In the wake of last week’s closing of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School, more than 20 teachers received pink slips, while parents scrambled to find new schools for their children.
Out of the 110 students that left the charter school, 98 enrolled in the Gloucester school district, said Superintendent Richard Safier. He said the 3,124-student district had been preparing for the new students for the last month, when the charter school showed signs of an early closing.
“A lot of this has to do with easing parents’ concerns and anxiety,” said Safier, “and we wanted to be as sensitive to them as possible.”
Safier said that 54 former charter school students enrolled at the city’s five elementary schools, and another 44 were added at O’Maley Middle School. He said the schools provided a personal orientation for parents and students as they made the transition. The students — along with the rest of the children in the district — will take assessment tests that will help educators evaluate the students’ academic progress, Safier added.
“We want to get them into classrooms and let them get comfortable and get challenged and then we’ll see where we stand,” said Safier. “The next few weeks will tell us where each student is and what we need to do on their behalf.”
The former K-8 school opened in September 2010 with a five-year state charter, but during the last 28 months it suffered from continual financial problems and low enrollment. Citing financial instability and other issues, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester placed the school on probation just days after it opened.
After the state’s Charter School Office visited the school in the fall and issued a scathing report, concluding that the school lacked a curriculum and describing disorder in some classrooms, Chester announced plans to recommend revoking its charter. Last month, the school’s Board of Trustees agreed to surrender the charter in exchange for the right to remain open until June. But with parents and students unsure of the school’s future, and enrollment continuing to decline — the school began the year with 136 students — the board closed the school last week.
Once hailed as an innovative alternative to the Gloucester school district that would use the arts to help students better understand math, science, and English, the 28-month-old facility sat empty this week in Blackburn Industrial Park. Last Wednesday, after a final gathering of about 50 students expressed their final feelings over pizza, the school was closed.
“One of the strongest things about the school was the different ways in which we tried to build community, and this was another example of having a sharing between each other,” said Beth Delforge, who had served as the school’s principal since the start of the academic year.
Delforge and 25 of the school’s employees, including 21 teachers, have been laid off. While some have found temporary jobs, nearly all are looking for full-time work, said Delforge. She said nearly all of the educators and staff were new at the school, having started in the fall.
Delforge said she hoped area communities would continue to open alternative schools.
“There are a lot of different children in the world, and we need to have schools to match their differences and meet their needs. That’s our job as educators and parents,” she said.
Last week, Frank Gentile was apprehensive about telling his son, Jordan — who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism — that the charter school was closing. Jordan had attended the school since it opened and was flourishing there, according to his father.
Last Thursday, Gentile took his son to the O’Maley school and was pleased with the reception. The family met with guidance counselors, a special education teacher, and other educators. On Friday, they received a follow-up e-mail from the school’s special-ed teacher.
“I think they really put forth an effort to make us feel comfortable and, more importantly, to make Jordan feel comfortable. My wife and I appreciate that,” said Gentile.
Gloucester’s Peter Van Ness, who served as chairman of the founding charter board, said he planned to home-school his 9-year-old son, who had been in the fourth grade at the charter school. Van Ness blamed politics, not low enrollment or financial problems, for the school’s closing.
“It was a shining hope for education that got squashed by politics.”