The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Statement from the Chairman of the Board, James A. Peyser
Before addressing the specific issue of renewal, I want to first thank all the people who have worked so hard over the past five years on behalf of the students and families of the Lynn Community Charter School.
Starting a charter school is hard work. It is a 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week job, which demands both an ability to juggle ten things at once and a willingness to do any task-no matter how menial. It is not for the faint of heart, or for those who require comfort and security. People who launch charter schools often face skepticism and outright hostility from friends and neighbors. What's more, there are no guarantees. If the buses don't arrive on time, you can't call the district for help. And if there aren't enough parents willing to choose your school, you can't assign other students to fill the empty seats.
In the end, what keeps charter school founders going is a fervent belief that they can create excellence for students who would otherwise have to settle for mediocrity or worse. And by doing this work, these pioneers believe they can help improve the public school system, as a whole.
I speak for all my colleagues on the Board, when I say that the founders, staff, board and volunteers of the Lynn Community Charter School deserve our deepest gratitude and respect for embracing this challenge with courage, persistence, and good faith.
Today, the Board is faced with a difficult decision. The staff and leadership of the Lynn Community Charter School have made a heroic effort to create an innovative school that expands and improves educational opportunities for urban students who face many difficult challenges. The parents and students of LCCS are deeply committed to the school and passionate about its nurturing environment. Nevertheless, there is little evidence that the school has been successful in raising student achievement and its governance structure is in disarray. Now, we are asked to set aside the record of the school's first four years, and rely instead on a plan for change and a promise of stronger leadership.
The process for renewing a charter, however, is not about plans and promises; it is about results. Is the school an academic success? Has it been faithful to its charter? Is the school a viable organization? These have been the ground rules for renewal since the day the Lynn Community Charter School first opened its doors.
Even though the criteria are clear, there is flexibility built into the renewal process, to ensure that strong schools that get off to a slow start are not unfairly penalized. Charter schools that demonstrate effective leadership and high quality academic programs, despite the lack of an established track record of student achievement, can and should be renewed-although, such renewals may come with conditions. The case before us, however, does not meet even this more forgiving standard.
Lynn Community Charter School is not a strong school that just took a few years to hit its stride. Instead, it is a school that is in the midst of dramatic and pervasive change, whose outcome is entirely uncertain. The school's curriculum and academic culture are being overhauled. Turnover levels of staff and students have been persistently high. The professional leadership, which has just recently changed hands, lacks a chief executive and has several vacancies in key positions. The board of trustees, which has been rent by disagreements over core elements of the school's mission and values, has been barely half filled for the past school year and has just lost its chairman.
The principal is widely praised for her commitment, intelligence, and vision. Nevertheless, she lacks a supporting team of experienced professionals who can implement the school's ambitious turn-around plan. What's more, her authority and role in the leadership structure remain uncertain, as there continues to be a vacancy in the executive director's position.
Even if the status of the professional leadership were clearer, that would not mitigate the fact that the board of trustees is foundering. For in the end, it is the board, not the staff, which holds the charter and is accountable to the state. As well meaning as the present board members are, the fact remains that the board has not functioned effectively for well over a year. Indeed, the recent resignation of the chairman, in an apparent attempt to assuage concerns of this Board, only serves to confirm the extent of drift and confusion.
I know that many of my colleagues have struggled with whether the closure of LCCS would be in the best interests of the students, irrespective of the school's lackluster performance. After all, these young people and their families remain committed to the school, and the Lynn Public Schools-while improving-have problems of their own.
There is no easy answer to these concerns. Nevertheless, the data presented to the Board at our special meeting earlier this month indicate that student performance in the Lynn Public Schools generally exceeds that of the Lynn Community Charter School-even after taking demographic factors into account. And although no one can guarantee that every LCCS student will be better off in the Lynn Public Schools, the Commissioner is committed to working with the Lynn superintendent to ensure that LCCS students are placed in schools and programs that fit their needs.
As much as we have an obligation to the 260 students currently enrolled in the Lynn Community Charter School, we also have an obligation to the many thousands of students yet to come, who deserve a higher quality public education system. For these students, whose names we do not know and whose faces we do not see, we must ensure that the promise of charter schools and education reform is fulfilled, through a system of high expectations and accountability for results. Excusing poor performance by accepting plans and promises, would be a disservice to future generations of students, in Lynn and throughout the Commonwealth.
For these reasons, it is with tremendous regret that I urge members of the board to vote in favor of the motion not to renew the charter of the Lynn Community Charter School.