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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Revocation - Gloucester Community Arts Charter School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
December 7, 2012

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As I committed to you last month, I am bringing a recommendation for further action regarding the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School (GCACS). In short, I recommend that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) vote its intent to revoke the charter of GCACS, effective June 30, 2013. This memorandum outlines the rationale for my recommendation.

Two specific sections of the charter school regulations support my recommendation to revoke the GCACS charter. According to the regulations, the Board can revoke a charter for, among other reasons, "fraud or gross mismanagement on the part of charter school administrators or board of trustees, including but not limited to, mismanagement of the educational program" and "failure to comply substantially with the terms of the charter" 603 C.M.R. 1.13(e) and (b). GCACS's administration and governing board of trustees have failed to adequately manage the school's program. The board of trustees has not effectively overseen the school's fiscal or academic performance. School administrators at GCACS have not demonstrated an ability to ensure an orderly environment or execute a plan to remedy poor academic performance. For the past three years, the school's high rates of student attrition, low enrollment, and staff turnover indicate an overall lack of organizational and financial viability. Additionally, since opening its doors on September 23, 2010, GCACS has failed to adhere to the terms of its charter by providing the academic program as promised in the school's mission and vision. GCACS's academic results show that students are losing substantial ground when compared with their peers in Gloucester and statewide, especially in mathematics.

In previous memos regarding GCACS, I have stated that charter schools are granted five years to demonstrate results. Starting a school is difficult and many charter schools face challenges within their initial five years. While GCACS has faced considerable challenges, I expected to see far more progress than we see today. As chronicled below, GCACS's problems impact all areas of school operation. At this point, GCACS is a third year school that resembles a pre-operational, or first year charter school, and lacks a compelling plan to remedy its grave problems. Given that this is the third operational year, that there is little evidence that institutional maturation is occurring, that financial viability remains a concern, and that the problems with the school are pervasive, I have concluded that GCACS is no longer a viable organization.

This memorandum provides an overview of my reasons for making this consequential recommendation. It begins with a history of GCACS, recounts the report on conditions provided in the November 2012 update, summarizes findings from the October 2012 site visit, and provides additional analyses. The attached Site Visit Report provides additional information and context.

History of GCACS

In February 2009, the Board voted to approve a charter for Gloucester Community Arts Charter School (GCACS), serving grades K-8. I recommended that the Board approve GCACS's application because I believed that GCACS presented strong potential for a high quality arts integration school. The Board reaffirmed its grant of the charter to GCACS at two subsequent meetings on November 17, 2009 and January 26, 2010. At these meetings, the Board discussed the merits of the GCACS application, the process for awarding a charter to GCACS, the Inspector General's allegations regarding the chartering of GCACS, the rejection by the Legislature of a bill to revoke the charter of GCACS, and the Board's procedural options. At its meeting in November 2009, the Board adopted a motion that "having reviewed and considered all issues that have been presented about the charter granted to the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, [the Board] conclude[s] that the issues do not provide grounds for revocation of the charter."

After its charter was granted in February 2009, GCACS had 19 months to open the school per the charter school statute. GCACS opened on September 23, 2010, over three weeks beyond its scheduled opening date and only one day before the charter would have expired. The delay was marked by inadequate planning for construction, repeated delays of the school's opening, violations of state laws regarding procurement and construction of its facilities, an inability to find a head of school, and ineffective management on the part of the board of trustees. Additionally, when it opened, GCACS's enrollment had decreased significantly from what it projected in its application, causing the school to face financial challenges.

On October 1, 2010, the Board placed GCACS on probation until December 21, 2010 and directed GCACS to meet twelve probationary conditions by that date. On December 21, 2010, the Board determined that GCACS had made significant progress in addressing its deficiencies and had substantially complied with the conditions set by the Board. The Board, however, determined that the school still faced significant challenges and required further conditions. Therefore, the Board removed GCACS from probation but imposed additional conditions.

The conditions imposed on GCACS in December 2010 have remained in effect into the present, with the Board receiving periodic reports on the school's progress. At our Board meetings on May 20, 2011 and December 20, 2011, I presented status reports on the school's compliance with the conditions and overall progress. On November 26, 2012, the Board received and discussed an updated report on conditions concerning GCACS. In my November 16, 2012 memo outlining the school's performance in terms of the conditions and additional analyses from a recent site visit, I expressed my concerns about the school's viability. Despite the school's progress in meeting some of the conditions, the school has shown poor academic results, a lack of fidelity to its charter, high rates of staff turnover, low enrollment, a weak academic program, and fiscal instability.

