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Arts academy won't rehire Glickert, backs out of contract with Losos

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 7, 2013: Grand Center Arts Academy says that despite protests, it will not rehire Lynne Glickert as its principal, but Louise Losos will not be principal beginning next month either.

In a statement released Thursday evening, the board of Confluence Charter Schools, which runs the school for the performing and visual arts, said it met Thursday morning and reaffirmed its decision not to renew the contract of Glickert, who learned of the decision last Friday.

But, the board said, it also decided, “after conversation with Dr. Louise Losos, that it is in the best interest of Grand Center Arts Academy to form a committee to conduct a national search for the next principal of the school. The Board and Dr. Losos have mutually agreed that she will not serve as principal of GCAA in 2013-14.”

In an email Friday morning, Glickert said she once again was shocked by the action of the board in not retaining her as principal.

"I was so hopeful the board was paying attention to what the parents and students were requesting. They only got it partly right. Only individual board members can speak to their motivation for making a decision that is NOT rooted in what is best for the students at GCAA. 

"This appears to be an adult fight about power and control. I was naive to think that it was about students.

"I have no idea what the next steps are for parents. Only they can answer that.   I do know that what could best be described as anger on their part has now turned to rage.  They assure me this fight is not over."  

Losos did not respond to a request for comment.

Rhonda Holt, who heads the parent association at the school, which had been strongly critical of the decision not to rehire Glickert, reacted sharply to the latest news.

“This absolutely shocked me,” she told the Beacon. “I’m shocked and appalled.

“I had no sense that a decision was going to be formally reached until Monday.”

Asked whether the parents were accepting the latest move, Holt said:

“I probably already have 50 emails and 25 texts. We’re not ready to give up. We want to keep fighting. We’re still working on that plan.”

In a statement from the parent group Friday morning, Holt said:

"First, parents would like to thank the Board for hearing our serious concerns about inserting as principal a candidate with no arts background and a questionable record. We are relieved that our children will not be exposed to someone with whom we are not comfortable. We are also grateful they have acknowledged that a transparent search is necessary, should a new head of school be required.

"We are not, however, content with the Board’s continued refusal to reinstate Lynne Glickert, and remain committed to bringing her back to GCAA, to continue the job she has so effectively been doing since before the school opened its doors in 2010.

"We left Tuesday night’s Board meeting with the understanding that they would work with a small group of parent representatives to resolve these issues.  Instead, they met behind closed doors and publicly issued their decision without first contacting us.  We ask that they meet with us on Monday evening as originally planned to continue this dialogue.

"The principal we know and respect is committed to collaboration and a spirit of collegiality on behalf of her students. Because the Board has indicated only 'philosophical differences' and 'non-collaboration' as the reasons for her contract non-renewal, we believe continued discussion is warranted.   We look forward to receiving more information via our Sunshine Law requests next week, and hope more light will be shed on what we can only describe as a puzzling disconnect between what they describe and the leader we know and trust.  We will continue to work toward her reinstatement as soon as possible.”

A student performance is planned for Friday night in front of the school and in the park across from the Fox Theatre.

The school had scheduled a parent forum for Monday evening to discuss the situation, but the statement from the board said that “due to the significant progress that has been made,” that meeting has been canceled. It added that the board “will reach out to teachers, staff, parents and community partners as quickly as possible to develop plans for the search committee, as well as next steps.”

It said that the committee will include teachers, staff, parents, students and community partners as well as board members.

The committee will determine whether an interim principal will be needed for the coming school year or whether assistant principals Laura Hoffman and Ted Frigillana will be in charge. The board said it expects to have a principal in place on or before the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

Glickert has said she had no idea when she went in for what she considered to be a routine performance review last week that she would be told her contract was not being renewed. The board has said she was dismissed because of “philosophical differences,” but Glickert said she had no idea what that meant.

She has signed an affidavit releasing the board from the standard confidentiality constraints in personnel matters, so it could discuss the move more fully, but it has declined to do so.

Losos left her job as principal at Clayton High School last year in the wake of a controversy over a fake Facebook page. In its initial statement saying that Losos had been hired as the new principal at the arts academy, the board said that it was “aware of the reason for Dr. Losos’ departure as principal of Clayton High School.

"We believe, based on her outstanding record as an educational leader, she deserves a second chance. We feel very fortunate she is joining our leadership team.”

Our original story (June 5):

Five days after getting the unpleasant surprise that she will not be back as principal of the Grand Center Arts Academy, Lynne Glickert is still trying to find out why.

And she doesn’t mind if everybody else learns the reasons as well.

Glickert, who has been with the midtown charter school since its planning phase, went into what she thought would be a routine performance review on Friday. Instead, she was told her contract would not be renewed and she would be replaced by Louise Losos, the former principal of Clayton High School who left last year in the wake of a controversy over a fake Facebook page.

