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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Report on Probation for Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
January 11, 2019

In February 2018, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) voted to: renew the charter of Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School (DLA), place the school on probation, and impose eight conditions related to governance and academics. Part of the rationale for placing DLA on probation was due to ongoing investigations conducted by the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor (OSA) and the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General (OIG) during the 2017-2018 school year. Acting Commissioner Wulfson's memorandum dated February 16, 2018, promised to share information resulting from the OSA and OIG investigations with the Board.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) received the OIG's report on October 18, 2018, and the OSA's report on November 19, 2018. This memorandum provides a summary of the findings and recommendations of the OSA and the OIG, a report on DLA's progress in meeting the conditions imposed on its charter, and an update on DLA's academic performance.

In its 16th year, DLA has not demonstrated the hallmarks of a successful school. The school did not fully meet its conditions, does not demonstrate strong academic achievement, and has not yet established practices to ensure organizational viability. Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School has met four of the eight conditions imposed in February 2018. The school partially met two conditions and did not meet one condition to revise board bylaws. The final condition, to demonstrate significant and sustained academic improvement, has a deadline of December 31, 2019. I have grave concerns about the school's academic performance; in 2018, DLA performed in the second percentile of all "non-high schools" statewide.

In light of the findings of the OSA and OIG reports, and because the school has more time to demonstrate academic improvement, I recommend that the Board maintain probation and impose a new set of conditions on the school's charter. The rationale for my recommendation follows.

Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School1
Type of Charter
(Commonwealth or Horace Mann)
CommonwealthLocationBoston
Regional or Non-RegionalNon-RegionalDistricts in Region
(if applicable)
N/A
Year Opened2003Year(s) Renewed
(if applicable)
2008, 2013, 2018
Maximum Enrollment216Current Enrollment195 (as of October 2018)
Chartered Grade Span6–8Current Grade Span6–8
Students on Waitlist261 (as of March 2018)Current Age of School16 years
Mission Statement
Our school develops high-achieving students of good character who use problem solving, communication, and interpersonal skills to inspire others and to catalyze educational, economic, and political advancement within their communities and the broader nation.

School History

Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School received its charter in 2003 and opened in Fall 2003, serving 78 students in grade 6. The school expanded by one grade each year and served its full grade span, 6-8, starting in the 2005-2006 school year.

In 2013, the school's charter was renewed with three conditions related to governance. During the 2013-2014 school year, after the school's board of trustees had submitted monthly board minutes, conducted a board self-evaluation, and participated in governance training, the Department conducted a site visit. The Department determined that the school met the conditions imposed in 2013. The Commissioner released the school from conditions in January 2014.

In July 2017, DLA staff and administrators shared concerns with the Department regarding the school's use and oversight of public funds. Due to the nature of the concerns, the Department referred the matter to the OSA and the OIG. These ongoing concerns and investigations at the time of DLA's last renewal contributed to the Board's decision in February 2018 to impose probationary conditions on the renewal of the charter.

Summary of OSA and OIG Findings and Recommendations

The OIG released its report on October 18, 2018. The Office of the Inspector General found that DLA's board of trustees improperly provided its former executive director with benefits, compensation, and retirement payout that did not align with the executive director's employment contracts and did not align with salaries for similarly sized schools. The Office of the Inspector General found that the board of trustees failed to execute its role as stewards of the school's finances or to follow obligations to actively oversee the executive director. The report contained a series of findings and recommended corrective actions to "strengthen the board's stewardship of the school and protect public funds."

On November 19, 2018, the OSA released its audit of DLA covering a three-year period. Similar to findings in the OIG report, the audit outlined significant problems related to financial management, excessive executive compensation, and a lack of board oversight. The audit contained recommendations for the school to establish processes to monitor spending, ensure board oversight of financial activities, and use public funds properly. The audit also recommended that the school develop a process for evaluating executive director performance and link increases in compensation to successful accomplishment of metrics. Lastly, the audit report recommended improvements related to the board's governance practices, reporting, compliance with term limits, and training protocols.