Report on Conditions

Of the eight current conditions, GCACS has fully met six - three within the time identified and three others after the deadline identified in the condition. One condition has not been met and another measure has been partially met.

Condition 1: The school's executive director shall attend the Office of the Inspector General's training program on Supplies and Services Contracting at the first available opportunity in 2011.

Status: Condition met
The school's executive director attended and completed the Office of the Inspector General's Supplies and Services Contracting training held on February 15-17, 2011. The executive director submitted a certificate to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) documenting his successful completion of the training. The executive director resigned from the school in October 2012.

Condition 2: By February 1, 2011, the school shall have hired a qualified individual for the position of Director of Education.

Status: Condition met after deadline
In March 2011, the school informed the Department that it did not meet the February 1, 2011 deadline due to budgetary constraints. As of May 2011, the school hired a new head of school, Jody Ziebarth, former principal of Cambridge Friends School, who started working at GCACS on July 1, 2011 and resigned in June 2012. In July 2012, the school hired Beth Delforge as the Director of Education. Ms. Delforge holds a Principal/Assistant Principal certification for levels preK-6 as well as a Superintendent/Assistant Superintendent certification for all levels. Previously, she served as the Arts Curriculum Director for the Marblehead Public School District and as the Program Leader of Fine Arts K-12 for the Gloucester Public School District. This is Ms. Delforge's first time serving as a principal. The board of trustees reported that with the resignation of the school's executive director on October 20, 2012, board members would be providing assistance in administering the school.

Condition 3: By April 1, 2011, the board of trustees shall recruit and submit to the Charter School Office for approval at least one new member with experience and expertise in public sector management.

Status: Condition met after deadline
In December 2011, Aaron Cilluffo joined the GCACS board of trustees. Currently the Water and Sewer Supervisor for the town of Danvers, Mr. Cilluffo has over 17 years of municipal civil engineering experience and for the past four years has provided oversight and management for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public works projects. According to the GCACS board of trustees, Mr. Cilluffo has experience in public sector procurement, permitting, budgeting, and bidding.

Condition 4: By April 1, 2011, the school shall submit a financial plan demonstrating viability based on pre-enrollment data for the 2011-12 school year.

Status: Condition met
On April 1, 2011, the school submitted a financial plan for the 2011-12 school year based on an expected student enrollment of 200. At the time, the Department determined that the school's proposed financial plan provided adequate resources for the school, based upon the school's April 2011 pre-enrollment count of 196 students. In September 2011, student enrollment dropped to 139, significantly below the pre-enrollment number. GCACS then created a new financial plan for an enrollment of 135.

In March 2012, GCACS pre-enrolled 212 students. On the first day of the 2012-13 school year, 132 students attended. In October 2012, GCACS created a new budget based on enrollment of 125 students. At the time of the site visit on October 18, 2012, student enrollment had declined to 123. The school's current financial status is discussed further in another section of this report.

Condition 5: By February 1, 2011, the school shall have submitted for Department approval a corrective action plan to address deficiencies in special education programs as noted in the Department's December 10 site visit, and by April 1, 2011, the school shall have demonstrated substantial progress in completing the corrective action plan.

Status: Condition met after deadline
In May 2011, the Department determined, and reported to the Board, that GCACS had not met this condition by April 1, 2011. GCACS did, however, improve its special education program in the subsequent school year (SY 2011-12), and those changes have remained in place.

During SY 2010-11 the school offered compensatory services to parents of special education students who had not received all IEP services during the school year, and is currently delivering compensatory services to one student who did not receive services as required during the summer of 2012. The Department approved all compensatory service notices before GCACS sent them to parents of children who had not received all services specified on their IEPs.

The Department's visit conducted on October 18, 2012 indicated that special education staffing presently includes a licensed special education administrator who oversees a staff of two full-time fully qualified special education teachers and two full-time special education aides to meet the needs of the school's 24 students receiving special education services. A review of student records and classroom observations indicated that all IEP services are being delivered as required.

Condition 6: GCACS must comply with the Attorney General's December 17, 2010, Open Meeting Order ("OML 2010-6") and any other such orders issued by the Attorney General's Office.

Status: Partially met
Compliance with the Attorney General's order dated December 17, 2010 is generally ongoing, due to the nature of the order. One portion of the 2010 order was not met. The 2010 order required the GCACS board of trustees to attend a training on the Open Meeting Law (OML) annually during the 2011 and 2012 calendar years. The GCACS Board did not meet this requirement for calendar year 2011.

