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Gloucester charter school to close January 11

Posted by Your Town  January 3, 2013 07:11 PM

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The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School’s brief and turbulent existence will come to a halt next Friday afternoon, Jan. 11, when the school will officially close.

Citing a weak financial ledger and an inability to pay its staff, and already set to close in June after making a deal with the state last month to avoid having its charter revoked, the school’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to shut down early.

“I feel terrible. We worked very hard to make this school work,” said James Caviston, president of the charter’s board of trustees.

Before the school agreed to close, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended revoking the school’s charter, citing poor academic performance, low enrollment, high rates of attrition and staff turnover, and fiscal instability. At that point, the school’s trustees volunteered to surrender the school’s charter – scheduled to last five years – in exchange for the state helping to fund the school through June.

But Caviston and Tony Blackman, another trustee and the charter’s founding executive director, said the school could not continue because of decreasing enrollment. The K-8 school began the year with 136 students – well below its capacity of 240 – and by late last month that number had dwindled to 110.

“In the end we lost our financial destiny due to the reduction in enrollment,” said Blackman.

The school, proposed by some Cape Ann residents who wanted another publicly funded option for children, was borne out of turmoil in 2009. Before it opened – some three weeks late in September of 2010 – the state’s inspector general issued a report charging that the charter had been issued by the state’s education leaders in response to political pressure on Beacon Hill.

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk said about 100 students would be displaced by the school’s closing. Kirk, who originally opposed the school’s creation because it would shift funds away from the public school district, threw her support to the school’s students and parents after it opened, and was the school’s graduation speaker last June.

Kirk said she has been working with school officials to welcome back any of the charter students who want to return to the district schools. “My compassion has rested with the families, who are just trying to do right by their children, and we’ll continue to demonstrate that compassion by easing their transition back to our schools,” said Kirk.

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