded to you already, with what you wanted,’’ said Jordan Shapiro, the school’s legal counsel, during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “If you want something further, something in addition to what we have already provided, we will have to go gather that information. When you get specific and tell us what you want, we’ll follow the law and the rules and you’ll get what you want eventually.’’…
Mass. investigating a charter school: Springfield facility’s leap in MCAS scores preceded allegations (The Boston Globe, November 25, 2009)
By any standard, the rise was meteoric. The Robert M. Hughes Academy’s math scores this spring improved at the fastest pace in the state, with English scores not far behind.
It should have been a cause for celebrating this Springfield charter school, which was ordered by the state in January to improve its MCAS scores or face possible closure.
But yesterday, the state announced that it has launched a formal investigation into possible irregularities in the school’s administration of the exam, as well as additional allegations of mismanagement and fiscal improprieties that have subsequently surfaced.
“I take all of these matters very seriously,’’ Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in a prepared statement. “Our investigation is continuing. As always, my primary concern is the well-being of the students, and I am committed to minimizing any disruption to their education.’’
Chester’s comment broke two months of silence on the issue. His office had previously denied the Globe’s repeated requests for information about why the department was probing the test results, and said that the state’s public records law allowed officials to with hold information about ongoing investigations...
In her letter, Henry acknowledged that two teachers at the school had accused her of instructing them to have students recheck their work when they were done with the spring MCAS exams, which would be a violation of state testing protocols. Henry, who met with state education officials about the allegations for the first time on Monday, denied any wrongdoing in the school’s administration of the exam…
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Charter school cheating detailed: Staff tell state of MCAS infractions (The Boston Globe, January 23, 2010)
One staff member at a Springfield charter school told state education investigators he felt so pressured by his principal last spring to improve MCAS scores that, in order to keep his job, he helped one student write an essay for the test.
Another staff member said he was fired after he accused the principal of encouraging cheating, while another staff member observed a colleague pull some students away from watching a movie so they could fix answers on their tests.
The findings, released yesterday by state education officials, offer the first public glimpse into the specific cheating allegations that have been leveled against Robert M. Hughes Academy, which was ordered last winter to improve its scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests to avoid being closed.
Previously, Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had said only that the cheating, described as pervasive and systemic, was orchestrated by the principal and carried out by several adults at the school, which teaches 180 students in kindergarten through grade 8…
Half of Hughes Academy’s 16 staff members told state investigators that they were either aware of or engaged in various acts of cheating, according to the findings released yesterday. In addition to the principal, the investigation placed some of the blame for orchestrating the cheating on an unnamed administrator who oversaw administration of the MCAS exam.
Shortly before testing began last March, either Henry or the unnamed administrator asked staff members to review the exams so they would be better prepared to identify incorrect answers on students’ tests, according to the report. Henry instructed staffers who spotted wrong answers to tell students to recheck their work, a violation of state testing protocol.
In another instance, one staff member observed some students, who had completed the MCAS once, taking it again during a make-up session designed for students who had for some reason missed it the first time. Under state rules, students can take the exam only once.
When the state received the results for the academy’s exams last summer, officials noticed that the scores had climbed at among the fastest rates in the state, raising suspicion…
In making his recommendation last month to close the school, Chester said he did not believe that Hughes Academy could overcome the alleged cheating scandal because of a myriad of governance issues and conflicts of interest involving the board of trustees over the years.
Four years ago, for instance, the state auditor discovered financial mismanagement related to operating deficits, questionable lease payments, no-bid contracts, undocumented expenditures on building improvements, and possible conflict of interest.
Henry has made similar accusations about financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest against trustees, which the state is investigating…
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Ed board upholds closing of Mass. charter school (The Boston Globe, May 25, 2010)
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—An embattled charter school in Springfield is slated to close for good next month after losing an appeal before the state Board of Education.
The board originally voted in January to revoke the charter of the Robert M. Hughes Academy, which had been under investigation for cheating during last year's MCAS exams.
School officials appealed to an impartial hearing officer, who recommended that the board uphold the charter revocation.
The board's second vote on Monday means the Hughes Academy -- which has 180 students in kindergarten through 8th grade -- must cease operations at the end of the academic year on June 17.
School officials aren't giving up, however. They expect to file a lawsuit challenging the closing.
SPRINGFIELD - In its fourth move in 11 years, the New Leadership Charter School will relocate to the now vacant Holy Name School on Alderman Street…
The announcement came as Sirdeaner L. Walker, whose 11-year old son Carl committed suicide in April, was scheduled to testify about bullying before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Walker said her son, a student at New Leadership school, had complained of persistent bullying by other students…
The school has been under scrutiny by city and state educational officials since Carl's suicide. His mother said she appealed to New Leadership officials several times to stop the bullying, but little was done.
An draft report of an internal investigation conducted by New Leadership was completed in May, but has not been released and school officials provided no new details Wednesday.
SPRINGFIELD - Police said they intend to seek a criminal complaint against an instructional aide at the New Leadership Charter School who telephoned in a gun scare Tuesday morning…
Police intend to file a district court complaint against Stewart for disturbing a public assembly or a school while in session, Delaney said.
Stewart, an aide at the school for two months, was removed from the classroom Tuesday morning and fired on the spot for acting erratically, Delaney said.
The school reported he used vulgar language while trying to lead students in a discussion of sex, he said.
After he left school grounds Stewart called the school with the gun scare, and volunteered to come back to aid in the search, Delaney said.
Concerned for his well-being, police asked Westfield police to check on Stewart at his home. Officers found him acting erratically and had him brought to Noble Hospital for evaluation, he said…
SPRINGFIELD - The mother who said her 11-year-old son committed suicide by hanging himself because of bullying he experienced at New Leadership Charter School said Thursday she will ask the state to investigate the school.
"I will do that. That's something that I will do. A lot of parents don't know the avenues open to them. A lot of parents don't know where to turn," said Sirdeaner L. Walker, in an interview at her 124 Northampton Ave. home.
She said she found her son, Carl J. Walker-Hoover, a sixth-grader at the school, hanging by an extension cord upstairs at their home Monday night.
He suffered taunts and threats from other students who made fun of him, insulted the way he dressed and called him gay since he began attending in September, she said.
Walker said though she contacted the school repeatedly, the bullying persisted…
Meanwhile, The Republican and other media were prevented from attending a vigil at the 180 Ashland Ave. school Thursday night that was held in relation to Carl's death, even though the school is publicly funded…
Walker said that the school failed to contact her about the vigil, but that even if it had, it was doubtful she would have attended.
"Someone did call me, but it wasn't the school. I still haven't heard from the school. I don't know if I would have gone. It's a very emotional thing. I have to process everything," Walker said…
…City police are not investigating the reported bullying that apparently led to Carl's suicide, said Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner Willaim J. Fitchet.
Unlike the city's public schools, charter schools here do not have regularly assigned student support officers. The Police Department provides such officers to charter schools as needed, Delaney said…
Carl's death has prompted renewed interest in school bullying, including a flurry of e-mails and phone calls to The Republican.
School Superintendent Alan J. Ingram said on Thursday cases of bullying must be addressed quickly and fairly, but noted charter schools are autonomous and have their own policies…
According to the New Leadership Charter School Web site, "The mission of New leadership Charter School is to develop young people in the sixth through twelfth grades morally, mentally and physically, and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty." …
…Daboul [chairman of the school's board of directors] said the New Leadership Charter School has a board of eight or nine members, but he was unable to recall the full list...
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...
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.