The board of Confluence Academies, which operates the arts academy as well as four other charter schools in St. Louis, said in a statement that Glickert would not be back this fall because of “philosophical differences,” adding:

“It is a confidential personnel matter and we cannot discuss details.”

But in an affidavit released late Tuesday, Glickert said she would waive the confidentiality usually involved in such decisions.

“I hereby consent for the Confluence board to release to the parents, students and faculty of Grand Center Arts Academy, and to the general public, any true reasons for my removal as principal of GCAA,” the affidavit reads. “I do not consider the reasons for my removal to be a confidential personnel matter. Rather, these reasons are a matter of public concern affecting the entire GCAA community. I hereby ask the Confluence board to immediately and freely discuss with the public all details regarding the board’s decision to remove me as principal of Grand Center Arts Academy, including any ‘philosophical differences.’”

Terry Noble, director of academics and human resources for Confluence, said in an email that he would not discuss internal personnel matters in public or with the media. He said the possibility of revisiting the decision about Glickert would be discussed at a closed meeting of the board on Thursday.

At an open session at the school Tuesday evening, support for Glickert was loud and long. Parents and students told the board for more than two hours that Glickert should be reinstated; a Facebook page started by “Glickert’s Army," which had more than 175 likes by Wednesday afternoon, urged everyone involved to keep the pressure up.

Another public session with the board is scheduled for Monday evening.

In an interview with the Beacon Wednesday, Glickert said she is gratified by the level and depth of support.

“I love those kids,” she said. “I was so happy they were doing it so respectfully. I wasn’t there, but I know they were coached. Parents wanted to be sure they showed they were in control.

“This is their school. I think I’m just a symbol of it. I am honored by the intensity. A friend of mine said to me after last night’s meeting, ‘Die now, because you’ll never be more popular.’”

Arts and academics

Grand Center Arts Academy, the first performing and visual arts charter school in Missouri, started in 2010 with grades 6 and 7, meeting at Third Baptist Church. It moved into renovated space across from Powell Hall in 2011, when it added eighth grade. Its first ninth-grade students were enrolled during this past school year, and it plans to add a grade each year through 12th by 2016.

Classes include a core curriculum of academic subjects like math, science, communication arts and social studies, along with dance, music, art and theater.

Next January, the school plans to expand into renovated space at the Sun Theatre, including a 650-seat theater.

In the most recent school year, it had 433 students. As a charter school, it normally would be open only to residents of the city, but under the area’s school desegregation plan, it accepts white students from St. Louis County; they made up 15 percent of this year’s enrollment.

In the statement about Losos being hired to replace Glickert, the academy said that as it expands “into a full-fledged high school, it is of critical important that we create and maintain a balanced program of academics and the arts. With that in mind, the board has approved the search for an arts integration coordinator to work alongside Dr. Losos as we continue grow.”

For 2012, MAP data for the school showed that 46.9 percent of the students scored proficient/advanced in communication arts; 45 percent scored proficient/advanced in mathematics;  and in eighth grade science, 30.5 percent of students scored proficient/advanced.

From the beginning

Glickert was the school’s first principal and was also involved in the planning, starting with a vision of what the school could be and helping to translate it into reality. Before joining the arts academy, she had been a music teacher in Clayton schools and at John Burroughs as well as being an administrator in the Parkway, Lindbergh and University City districts.

Talking with the Beacon, her voice occasionally would catch as she talked about how personally involved she was with the school – a situation that made the circumstances of last week that much harder.

“This has been the best year yet in terms of energy and kids and families,” she said. “They were excited about the faculty I was hiring for next year, people with a lot of experience who really wanted to come to this school.”

Going into the meeting on Friday, she said, “I had no warning whatsoever. I was absolutely stunned. I wasn’t out of that office five minutes when they had already sent an email to parents and teachers telling them what had happened and who my replacement was. I was shocked. I still am.”

She said she signed the affidavit asking that reasons for her dismissal be made public because she wanted to avoid any blemishes on her reputation.

“I honestly don’t even know what they mean by philosophical differences,” Glickert said. “When they said it was a confidential personnel matter, I called my lawyer and said that implies there is a scandal and there is something they knew about me. I’m as squeaky clean as you get.”

Noting how much of the student body comes from St. Louis County, and how as a publicly funded school, the arts academy gets tax money based on its enrollment, Glickert said she thinks many students might leave, which would hurt the school’s financial situation.

“They can go back to the Parkways,” she said. “They can go back to Rockwood. We have families who have the means to go to private schools. I think there would be a huge enrollment dip if they continue down this path. Why they would ever make this decision when it would impact them financially, I don’t get that. That really makes no sense.”

