Tumult, teacher turnover vex charter school in Apple Valley

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2014 - 11:49 PM

Some parents, faculty blame teacher turnover at Paideia on its director’s leadership style.

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School board members Elizabeth Larsen left , Marci Levy-Maguire, Kim Glogowski, and Heidi Johnson heard from a teacher.

Photo: JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

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For six years, Ginie Klopp was one of Paideia Academy’s biggest cheerleaders. She was PTO president and volunteered hundreds of hours annually at the Apple Valley charter school.

This fall, though, her two kids are enrolled in public school instead. Paideia has changed, she said, and it was time to go.

They aren’t the only ones to leave. About half the teaching staff — about 20 teachers in all — have recently resigned, many of them longtime employees. A handful of others left throughout last year, Klopp said.

Tensions are running high, and many parents and former teachers say the exodus stems from a deeper problem: a director with an aggressive leadership style who doesn’t treat teachers with respect.

Many longtime parents say they are frustrated by how much the school’s mission and sense of community have changed. Others worry the frequent teacher turnover is affecting academic achievement.

“It doesn’t matter what anybody says, it’s kind of [her] way or no way,” said Mindy Daugherty, a former Paideia gym teacher who remains in touch with teachers there.

Director Marci Levy-Maguire, an East Coast transplant now in her third year at Paideia, makes no apologies for her style. “I knew when I started it would be three years of establishing a new culture,” she said.

High staff turnover isn’t unusual for a charter school, which offers less pay and no tenure, she added. Stability, though, is “certainly something we want. We want to keep teachers.”

Success story or unstable?

To Klopp, the K-8 school with a focus on the classics felt for years like one big family. It was filled with parents devoted to the same educational principles and “happy teachers [making] independent teaching decisions,” she said.

“Through this last year, I’ve watched all of that be written off,” she said.

By many accounts, Paideia is a success story: The school is financially stable and was named a High Quality Charter School by the Minnesota Department of Education last year, according to Beth Topoluk, director of Friends of Education, the school’s authorizer.

But it has also experienced instability, with five different directors over nine years and significant staff and student turnover, said parent Andrea Stone.

“It’s just amazing to me that a school that has been open as short of a time as this one has had so much turmoil,” she said.

Last year, Klopp’s sixth-grade son’s math teacher quit, and two substitutes followed before a new teacher was hired. They basically wrote off a year of math, she said.

The same scenario played out in 2012-13 when a second-grade teacher left, leading to a revolving door of teachers, parent Crystal Kohler recalled.

Kohler removed her kids last fall. “I don’t feel like it’s a safe and good environment for any child to be in,” Kohler said. “We’re not going to go back.”

Once a frequent volunteer, she called Paideia a “really hostile work environment.”

Another issue: The school board won’t stand up to the administration, Klopp and Kohler said.

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