On December 11, 2018, DLA provided the Department with a school-created action plan in response to each of the recommendations contained in the OIG and OSA reports. In the action plan, the school provides a response, next steps, resources, and timeline to address each of the recommendations. On December 19, 2018, DLA's chair of the board of trustees, who had been serving in that capacity since 2010, provided notification to the school that he would resign as of December 28, 2018. Additionally, the school reported that it no longer employs the former executive director in any capacity.

Report on Probation

Below is a summary of the school's progress toward meeting the eight conditions imposed on the school.

Condition 1: Until further notice, DLA must submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), at charterschools@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148, board and committee meeting agendas, materials, and minutes prior to each board meeting at the same time that these items are sent to the school's board members. Additionally, if board materials do not already include this information, the school must also submit monthly financial statements. The documents must reflect adherence to the Open Meeting Law.

Status: Met/Ongoing
The school has provided board meeting agendas, materials, and minutes prior to each board meeting at the same time that these items are sent to the school's board members, as required. The school also provided financial statements as required.

Condition 2: By March 30, 2018, the school must establish an escrow account in an amount determined by the Department in consultation with the school to pay for any potential closing, legal, and audit expenses associated with closure, should that occur.

Status: Met
The school established an escrow account in the amount of $35,000. The escrow account is separate from the school's main checking and savings accounts.

Condition 3: By April 18, 2018, all members of the board of trustees must participate in training on the Open Meeting Law offered by the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, all members of the board of trustees must participate in training on state ethics offered by the State Ethics Commission.

Status: Partially Met
The school provided documentation that all members approved as of April 2018 completed the online training provided by the State Ethics Commission. The school did not submit evidence that board members participated in an Open Meeting Law training but, rather, submitted documentation that each board member acknowledged receipt of Open Meeting Law materials.

Condition 4: By May 31, 2018, the board of trustees will work with the Department to obtain approval of its bylaws.

Status: Not Met
In April, the Department reviewed its criteria for bylaws approval with two DLA board members. In early May, the Department provided comment on draft bylaws submitted by the school. In June, the school submitted a second set of revised bylaws that did not align to the approval criteria. The Department notified the school that the recently submitted bylaws did not meet the criteria. The school has not yet submitted a draft that align to approval criteria. .

Condition 5: By June 1, 2018, the school must submit to the Department a comprehensive evaluation of its mathematics, English language arts, and science programs. Such comprehensive evaluation must be conducted by an external consultant(s) acceptable to and approved in advance by the Department.

Status: Met
The Department approved an external consultant on March 25, 2018. On June 6, 2018, DLA submitted a comprehensive evaluation of its academic program.

Condition 6: By June 29, 2018, the school must submit to the Department for approval an action plan to improve academic performance. Such action plan must specify the strategies to improve mathematics, English language arts, and science performance for all student groups. The action plan must set clear and specific implementation benchmarks, with a clear timetable and deadlines for completion of key tasks sufficient to allow the school's board of trustees and the Department to monitor implementation.

Status: Met after Deadline
The school submitted its first draft action plan on June 29, 2018. The submitted plan did not align with the condition's requirements. After multiple rounds of feedback, the school submitted an action plan aligned to the condition's requirements. The Department approved the school's action plan on December 3, 2018.

Condition 7: By July 1, 2018, the board of trustees must assess its capacity and expertise, taking into consideration current term limits for existing board members, and add membership that will allow the board to fulfill its governance duties.

Status: Partially Met
On June 29, 2018, the school submitted self-assessments conducted by individual board members. Board members were asked to rate their own performance on a set of eleven standards including leadership, setting policy, and accountability. Overall, across the set of eleven standards, average ratings for the eleven standards were "good" or "excellent," and the self-assessment also articulated goals for improvement.

The self-evaluation also identified a need to add a member with financial expertise. The school received approval of two new board members in June and September 2018. Neither board member, however, appears to have financial expertise.