And, she added, the students who go to a school like Grand Center Arts Academy represent a special breed.

“They are so happy at that school,” Glickert said. “They can be who they are. We celebrate quirkiness. For them, they know what it can be like elsewhere. They want an arts person as the principal. Most students don’t fit in at a traditional school. They are fighting for what they know is really unique.”

She praised the school’s sponsor, Saint Louis University, for recognizing the special needs of the academy, and she said it was sad that such a drastic change had to come while the school was still so young.

“It’s like they pulled a seedling out of the ground with waiting for it to be fully formed,” Glickert said. “We’re still creating ourselves.”

Governance issues

One of the problems at the arts academy, Glickert added, was that while Confluence runs five separate schools, only one concentrates on the arts. There is no separate body that governs only the arts academy.

“The board hired central office people who kept treating the five schools as if we were one family,” she said. “We aren’t. Throughout this year, I had a lot of times when I had to say, no, we are different from the other schools.”

As far as her relationship with the board, she said:

“On paper, they say I report to the board. But I’ve never had any direct performance review with the board.”

Doug Thaman, who heads the Missouri Charter Public School Association, said it isn’t unusual to have a single board governing a cluster of schools. But the situation with Confluence is not typical because while SLU sponsors the arts academy, its other four schools are sponsored by Missouri University of Science and Technology.

As a result, he said, “if you don’t have a board that is engaged with a school that is an innovative model, you risk a lack of understanding.”

At Confluence, he added, the board “has been going through a transition in the past couple of years. In the past year particularly, I felt as though there has been a greater level of engagement. I’ve been encouraged by that.”

Steve Sanchez, an assistant vice president for academic affairs at SLU, said that as sponsor, the university does not get involved with personnel decisions at Grand Center Arts Academy. But, he added in an email, “we are charged with evaluating a charter board's performance, including how a board goes about hiring and firing employees.  So the manner in which the Confluence Academy board has handled this situation will certainly be part of our evaluation of the board's performance.

“A sponsor can recommend or require changes in policy and practice based on such evaluation, and we'll consider such actions as our evaluation moves forward.”

'Absolute shock'

Moving forward is what parents of students at the academy are concerned about as well. Those involved in “Glickert’s Army” hope that the future includes her as principal.

“I was shocked,” said Teresa Mulvihill, mother of a daughter who will be in eighth grade this fall. “Absolute shock. We had no idea this was coming. We couldn’t imagine any reason for it. We had such a good experience with Ms. Glickert. She has always been very responsive to any concerns I had as a parent. She knew my child personally. She made sure my child was getting the challenge she needed.”

Rhonda Holt, who heads the school’s parent group, said she thought that Glickert had successfully negotiated the sometimes-tricky journey from the ideal conception of what a new school should be to the messier way that things actually work out.

“I feel that Lynne excelled at going from the vision to the reality,” Holt said.

In her statement to the board Tuesday night, Holt said:

“A vision is not the same as creating the dream in real time and space. Lynne grew your vision into a thriving and supportive community. She excels at bringing together people of all different persuasions, and thus created this thriving, nurturing community of parents, teachers, staff, and supporters – which, at its core, is based on trust.

“We’ve also invested our own sweat equity into Grand Center Arts Academy. It is OUR hearts and souls. Our good faith, trust and good-will have been severely shaken by this action – by being left out of a decision that directly and significantly impacts our children’s academic, artistic and financial futures, and undermines the atmosphere of trust, security and belonging in which they have been free to thrive.”

Lisa Selligman, who has a son who started at the school a year and a half ago and a daughter who is set to begin in the fall, is particularly concerned about the way Glickert’s departure was handled.

“There was no indication to anyone that the board thought there was a problem,” she said. “We were disturbed by the lack of parent involvement in the process. We felt as a group that they had made a move without really talking to us.

“They were saying academics, academics, academics, but our MAP scores went up this year.”

She feels particularly strongly about how well Glickert related to the kinds of students who go to an arts school in the first place.

“We are a different colored animal,” Selligman said. “Creative people are different kinds of people. Creative people learn differently. We had different needs altogether. I think honestly a lot of people were kind of astonished to find out that the Confluence board is the same as our board.

“We want her back. We definitely want her back. One of the students described her as the heart and soul of the school, and that is very much true.”

Would Glickert – who is now on administrative leave before her contract runs out at the end of the month -- be willing to return if the board were to change its mind? She didn’t have to hesitate to respond.

“I want them to reconsider,” she said. “I need to go back there. This is about the kids. There are some things only I can do. But I can’t go into the building.

“I’d be back tomorrow. Absolutely. My work’s not done.”

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