The revolt at Providence Creek Academy is about to blow wide open. And at the epicenter of this is Head of School, Chuck Taylor.
Tomorrow night, Providence Creek Academy is holding their July Board of Directors meeting. I have no doubt one of the biggest items of discussion in their Executive Session will be how to handle the growing and mounting concerns of nearly half of their teachers and staff. These employees of the Clayton, DE charter school are not happy. Going by an anonymous group called “We’re Worried”, I’ve been in contact with this group for a month and a half. I went so far as to contact Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting about their concerns. I did so in the bounds of confidentiality and I did not name the school or the Head of School in the conversation. Dr. Bunting stressed that if there is a hostile work environment, the Delaware DOE needs to know immediately so they can take immediate action.
I spoke with her about the group’s concern that any contact could result in PCA being notified of it prior to any investigation taking place. I have seen this happen before with charter schools in Delaware. In reviewing the public records the DOE publishes on their websites during charter school renewals or formal reviews, I saw several instances where the charter school was notified of a parent complaint and that was all the DOE did. I did put up an article about this on June 11th. That article posed more questions than answers. Many events have occurred since that date. I do want to point out that this group has very legitimate concerns about potential retaliation against them for daring to speak out. I salute their bravery and courage in the face of a potential termination should they be “found out”.
On June 30th, the group contacted Secretary Bunting, the Delaware DOE Charter School Office Director Denise Stouffer, Governor John Carney and PCA Board President Amy Santos. The next day, they contacted the Department of Health and Social Services, the Chief Deputy Fire Marshall for Kent County, and the State Fire Marshall for the State of Delaware. Among one of their many complaints was the fact that cigarette smoking was allowed on school grounds, which was allowed by Head of School Charles Taylor and was often seen by students.
One email even suggested that a teacher who is also an active smoker received a performance bonus because of her being able to hang out with the Principal, Audrey Erschen, in the “smoking area”. The group did recognize that I have a personal history with Taylor and he has even told staff at PCA that very same fact whenever I’ve written about PCA in the past. I own that. But I also let that go many years ago. It doesn’t mean I won’t write about things that had absolutely nothing to do with that personal history if they come my way.
The group did receive a response from Charles Simpson. Mr. Simpson said he is an Investigator with the Child Protection Unit. His email had a Delaware DOE address. I looked on the Dept. of Education website and did not find any individual by that name employed with the DOE. I called the phone number he provided in the email, and it answered as “Licensure Investigations”. I did not leave a message. I did look on the State of Delaware website and found a Charles Simpson who used to be the Chief of Delaware State Police. But this email did have a DOE email address. I’ve never heard of that area of the DOE so I am naturally curious about that one. My apologies if it is legit.
Both Stouffer and Simpson stated in their emails they cannot take anonymous complaints. Which leaves this disgruntled group of employees at PCA in a difficult situation. If they do come forward, they run the risk of losing their jobs. If they don’t, their complaints may not be taken seriously. It is a true Catch-22 type of situation. The group contacted Board President Santos on April 3rd about their issues with Taylor. The only responses from Santos were that she would look into it and she would feel better if the group wasn’t anonymous.
April 3rd, 2017, email to Board President Amy Santos
Who is keeping an eye on what is happening at PCA?
Why does an administrator yell at students and suspend them from school for being children?
Why are teachers/staff afraid to speak to the board about the problems?
What can be done to solve the problems?
Why should someone without the temperament to work with children allowed to do so?
When will the board investigate?
April 6th, 2017, response email from Santos to “We’re Worried”
I have shared your concern with other Board Members and will continue to do so. We will discuss your note at our next meeting.
Until then, I will do some fact finding.
April 11th, 2017, email to Santos
As John Dalberg-Acton once said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
If you only get your information from one source, are you certain you are getting the full picture?
He was relieved of his position once before because of bullying staff and students. What has changed?
April 11th, 2017, 9:08am, response from Santos
I would feel better about this correspondence if it wasn’t anonymous. Please feel free to call me.
April 12th, 2017, response to Santos’ last email
We understand. However, anyone that has come forward in the past has lost standing or their position at PCA either through forced resignations or not being rehired. We have avoided this retaliation and we hope we can see an internal resolution to the ongoing issues by communicating with you. Speak with people you trust at PCA to gather information and verify our concerns. The truth will set you free…
May 4th, 2017, email to Santos
We’re still worried. The intent to return forms just went out. Many of us are concerned we may once again lose some good staff because we have a head of school who yells at and belittles students for being children. He demeans staff and shows no interest in our professional growth or our remaining at PCA. We have several new colleagues who would like to work at a school where the head of school cares about both the students and the staff. It does not have to be this way. We were hopeful that the search for a new head of school would have resolved these concerns, but we haven’t heard any updates in months. How long will this continue? How many more quality staff members do we need to lose? It may not be as bad as the theft that went on a few years ago in the eyes of the law, but it feels much worse to many of our staff and students. Please help…
May 19th, 2017, email to Santos
PCA Board President,
Things have gotten worse. Head of School Mr. Charles Taylor has violated students civil rights, verbally abused staff, broken school policies, made false school reports, intimidated school staff, not provided due process rights, physically harassed students, created a hostile work environment, cursed at staff in areas where students could hear, bullied students and staff, physically postured toward students, threatened termination of staff. We have seen too much.