On November 1, 2011, the Attorney General's Office (AGO) issued a decision on one OML complaint which pertained to a November 2010 meeting of the GCACS board of trustees. The AGO determined that the GCACS board of trustees had violated the OML by convening an emergency meeting on November 20, 2010, under conditions that did not qualify as an emergency and by failing to adequately post notice of a meeting. As a result, the AGO issued an order ("OML 2011-45") requiring GCACS's continued compliance with OML. With respect to the public construction and bidding laws, again, compliance with the consent judgment is ongoing due to the nature of the order.

Since November 2011, the AGO has received five additional OML complaints regarding GCACS, two of which are related. The same individual has filed all of the complaints. The AGO is currently investigating the complaints.

Condition 7: GCACS promptly and effectively must communicate with the Charter School Office regarding any and all significant matters within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 48 hours after the occurrence. GCACS must report to the Charter School Office any and all communications made or received by or on behalf of the school with any government audit, investigative, or law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time of that communication but in any event no later than 48 hours after the communication. GCACS must copy the Charter School Office on such written communications sent by or on behalf of the school and send a copy of all such written communications received by or on behalf of the school within a reasonable period of time but in any event no later than 48 hours after the communication. GCACS must provide a report and copies to the Charter School Office of all such communications that occurred prior to its probation no later than October 8, 2010.

Status: Met
The Department's Charter School Office has received updates on matters that fall under the condition, including resolution letters from the Attorney General's Office regarding Open Meeting Law complaints and correspondence between the school's legal counsel and the Office of the Inspector General.

Condition 8: GCACS must report all changes in staff to the Charter School Office within a reasonable period of time of knowledge of the change but in any event no later than 48 hours after knowledge of the change.

Status: Condition not met
During the school's year one site visit, the team determined that GCACS had not met this condition. As of December 2011, the last report on conditions provided to the Board, the school's executive director had informed the Charter School Office of all changes to the staff at GCACS within 48 hours. As noted in the school's year three site visit report, GCACS experienced significant turnover of both teachers and administrators during the 2011-12 school year. After comparing staff rosters from the past and current school years, it is clear that GCACS informed the Charter School Office of some, but not all, changes in staff. GCACS did not inform the Charter School Office of 11 staff departures and 7 staff hires.

Site Visit Findings

The Department's Charter School Office conducted a site visit on October 18, 2012. The October 18 visit was a year three charter school accountability site visit, which gathered information about the school's progress in terms of the conditions and examined school performance in the three areas of charter school accountability. The site visit team found the following:

  1. Faithfulness to Charter
    • Many elements outlined in the charter application and integrated aspects of the educational program have yet to materialize. Site visitors did not see substantial evidence of: thematic learning, a humanities curriculum, the use of constructivism and differentiation in the classroom, outreach into the community, service learning, or the realization of strong academic results.

  2. Academic Success
    • GCACS does not have a documented curriculum. Site visitors were unable to determine if curriculum materials were aligned with state standards.
    • Site visitors did not see a consistent application of school wide instructional or behavioral expectations. Administrators reported that the school is in the process of instituting many of the expectations.
    • In a majority of classrooms site visitors did not see an orderly environment. Off task and mildly disruptive behavior negatively impacted student learning.
    • Teacher ability to effectively deliver instruction was hampered by disorderly classrooms. Classroom time was not maximized for learning.
    • Student engagement varied during observed lessons, but for most of the observed lesson time, students were not fully engaged in learning.
    • For a second year, GCACS has identified the use of data to inform instruction as an area for school improvement. The school has not established school wide external or internal assessments.
    • English language arts MCAS scores for GCACS students showed improvement in 2012. Mathematics scores have been weak for two years.

  3. Organizational Viability
    • The school's executive director has resigned effective October 20, 2012. The newly hired director of education will serve as the school leader and receive help with school administration from three volunteer GCACS board members.
    • The school does not have formal systems and structures to review the effectiveness of the academic program. The board of trustees noted that this is an area for improvement.
    • The school has not developed a plan to address two years of low mathematics MCAS scores.
    • With lower than expected enrollment, the school is again faced with budgetary constraints. The executive director has resigned to help the school remain financially solvent.
    • GCACS has experienced significant turnover of the teaching and administrative staff since its inception.

Enrollment Data and Financial Status

In March 2012, GCACS reported to the Department a pre-enrollment count of 212 students in grades K-8. On GCACS's first day of school, the actual enrollment was 132. As of the site visit on October 18, 2012, GCACS enrollment had declined to 123. Current enrollment lags that of the fall 2011, when GCACS's enrollment was more than 130 students.

In April 2012, GCACS's board of trustees held a finance committee meeting to discuss the FY13 budget. The school's business manager had created budgets with three enrollment scenarios: 165, 180 and 190.