Condition 8: By December 31, 2019, the school must demonstrate that it is an academic success by providing evidence that the school has exhibited significant and sustained academic improvement in mathematics, English language arts, and science.

Status: Not Applicable
While DLA has until December 2019 to demonstrate academic improvement, the school's 2018 academic outcomes are of grave concern. Below is evidence related to academic outcomes.

Academic Performance

The February 2018 memorandum outlined Acting Commissioner Wulfson's concerns about DLA's declining academic performance during its past charter term. The school's 2018 academic results show a further decline. In 2018, DLA is classified as requiring assistance or intervention; met 18 percent of its improvement targets; and is performing in the second percentile when compared to other "non-high schools" statewide.

Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School administered the Next-Generation MCAS assessments in 2017 and 2018 in grades 6-8; and the legacy grade 8 science and technology/engineering MCAS. In 2018, 18 percent of DLA students in grades 6-8 met or exceeded expectations on the Next-Generation MCAS for English language arts (ELA), far below the state average of 51 percent. In mathematics, 15 percent of students met or exceed expectations, far below the state average of 48 percent. In science and technology/engineering, 3 percent of grade 8 students earned proficient or advanced, far below the state average of 35 percent. Student growth percentiles (SGP) demonstrate that DLA students did not grow at the same rate as their academic peers. While grade six SGP shows higher than average growth in ELA and mathematics, grade seven and eight SGP ranges from 20.9 to 35.8.

Recommendation for Board Action

Given this evidence, further detailed in the attached Site Visit Report, as well as the school's response, I recommend that the Board maintain DLA's probation and establish a new set of conditions.

Condition 1: Until further notice, DLA must submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), at charterschools@doe.mass.edu or 75 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148, board and committee meeting agendas, materials, and minutes prior to each board meeting at the same time that these items are sent to the school's board members. Additionally, if board materials do not already include this information, the school must also submit monthly financial statements. The documents must reflect adherence to the Open Meeting Law.

Condition 2: By February 1, 2019, DLA must submit evidence to the Department that it has provided the school community with notice of the school's status and that the school's charter has been placed on probation with conditions that the school must meet. The school must inform parents/guardians, teachers, staff, board members, students, and other community members of the school's current status.

Condition 3: The board of trustees must work with the Department to revise the board's bylaws according to established criteria and obtain approval of the bylaws by February 15, 2019.

Condition 4: By March 1, 2019, DLA must finalize for Department approval an action plan to address each recommendation contained in the reports of the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the State Auditor.

Condition 5: Beginning March 1, 2019 and until further notice, DLA must provide monthly updates to the Department demonstrating progress toward meeting the goals in its approved action plan and addressing all recommendations contained in the reports of the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the State Auditor.

Condition 6: By April 15, 2019, all members of the board of trustees must participate in training on the Open Meeting Law offered by the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, all members of the board of trustees must participate in training on state ethics offered by the State Ethics Commission.

Condition 7: By December 31, 2019, the school must demonstrate that it is an academic success by providing evidence of significant and sustained academic improvement in mathematics, English language arts, and science. If DLA does not demonstrate academic improvement by December 31, 2019, the Commissioner may recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoke the school's charter.

These conditions outline the need for DLA to make significant and immediate changes in its operation, academic programming, and governance practices. If DLA does not take action that results in improved outcomes for students and improved practices, I will consider recommending revocation of its charter.

In addition to meeting the terms of probation, DLA, like all charter schools, must comply with the terms of its charter. Failure of DLA to meet the conditions within the timelines specified may result in immediate suspension and revocation of the school's charter. I will review and report to the Board on DLA's success or lack of success in meeting the terms of probation.

If you have any questions regarding this recommendation or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); or me.

Attachments

Download Word Document
Audit of Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter Public School (OSA report)

View External Link
Sick Leave Payout and Compensation Package for Former Executive Director of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy (OIG report)

 

Note:


1 DLA was formerly known as Smith Leadership Academy Charter Public School. The school amended its charter to change its name, effective as of the 2014-15 school year.



Last Updated: January 16, 2019
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