If you want us to turn this over to the department of education or others please say so. We are concerned if this gets out PCA will be in the news like we were just a few years ago.
We know you would be more comfortable if we were not anonymous but we are risking much to contact you. We’re afraid of pay back and the poor opinions others have of PCA because of the previous theft and not finding work because of it all. We don’t want to be forced out.
We are hoping because you have kids here you will help with what is going on. We worry what will happen next. We love PCA and our students.
Please help or tell us who to give this to to help.
June 10th, 2017, email to myself from “We’re Worried”
Mr. Kevin Ohlandt,
We are hopeful that you and Exceptional Delaware can assist in the below described concerns and more recent crises. Our next steps will be to contact the Delaware Department of Education and/or education attorneys
While I won’t share every email from them on this blog due to various reasons, I felt this one was very telling in their description of Head of School Chuck Taylor:
We believe Santos follows his orders as opposed to leading the board. Taylor is connected at the DDOE, DCSN, and CSAC. For some unknown reason, a high school graduate, with no bona fide leadership credentials, former shop teacher, has wormed his way into every facet of charter school governance in DE. We are at a loss for how or why so many are fooled. He continues to protect several who benefited from the misuse of funds back in 2014. Some new faculty and administrators have attempted change, but at the risk to their career at PCA and his potential broader reach. Do you have DDOE contacts to alert beyond the one’s already in his hip pocket? The recent climate survey confirms the campus culture and concerns. He rules like a dictator, with no regard for those involved, student, parent, teacher, colleague, save for what may make him look good in the moment. Would an open letter phrasing the noted concerns as issues worthy of answers work? Again, we love our school, but are ashamed and alarmed as to what has happened and continues to occur. We know he dislikes you and your reach, that is one reason we hope you may know best how to help…
This part was somewhat difficult for me. I’ve spent the better part of three years essentially bashing on the Delaware DOE. It is hard to know who to trust over there. I’ve had very limited dealings with Stouffer, unlike her predecessor, Jennifer Nagourney. Which was why I suggested they contact Dr. Bunting. I’ve dealt with three different Secretaries of Education in Delaware. On the day of Dr. Bunting’s Senate confirmation, I introduced myself and she suggested we meet. We did so two weeks later and had a very cordial conversation about education in The First State. While we don’t always agree on issues, the dialogue is there.
I did recommend to the group they might want to pursue the possibility of unionizing which has not been done in Delaware charter school history. Their response:
Good Evening Kevin,
We have some thoughts. First, thank you for the words of caution. We have done our best not to expose our identities. We all hope to remain at PCA, ideally with a change of leadership in the future.
Unionizing has been a previous exploration, but with the recent RIFs in local districts, we struggle to hold at a firm 50% affirmation threshold. Plus, we agree he would decimate the staff if it were to fall through.
Please consider posting our concerns on your blog as questions worthy of answers. Although our anonymity may not be ideal, we are staff, faculty, as well as parents of PCA students in search of a solution to troubling conditions. The board is effectively barred from communicating directly with faculty, or anyone else but Mr. Taylor. (redacted some potential points of contact for their own protection ) We are not giving these names as members of We’re Worried, but rather as potential points of contact for you or others interested in helping to solve these major problems at the school we care to see succeed.
We hope you can help and ask that since we know you care about education in DE, that you will find a way to affect positive change. You have our permission to share our correspondence with whomever you deem helpful in providing solutions to the ongoing educational malpractice and hostile workplace issues.
Thank you for your consideration,
I naturally had some questions for the group prior to contacting Bunting. I do get fake information at times so I felt the need to give them the “sniff test” so to speak. They passed with flying colors.
Good Morning Kevin,
Below are the most accurate answers to your questions to the best of our understandings.
The others involved have been protected by Chuck Taylor. They benefited financially, if not directly, but are not the one(s) who signed the P-card or cooked the books.
Back in 2013-2014, Chuck Taylor verbally abused and berated a staff member at dismissal in front of hundreds of students and many staff members. It nearly became a physical altercation. The board rewarded him with a substantial pay-off to quietly “retire” as a consultant to the school. The staff member was summarily dismissed. The non-disclosure has mostly held, but those on campus that witnessed that day’s events know what happened and why all the silence. His current behavior is as bad, if not worse, than back then.
