Providence Creek Academy held their parent forum last night to address the threat made by a teacher when he was terminated last week. Parents were furious because of the lack of communication from the school and the fact that many of them heard about it through Facebook or other parents emails. The lack of transparency in this situation caused parents to rise up and demand answers.
I know charter schools like to keep things “all in the family”, but when parents are concerned about their child’s safety, all bets are off. Had parents been notified of the threat issued, they could have made up their own minds about having their child attend school that day. Had this been done in a public school district, the media would have been all over it, but in little Delaware, the charters are protected.
In the midst of all this chaos, Chuck Taylor has returned to the school. Taylor used to be the head of school at PCA until he left at the end of the 2012-2013 school year. He then went to Campus Community and served as the temporary head of school for about five months and served as vice president of their Board of Directors until June of this year. Now he is back at Providence Creek raising all sorts of hell with teachers for communicating with parents about these issues. I’ve had my own personal encounters with the man, and he is not a reasonable fellow. Many others in the Kent County region have seen this man’s wrath exposed.
Issues with security were a hotbed of conversation last night, including security cameras that aren’t working. One parent wrote on their public Facebook page last night:
So, after attending this evening’s Parent Forum, I came away feeling more comfortable about the recent “threat” that has been the center of this issue, but have found new concerns regarding a number of items that were uncovered. First I want to say that it seems that there are a number of issues internal to the school, and its administration, that are influencing the way communications are being handled, and it would seem that the school administration has no security, or succession plans, in place. Perhaps the biggest concern of all is the fact that members of the school administration openly admitted to significant lapses in the school’s security, including the mishandling of visitor registration and tracking on the property, and inoperable surveillance cameras. Parents were assured that new procedures are being put in place everyday, and old procedures would be be implemented properly from this point forward. However, until new policies are firmly in place and old ones are enforced, the existing security procedures seem inadequate, if not useless altogether. I think that the main topic of discussion could have easily been avoided with open communications regarding the “threat” that was received. Parents, and even teachers and other staff members, don’t need to know particulars of the threat, especially if it’s under investigation, but if the school were to communicate the threat to parents, that’s all that would be needed for parents to make their own decision as to whether or not they should send their child to school during this time. After all, this is exactly what happened at the end of the school year last year. Apparently, the Smyrna School district was receiving a number of bomb threats, and even though PCA was not the focus of those threats, PCA administration sent a note home to parents communicating that the threats were taking place, and that since PCA was so close to the Smyrna schools impacted, that it was the parents’ decisions whether or not they felt it was safe to attend school during that threat. That same practice should have been used here. No need to cover everything up. That just smells bad. As a parent, if I received correspondence of such a threat, and assurance from the Department of Homeland Security, THE DSP, the AG’s office, and the Clayton Police, that the threat was not formidable or was confirmed as not being legitimate, I wouldn’t have a problem sending my child to school that day. However, the circumstances surrounding the latest issue were not handled in the correct sequential order for whatever reason. Any time parents are hearing of such issues from another parent, or a child, the school has failed at communicating effectively. Communications should be forwarded in several different manners – email, the Delaware notification services, hard copy, and Facebook. Middletown HS uses the Delaware notification services, and it’s very effective in handling announcements. I think that administration is handling the situation the best they can, but unfortunately in this case, that’s not good enough. The good news is, the school knows there are issues that need to be fixed, and they’ve accepted responsibility for that. Hopefully, they follow through with their promises.
It sounds like the administration and the Board have their work cut out for them to gain trust back from parents. This will be a long school year! One way they can get that trust back is full transparency. They need to digitally record their board meetings, as all charter schools and public school districts should. Maybe these issues can illustrate to legislators why this is so important. When you have an administration getting upset at staff for informing parents, there is an accountability issue.
Updated, 11:16am: No school for Providence Creek tomorrow! The school is closed for a “day of reflection”.
This letter was sent to parents on 11/2:
November 2, 2014
Dear PCA Parents/Guardians,
I have received several requests for clarification on the letter that was sent home on Friday. There have been a lot of changes at PCA recently and some of these changes have caused unrest among our community. I feel the need to address all of the questions that I have been hearing, in order to offer clarification.
Performance Frameworks evaluate our school in three critical areas: organization, financial, and academic. Based on our most recent report, there are some areas that the board and administration have targeted for improvement as we prepare for the charter renewal process next year, but more importantly for giving our children the education they so deserve. Although slight, our test scores have had a downward trend, which we feel needs to be addressed immediately. Among other measures, we have entered into a consulting relationship with the President of the Governing Board of the DE Charter Schools Network, Mr. Chuck Taylor, because of his experience in helping other charter schools make the necessary changes to improve their frameworks.
After carefully evaluating the organizational structure of our school, the board has deemed it necessary to divide the responsibilities of our current Head of School/Principal position into two separate positions. PCA will now have a Principal and a Head of School. Mrs. Erschen has indicated a preference for the responsibilities of the Principal position and so we have now started the search for a Head of School.
Mr. Taylor is with us on a temporary basis as a consultant until we have made the necessary changes for improvement. My hope is that these improvements can be made in the next two months.
As for the police presence on campus, there have been some tensions between personnel that have started a chain of reactions. Due to the rumors that have surfaced surrounding these incidents we have reached out to several state and local agencies for support, the police being one of them. Although we recognize that the rumors we are hearing repeated back to us are grossly over exaggerated and some outright false, we feel that we can never be too cautious in dealing with the safety of our students and staff.
