Comparing the Archer Board of Trustees and Marlborough’s Board

The commentary, Tale of Two Schools reveals the dramatically different responses of the Archer Board and Head of School to charges of impropriety and the approach taken by the Archer Board of Trustees. While the Marlborough Board conscientiously fulfilled its legal and ethical responsibilities by investigating fully and issuing a public report as did the head of school by voluntarily resigning, Archer’s Board  ignored their duties and instead plunged the school into a reputation-damaging and resource draining litigation strategy that has prolonged the dispute and used up hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have been put to better use in faculty salaries, program improvements and maybe even the building fund. And Archer’s head of school steadfastly holds onto her position despite the harm it causes to the school.

Board InAction

The documents posted on this site reveal that the Archer Board of Trustees, apparently under the complete influence and control of Elizabeth English, ignored the clear conflict of interests once both Ms.English and the Board were separately sued based on the conduct of Ms. English and a few Board members and exacerbated reputation damaging and resource draining (apparently, 200,000 – $300,000 so far) litigation in violation of their legal and moral duties to the Archer School and the community of faculty, staff, parents and students. Here are the allegations the Josephsons  want to prove in court:

Marlborough did it right; Archer did it wrong

Marlborough and Archer are two similar all-girls schools in Los Angeles with tuition and fees in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year. Both promise students and parents more than a first-rate academic education. They also promise to be student-centered, to treat each student individually in order to promote their intellectual, social and moral growth, and above all, they promise (at least implicitly) to model the highest of ethical standards and provide a safe and nurturing climate for the girls entrusted to them.

In addition, both schools are governed by a volunteer board of trustees with an identical duty of due care that embodies a broad range of moral and legal responsibilities. This includes to obligation to stay informed and exercise vigilant oversight to safeguard the reputation and resources of their school.

 The Marlborough Experience. In the early summer of 2014, the Marlborough Board was made aware of allegations by a former student concerning improper conduct by a teacher and inadequate response by school administrators including its head of school. The head of school had served Marlborough for 26 years and she apparently had an unblemished reputation. She explained her actions to the Board but they realized it was their responsibility to be objective and get all the facts. Thus, they did what a board is supposed to do – they commissioned an independent investigation to be conducted by an attorney with substantial investigation experience.  In less than 90 days, on November 14, 2014,  they shared with the entire Marlborough community a comprehensiveness summary of the findings and they issued new policies and guidelines with the explicit purpose of preventing future misconduct and providing a reviewing system to rapidly and fairly formulate a proper response — all to make the school environment safer for the girls rusted to their care.

The report was critical of the administration’s handling of the matters investigated, and the head of school, Barbara Wagner, put the interests of her beloved institution above her own interests (she had been at Marlborough for 26 years) by immediately resigning (effective the end of the school year). She did so to avoid subjecting Marlborough to further controversy and loss of credibility. This is a sad end to the career of a woman I know to be a first rate educator and excellent administrator but, I believe both she and the Board did what they were supposed to do.

The Archer Experience. At about the same time (April 2014) the Marlborough issue surfaced, my wife Anne and I wrote a letter to members of the Board of Trustees of the Archer School for Girls outlining and documenting behavior we though clearly violated Archer’s promises and duties to protect two of our daughters (we have four) from malicious and vindictive conduct from the Head of School, Elizabeth English. Knowing that our allegations painted a different picture of Ms. English than they were used to seeing, we asked the Board to commission and independent investigation of our claims and if, and only if, the investigator found them to be valid, administer appropriate disciple and adopt new policies and procedures to better protect children and parents.

While the Marlborough Board unhesitatingly treated the allegations seriously and the accusers respectfully by commissioning an independent investigation, despite their affection and respect for their head of school, the Archer Board did the opposite, choosing to accept, without question, Ms. English’s characterization of the facts justifying a stance to completely support Ms. English.

While the Marlborough Board unhesitatingly treated the allegations seriously and the accusers respectfully by commissioning an independent investigation, despite their affection and respect for their head of school, the Archer Board did the opposite, choosing to accept, without question, Ms. English’s characterization of the facts justifying a stance to completely support Ms. English. The Boards intransigence forced us to file a civil suit against Ms English, the Board and the school. The action explicitly laid out the board’s legal obligations to, among other things, investigate and provide oversight  but the Board steadfastly rejected repeated requests that they conduct an investigation.