PCA was selected but did not proceed with the alternative to the DPAS II this school year. Instead, a non-educator from Enterprise Rental Cars was hired to conduct all faculty/staff DPAS II evaluation. However, that is all smoke and mirrors. Chuck Taylor decides who is hired, fired, and retained. He recently fired a special needs employee acting as a buffer between a father and son to avoid violating the school’s nepotism policy. He was the scapegoat terminated when the son’s work team wasn’t meeting expectations. Chuck Taylor treats all employees as a nuisance, easily fired as the at-will nature of the employment agreement states. We’ve seen Wawa employees treated with much more dignity.
When needed, some of us will go on record, but only if protected under whistle-blower like insulation. We thank you for your discretion and hope your post and connections lead to a bright future for PCA, its staff, and its students.
PCA 2016-2017 and hopefully into the future
The next day I contacted Dr. Bunting. She said she would be happy to speak with the group or a representative of the group. I advised the group of this in an email:
Hello again. Secretary Bunting called me back. I had a long chat about the situation there. I did not mention PCA or Chuck Taylor, just that it was a charter school. She promised confidentiality until someone comes forward. I spoke about the fear and intimidation. As well, I mentioned how in the past the Charter School Office or State Board would go straight to the school. She said in this type of situation, the needs of the staff are paramount and they would have to investigate it. She did say there are other areas of DOE where this could happen aside from the charter school office. Or she could take the information.
She was very concerned and stressed that if there is a hostile work environment there it absolutely cannot be allowed to continue no matter what the school or circumstances.
Hope this helps. I can give you her contact information.
The group made their decision on June 30th, the final day of Fiscal Year 2017. I spent a considerable amount of time at Legislative Hall that day and did see Dr. Bunting. Since we were both on the group’s email, I felt it was prudent to make sure she had read it. She said she did and she immediately contacted Stouffer in the Charter School Office.
Good Morning Kevin,
We have a volunteer to speak with Dr. Susan Bunting. Prior to doing so, we have another development on which we would like to seek your guidance. As you know, Chuck Taylor rules PCA with an iron fist and his own private fiefdom. He could care less about some state and federal laws. The issue is that since PCA owns its own buildings, and since PCA is a charter school, and since PCA is on privately owned land, Chuck Taylor knowingly and willingly violates state and federal laws by allowing employees to smoke cigarettes (and perhaps other items) on campus, within view of students at times, posing a serious danger to students’ health (second hand smoke through ventilation system, modeling unhealthy behaviors to K-8 students, fire hazard) and safety, Our own school policies forbid said practices and I believe state and federal laws should apply to PCA as a charter school since we receive state and federal funding.
We ask that you provide insight on how to proceed? We know he is condoning the violations of PCA policies. Is he breaking state and federal laws? If so, how do we report it? To whom do we report it?
Dr. Susan Bunting will be receiving a call this week.
As always, we appreciate your assistance and attempts to keep education in DE honest, fair, equitable, and above reproach.
PCA 2016-2017 and into the future
The next day, the group sent an email to various state agencies and several areas of the Delaware DOE:
Good Morning All,
We are reaching out to all of you because of the multiple concerns we have raised occurring at Providence Creek Academy Public Charter School and have yet to see any changes. We emailed several department of education contacts yesterday but have agreed that additional people might also be a help. Please read the email thread from our original requests for help with our board of directors until our recent requests to the governor’s office and the department of education. We are powerless except for our voices to be heard by you. Please act as you feel is in the best interests of our students, our students’ parents, and our colleagues that you feel they deserve. We are sad that we could not fix the situations on our own. We appreciate any help. Our thanks on behalf of our group and the PCA students and families we represent. We realize some of the recipients of this email may have a relationship with Charles Taylor and ask that you investigate the situation holding those relationships aside. We hope the fact that we are just a small charter school in Clayton, Delaware doesn’t stop you from becoming involved. Some of us have worked here nearly as long as the school has been in existence, and we know we can rise above the current problems.
Major concerns regarding Providence Creek Academy and Charles Taylor, Head of School:
Smoking on campus – visible to students, condoned by Charles Taylor
Bullying students and staff – by Charles Taylor, yelling at students, suspensions without following school code of conduct
Yours in education,
When Stouffer responded to the group the following Monday, she said she would have to talk to the DOE attorney about taking anonymous complaints. The group responded that since they felt the DOE would not take anonymous complaints, they would obtain their own legal counsel.