I can assure you, as a parent and former educator, I am extremely cautious with the education and well being of my children. I have known all of the details of the confidential matters at hand and I have sent my children to school without reservation and will continue to do so.
There will be a parent forum on Monday, November 3rd at 10am and 7pm to allow parents the opportunity to have their concerns addressed.
President, PCA Board of Directors
And then the Smyrna Sun Times put this article up last night:
The best part is the comment section for why Chuck Taylor left the school, which states this:
Some insight in to how the PCA board and administration operate. “Your children are my children”, says Ms. Erschen. Her son was the IT department for years. His gross incompetence because of lack of proper qualifications allowed students at PCA to take their standardize tests with computers that malfunction. Despite complaints by teachers, absolutely nothing was done to correct this. Mr. Taylor who was recently brought in to act as a consultant did not have his contract renewed from PCA a few years ago because he assaulted a member of the staff. This is the type of managerial decisions made by the PCA board and administration. This is what they determine is the best interest of the children. After ten years taking things one step at a time is unacceptable. The management – for lack of a better term – should resign en masse and find new jobs that don’t directly negatively affect our childrens’ education.
Read more: http://www.scsuntimes.com/article/20141103/News/141109919#ixzz3I7LtF1vP
Hmm, sounds like there has been years of transparency issues going on at this school. But what I found interesting is their letter to parents. They hired Chuck Taylor as a consultant after his contract was not renewed (based on what the above commenter wrote) because he assaulted a member of the staff. What was the nature of the assault? Physical? Verbal? Did he throw a chair at someone? Why would the school mention standardized test scores in a letter to parents about safety concerns at the school? The best way for any organization to have people ignore an issue is to create an even bigger one. Now I’m not saying that’s what is going on here without proof, but is the school in trouble academically as well? It looks like it based on this letter, and if they are up for charter renewal in the Spring, things will be very tense at this school.
Now WDDE in Delaware is reporting a board member has resigned and another one is getting ready to. Meanwhile, the school’s Facebook page is showing none of their offices will be open tomorrow. Parents are going back and forth about the school being closed tomorrow. I even joined the fray! The Delaware Charter School Network, as per the WDDE article:
currently advising the school on tightening its security measures, including more rigorous ID checks at entrances. – See more at: http://www.wdde.org/69426-providence-creek-academy-parents-air-concerns-school-safety#sthash.7zxzVxay.dpuf
Even Rodel has posted on their website about the issue: http://www.rodelfoundationde.org/november-4-2014/
The Smyrna Sun Times wrote a new article about the school closing tomorrow, and reported one parent mentioned at the meeting last night that she heard something was going to happen at the school on November 5th. http://www.scsuntimes.com/article/20141104/NEWS/141109907/13572/NEWS
It seems like the school is actually creating more drama on this issue, unless there is a real and grave concern about something happening there tomorrow. While the police know of no credible threat, the school may be afraid or they are trying to do the right thing for the students and parents. Nobody knows, because the principal and the board are giving very general statements to the media. I would love to hear from anyone who knows actual information on this. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.
Updated, 7:50pm: In the story that just won’t go away any time soon, this parent posted this on Facebook about the school closing tomorrow:
I personally am glad school is closed tomorrow. Its the day of the so called threat that no one would talk about at the meeting. The meeting yesterday did not alleviate any of my fears. I feel this school has always made a habit of holding its students and parents to a higher standard than they actually hold themselves. Security issues need to be addressed. Communications with parents is a must! How can anyone say there isn’t a security problem when you can walk into a school building at any given time. I see parents piggybacking students and signed in parents all the time. How do I trust a administration that couldn’t send out information from the very beginning instead of learning about it through social media. I would have had more respect for the situation if some vague nonsensical letter wasn’t sent out and some actual facts were sent to me. They need a day to reflect on what’s going to change.
and another parent wrote:
How can the board state the the school is being closed due to feelings, instead of the fact that a threat was made against the school for this exact day by the IT staff member that was forced to resign last week? The same IT member that is the son to Mrs. Erschen. By the way, the board seems to also have left out that the other staff member that was arrested for having guns on property was Mrs. Erschen’s brother. Does anyone else notice that all of the issues at PCA seem to come back to one person?! The board would have been better off forcing her to resign along with her son. How can they stand by her when according to online research she lives under the same roof as the person who threatened the school? I hope someone can step in and save this school because these children deserve so much better.
Another parent posted her feelings about this earlier, but claimed her comments were deleted on the Facebook posting. I think the last thing any parents wants to see from this school is censorship on a public forum. Who is calling the shots? Erschen, the principal, was reportedly out during most of the month of October on “personal leave”, but has since returned to the school. And now we are hearing the custodian is her brother and not a distant relative? This story is getting more bizarre by the minute.
UPDATED, 7:35am, 11/5/14: The missing Facebook post has been found. I went by what the parent said, but it does appear on their posts to page which doesn’t show up in the regular feed. My apologies for any confusion with this minor issue. Parents are continuing to go back and forth on Facebook. Some state this is no big deal while others are demanding change or contemplating pulling their kids out of the school. Meanwhile, the students of Providence Creek Academy will hopefully enjoy a drama-free day off from the school to “reflect on their feelings”.