The Archer Board of Trustees prolonged the battle by rejecting multiple efforts to settle the claim (without any financial payment) and, instead, they authorized the chair of the board to write a letter to all Archer parents attacking the Josephsons’ character and motives.

The letter labeled the Josephsons’ grievances as frivolous and authorized their attorneys to launch a campaign (which is still going on) to intimidate and punish my family for raising the issue. They even permanently banned the Josephson family, including two graduates who had nothing to do with the controversy, from setting foot on campus under the threat that they would be arrested for trespassing.

Archer - board delegating decsion making

As near as we can tell, in blind defense of Ms. English and their own decisions to do nothing, Archer has thus far incurred legal fees in the neighborhood of $300,000  all designed to prevent the Josephsons from getting its day in court so they could prove their claims.

While the head of school at Marlborough resigned rather than embroil the institution in expensive and damaging litigation. Ms. English chose the opposite course, digging in her heals in demanding secrecy regarding the Josephsons’ claims thereby assuring continuation of an acrimonious public battle that continues to damage Archer..

Archer attorneys unsuccessfully tried to get gag orders preventing the Josephsons from talking or writing about their grievances. Ultimately, however, Archer’s lawyers convinced a judge that a clause in the enrollment contract surrendered the Josephsons’ right to raise any claims against Ms. English and the school except in a secret arbitration which would insulate Archer, Ms. English and the Board from any public accountability. This would effectively prevent the Josephsons  from vindicating their reputations.

While the head of school at Marlborough resigned rather than embroil the institution in expensive and damaging litigation. Ms. English chose the opposite course, digging in her heals in demanding secrecy regarding the Josephsons’ claims, thereby assuring continuation of an acrimonious public battle that continues to damage Archer.

Members of the Archer Board of Trustees

BARBARA BRUSER, MEGAN CALLAWAY, JUSTIN CHANG, STEPHANIE DARROW, SUZIE DORAN, BETH FRIEDMAN, ANN GIANOPULOS, MARK GORDON, CAROLINE GRAINGE, CATHY HELM, MICHAEL HESLOV, KATHY KENNEDY, DEBBIE LEHMAN, SCOTT LORD, JONATHAN LURIE, FRANK MARSHALL, RAY MICHAUD, CATRICE MONSON, BARBARA NATTERSON HOROWITZ, HILLARY NEWMAN, LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, JOHN OHANESIAN, KAREN RICHARDS SACHS, VICTORIA SHORR, JODY SIEGLER, ANA SERRANO, and RON STONE

Comments 2

  1. I certainly understand the reason for the post and the point you are making; however, you are incorrect in a few respects with regard to Marlborough. First, Barbara Wagner did not choose to resign — her departure is a forced resignation (i.e., she was fired) and not a moment too soon. That is because the Special Investigation uncovered years of mismanagement on her part. The school did not even have a written policy with regard to bullying and sexual harassment, and students who brought such complaints to Wagner and her staff were ignored. Even worse, some victims were blamed for somehow causing others to harass or bully them, and were told that they should seek counseling. Wagner’s willful misconduct and negligence has now led to what will be an extremely costly civil suit, where she and the school will be named defendants, possibly followed by more, since there have been multiple victims. She can only look to herself to blame for being forced to leave under a cloud of scandal. Who knows how long it will take the school to get back on track, and how much it will cost in attorneys’ fees and settlements/judgments.
    While the plaintiff in the civil suit admits that she did not notify anyone at the school that she was engaging in a sexual relationship with her English teacher, Dr. Koetters, there were plenty of other girls over the years who told Wagner and her staff that Koetters was making inappropriate advances, trying to see them after school hours, and lamenting the fact that he had a “sexless” marriage. Some even produced emails from Koetters to back up their claims, and yet, Koetters was not fired, and passed off to Poly with a glowing recommendation from Wagner. It is all very much reminiscent of the pedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church.
    In addition to the foregoing, there was so much corruption under Wagner’s tenure that we witnessed firsthand. Students who came from big donor families were neither disciplined for bad behavior, nor were forced to attend summer school after receiving an Incomplete or an F in classes (grades were miraculously adjusted).
    I am certainly not commenting on the merits of your case, but merely attempting to correct some mistaken assumptions in this post, as someone who has been an insider at Marlborough.

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      Author

      Thank you for the additional information. It is sad to hear. I Archer had a responsible Board willing to investigate I feel certain they would find a vast amount of misconduct. I’m curious how the Marlborough parents suing the school escaped the mandatory arbitration clause.

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