Many of our group were busy with vacation this week. We were unable to pick a time we all could call. We will be involving legal advice to proceed. It seems many people want to know who we are instead of what we have seen and documented. Lawyers were not our plan. Others have made the choice. We wanted to avoid another scandal. Not our choice. The board knew. The department was told. So much for kids coming first. Cover ups by board and Charles Taylor.
We’re Worried and Willing to Stand Up,
PCA 2002-2017-new leadership?
I followed up with the group a week later to see where things stood, and this was their response:
Good Afternoon Kevin,
Stouffer cared only about who we are, not what we have seen and can document. At several points, she defended Taylor because she knows him and has worked with him on many occasions. Sounds like the logic of the Catholic Church when they covered up all of the priest scandals. Taylor puts on a great dog and pony show when outsiders come visit the campus. We did not disclose our identities once we realized she was already in his back pocket so to speak.
We have a thought on how you might be able to help. In the air of balanced reporting, you could reach out to Taylor, Stouffer, Santos and the rest of those involved to get their side of the story. Our guess is that they will hide behind the excuse that they do not investigate anonymous reports. As Delawareans and community citizens, we are pleased our state and local police do not subscribe to that ridiculous policy. Even the state child abuse hotline does not require those reporting to disclose their identity.
One would have to wonder why those in power Taylor/Santos would not want to clear the school’s and their names. You could also follow up on why those involved with the original misuse of funds have yet to be prosecuted. It’s interesting how Taylor has devised a different scam to raise additional funds to use at his discretion, not with the students’ best interest in mind.
Stouffer denies that the school has a smoking area. Many of us have seen Erschen and others smoke daily on campus, all with Taylor’s approval. Again, covered up because Stouffer believes Taylor without question. One of the teachers who received a performance bonus this year smokes daily on campus too. We guess if you’re a Taylor pet, you get to do what you want.
If you have any contacts that want to right the wrongs at PCA, we would be happy to provide enough details to set the record straight and hopefully lead to school improvements. We are still not certain why the board is so clueless. Taylor’s record should be evidence enough of his inability to manage an effective school and avoid major scandals.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
We’re Worried and Motivated to Make it Right,
PCA 2002-2017-into an inviting school climate
I chose not to contact Taylor, Santos or Stouffer. Even though I have been involved in this as some type of odd blogger middle man, I know how these things work. None of them would give me information, especially about personnel issues at one of Delaware’s schools. And I respect that. I took a week and a half off from blogging but did reach out to the group yesterday to see where things are at and if they wanted me to write anymore about what has been going on. They agreed:
Good Morning Kevin,
We appreciate your email and hope you are feeling refreshed. You have our permission to go public with all of the information provided in our previous email. A local media outlet is requesting interviews, but we would prefer if you break this story wide open first, especially considering all the work you have done trying to right the wrongs in DE’s educational system. It remains a corrupt system protecting morally bankrupt individuals, with little accountability, especially in the charter world. We have attached our last list of concerns for easy access for you. The DOE seems adrift with respect to how to proceed, we believe largely because Chuck Taylor has conned Denise Stouffer into believing his facade. We all agree it’s time for a nuclear option. Feel free not to hold back.
PCA 2002-2017 into the light of day
The Charter School Office needs to STOP playing nicey-nice with Chuck Taylor and get to the bottom of this, as soon as possible. Of course Taylor would adamantly deny these allegations. But I believe this group and what they are saying. Aside from my own experience with Chuck, I have heard others in the Smyrna community talk of difficulty in dealing with Taylor. The group is right, absolute power does corrupt. And for Chuck Taylor, his power IS Providence Creek Academy. But the school would certainly survive without him. DOE: Do the right thing here and don’t be fooled! You have a group of people afraid for their jobs, their paychecks. They are doing the right thing here and trying to bring light to a horrible situation. I shouldn’t have to blog about this. You should have been on this the second you got that email. So don’t blame me when the calls start coming in tomorrow! You had a chance here and I gave you plenty of time to act!
As always with this blog, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. I don’t hate charter schools even though some folks like to say that. What I hate is the games that go on in Delaware education. And as the Smyrna School District recently learned, I will tackle any issues of excessive power mongering by the adults in charge. While the issues in this seem to be mainly about the staff at PCA, that will invariably trickle down to the students. And if students have seen Taylor’s power play at work, they have already been affected. There have been times where I do try to help folks before I write about it. I believe in a certain “chain of command” to follow. In this case, the group did the right thing in going to Santos. She ignored their cries for help. They came to me, and I worked with them on getting them to contact the DOE. But then, the ball just seemed to drop. There is no excuse. Just because Taylor has “high standing” over there as a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee doesn’t mean he’s the bloody Pope! Once again, the DOE failed to act, so I did. That’s how I roll. Waiting on you guys to do some rolling here…