During the most recent site visit, Class Measures reported “the school provided a rigorous academic program, character development, and a structured learning environment. Consistent with its mission, MVRCS has continued to provide strong academics, an education that stresses morals and virtues, and preparation for college.’’Greene, the spokeswoman for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, acknowledged that “complaints about and concerns regarding Mystic Valley were a factor in imposing conditions on the school’s charter.” She said that although a formal complaint process exists, many concerns about the state’s charter schools come to the department’s attention through other means. In those instances, state officials explain the formal complaint process; it is then up to the complainant to decide whether to pursue the matter further, Greene said.
The educational consultancy hired by the state noted that “Mystic Valley families are satisfied with the school’s academic program as well as the school’s culture, communications, and support . . . the school was described as a nurturing place in which student felt well known by teachers.”
In a survey included in the review, 309 of 345 respondents, or 89.5 percent, indicated that they were satisfied with their decision to send their children to Mystic Valley.
Still, state education records reveal that concerns about the school’s governance have been an issue for many years.
In October 2007, in a memo to the state Board of Education, Jeffrey Nellhaus, then the acting commissioner of education, noted that Mystic Valley’s board of trustees “refused to . . . [set] specific, reasonable limits on successive or total terms that a member may serve” and noted that “the school does not comply with the provisions of the state’s Open Meeting Law,” which requires governmental bodies, when discussing the public’s business, to give advance notice of meetings; hold its meetings in open session; and keep minutes of the meetings and make them public.
Other governance issues also were detailed in the lengthy report issued last month. Under state guidelines, a charter school’s bylaws should prohibit its trustees from managing the day-to-day operations of the school. However, according to the report, inspectors found that Mystic Valley’s board of trustees “makes many decisions that are typically the purview of charter school administrators.”
During a site visit made by Class Measures, teachers said revisions to the curriculum often were slowed because the board must approve changes, and a review of board meeting minutes from 2010 “revealed that the board discussed, voted on, and approved matters regarding the details of instructional practices, after-school activity options, and a multitude of other curricular issues . . .,” the review noted.
The report also stated that the board “does not formally involve stakeholders in some major decisions, such as the development of its strategic plan or the appointment of a director.”
The report states the school’s current strategic plan was developed primarily by Kinnon, and that when the school hired a new executive director, the board did not appoint a committee of teachers and/or parents to participate in the process. Parents said it was “difficult to communicate with the board.”
Kinnon took issue with the findings.
“The school’s board of trustees does not believe it violated the Open Meeting Law,” he said. “Our board meetings are all open and we have [had] open sessions at nearly every one for 15 years.”
Kinnon said a recent conversation he had with Cliff W. Chuang, associate commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, revealed that Chester’s decision to impose conditions on the school and deny its request to expand was influenced by numerous complaints state education officials claimed to have received about Mystic Valley and its board in writing, by phone, and anonymously. Kinnon said state officials never shared those complaints with Mystic Valley’s board of trustees and claimed such notification is required by law.
“The only thing ‘opaque’ here is the Department of Education’s explanation on not providing us these complaints they supposedly have, and by law they were supposed to share, so that we could rectify the issues or determine they were baseless and report back to the department,” Kinnon said. “We don’t know if [those complaints] really exist.”Continued...