In October 2012, GCACS created a new budget based on an enrollment of 125. In response to the reduced revenue projections for 2012-13, the school's executive director resigned. Even with the elimination of the executive director's salary, however, GCACS administrators have indicated the need for further cuts to remain financially viable.

The school received an unqualified opinion on its FY12 audit. GCACS ended FY12 with a small surplus of approximately $2,700. The FY12 management letter included significant deficiencies in the areas of Title I documentation and documentation of school debit card purchases. To remedy these deficiencies, the school has implemented a Title I assessment program and has discontinued use of the debit card.

In the current fiscal year, the reduction in expected revenues and the lack of any significant cash reserves has left the school with little or no margin to deal with unexpected circumstances. For a third year, the school will need to demonstrate growth in enrollment and tuition revenues, possibly supplemented with private fundraising, to remain financially viable.

MCAS Performance

In 2012, GCACS administered the MCAS tests for the second time. The school's 2012 MCAS scores show improvement in English language arts (ELA), slight improvement in mathematics, and a decline in science scores. In 2012, GCACS students had the following median student growth percentiles: 53.5 for ELA and 31.0 for mathematics.1 While 2012 ELA scores display typical growth, mathematics scores still display low growth.

GCACS Median Student Growth Percentiles (SGP)
Year 20112012
ELA (all grades)33.053.5
Mathematics (all grades)17.031.0

In 2012, GCACS had an ELA CPI of 86.7, an improvement from the 2011 CPI of 73.3. In mathematics, GCACS's 2012 CPI was 55.5, an improvement over its 2011 CPI of 49.7. However, proficiency rates for mathematics remain low for GCACS. In 2012, GCACS's science CPI declined by 6 points to 59.5, with very low rates of proficiency in grades 5 (27 percent) and 8 (15 percent). GCACS's proficiency rates for mathematics and ELA are displayed below.

GCACS Aggregate Proficiency Rates (Advanced and Proficient)
Year 20112012
ELA (all grades)48%62%
Mathematics (all grades)15%17%

GCACS has not yet been assigned an Accountability and Assistance Level under the Commonwealth's school accountability system, since the school does not yet have four years of testing data. In 2012, the school met ELA proficiency gap narrowing targets in the aggregate and for subgroups. In 2012, the school met mathematics proficiency gap narrowing targets in the aggregate, but not for the high needs subgroup. In 2012, the school did not meet science proficiency gap narrowing targets in the aggregate. Science performance declined from 2011 to 2012. Please see the attached site visit report for more information.

Additionally, attached to this memo are data showing GCACS's growth and achievement on the ELA and mathematics MCAS compared to all districts and compared to the Gloucester Public School District.

Litigation

In 2010, a group of Gloucester residents filed suit against the Board, the Commissioner, the Department, and GCACS, challenging the Board's award of a charter to GCACS as being in violation of the charter school statute and regulations. The plaintiffs sought revocation of GCACS's charter. In January 2012, the Superior Court granted summary judgment to the defendants, rejecting the plaintiffs' claims and upholding the Board's decision to grant the charter. The plaintiffs filed a timely notice of appeal and the parties are waiting for the Superior Court to assemble the record. Once the record is assembled, the plaintiffs will need to docket their appeal, and briefing will follow.

State Audit

On September 13, 2012 the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) initiated an audit of GCACS. OSA notified GCACS and the Department that its audit of the school would cover the period July 1, 2010 through September 4, 2012. The results of that audit have not been released as of the date of this memorandum.

Additional Information

In conjunction with this recommendation, representatives of GCACS have been invited to address the Board at the December 18th meeting. If the Board votes its intent to revoke the charter, the school's board of trustees may, if it chooses, request an administrative hearing on the proposed revocation. In that case, an impartial hearing officer will conduct the administrative hearing and make a recommendation to the Board for final action. If we do not receive a written request for a hearing from the board of trustees within 15 days after the school receives notice of the Board's intent to revoke the charter, the Board's revocation action becomes final.

If the Board votes to support my revocation recommendation, I will visit GCACS to hear from parents, teachers, and administrators. In addition, I will send a letter to all families whose children are currently attending the school immediately following this meeting to inform them of my recommendation and to encourage them to exercise all possible options, should the school close at the end of June. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently received many letters and emails from parents and students regarding the continued viability of GCACS. Under separate cover I am providing copies of this correspondence to Board members.

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If you have any questions regarding this amendment or require additional information, please contact me; Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner; or Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner for Charter Schools and School Redesign.

Attachments:

Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Year Three Site Visit Report for GCACS
 
Motion

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Last Updated: December 14, 2012
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