21 QUESTIONS FOR THE ARCHER BOARD

THE BUCK STOPS WITH THE ARCHER BOARD.

The most important job of a private school’s governing board is the selection and supervision of the head of school. Though a responsible board must provide support for their selected leader they must more than a cheering section or rubber stamp for the head of School.

Quite beyond the issues raised by the Josephson vs. Archer lawsuit Archer needs a responsible and courageous board to objectively sort through conflicting opinions and descriptions of Ms. English’s professionalism, leadership effectiveness, and management competence. Evidence suggesting that the school’s reputation, community relations, financial stability and faculty morale has deteriorated under her leadership must be fairly evaluated.

Ms. English is a highly paid professional, earning far more than any previous Archer administrator. With compensation in excess of a half a million dollars (a salary of about $420,000 and housing, tuition and other benefits probably worth another $100,000) the Archer community has a right to expect effective visionary leadership. We suggest that the questions the Board must answer are: 1) Has Archer flourished as it should under her leadership and 2) Is attaching Archer’s future to her management style, reputation and credibility in the best long-term interests of Archer. The board should also hold her accountable for failures to meet the goals of Archers Strategic Plan[1}.

Separately, the Board should evaluate its own performance and hold itself accountable for being informed and providing responsible oversight. To perform this function they need more information and they should be able to answer the kinds of questions posed in this post.

The JosephsonvsArcher website has had over 50,000 page views; a substantial majority of the parents and teachers receiving our occasional email updates have stayed on our distribution list (every communication provides an opportunity to be removed from the list); and we have received scores of personal letters and phone calls expressing concerns about the status and direction of Archer and sharing additional stories of unprofessional actions by Elizabeth English. 

The input received by this site paints a picture of a divided Archer community at risk. Overall, the girls are still getting an excellent education and most parents  are happy. If one talks with parents who have had significant personal interaction with Ms. English, however, there are many who are uncomfortable and even resentful of her management strategies and actions — and virtually all who have come to know her believe that candor and anything that smacks of criticism is not welcome. There seems to be a general understanding that if Ms. English doesn’t like you, you are gone.

Similarly, many teachers and staff have no grievances but a very high proportion disagree with the change in philosophy toward education and discipline and have experienced bullying and intimidating behavior. We can’t accurately assess how widespread these negative feelings are but if we are right, morale is at the lowest point in the school’s history and at least half of faculty and staff would welcome a change of leadership.  Here is a summary of the kinds of things teachers and parents (and even a few students) are concerned about.

If you care about the future of Archer and worry about the risks entailed in permitting Elizabeth English to wield unrestrained power, we urge you to personally contact any of the Archer Board members regarding as many of these issues that concern you.

  1. I’m fuming about the money thing. Archer is constantly badgering me for donations though it’s a struggle for me to pay two tuitions.  According to public records (Form 990) English gets a very hefty salary (over $400k) PLUS a free house, free tuition for her daughter and other benefits. Can we afford that? Is it justified?  Where are my donations going? Can I earmark them to assure they don’t go toward legal fees or buying the head of school a new house?
  2. Are you aware of the amount of discontent and fear among the faculty, especially among those who have been at Archer for 5 years or more? I suspect at least half would leave if they could and more would welcome a change in leadership. I hear nasty jokes about Elizabeth English behind her back (e.g., referred to as Queen Elizabeth).  I think if they [the board] conducted an honest survey that people could really trust they would know that Archer is in jeopardy.
  3. According to the JosephsonvsArcher website, Archer spent nearly $3 million dollars in architect, lawyer and other fees by July 1, 2013 on a plan that had very little chance of approval. In fact, a councilman did require major revisions and a substantial re-design. Wasn’t there any other strategy so that so much money would not have been wasted?
  4. What is the current budget for the new expansion plan? How much has been raised? And what is a realistic timetable to get approval and for completion of Phase One after approval? Is there a realistic chance of raising the necessary funds to commence expeditiously if a plan is approved?
  5. I loved and was excited about the original Archer Expansion plan. I was disappointed at how extensively it had to be pared down in response to a councilman’s objections but I still like the plan and hope we can get it approved.  I’m not happy that this has taken so long that my daughter, at best, will experience the construction phase. what is the realistic assessment of the likelihood of getting the compromised plan approved and when will construction begin?
  6. I don’t know whether the major strategic decisions were made by headmaster English or the Archer Board but I am appalled that English’s video at the Archer forward site and the new brochure they mailed out keeps saying the expansion plan is essential. Until the new compromise plan was published, we were given a list of major problems requiring major school improvements and we were told that everything in that plan was essential. Then, after making very substantial concessions to the critics the new brochure uses the same phrase attached to the reduced compromise plan. Doesn’t Elizabeth understand the meaning of the word essential? Why would we tell people if we don’t get approval our girls will have an inadequate educational experience? I’d love to see the improvements but the campus is beautiful as is and in my opinion more than adequate.
  7. Has anyone determined how much this litigation has cost or hurt Archer? In addition to the legal fees, supposedly $200-300,000 dollars, has this litigation hurt fund-raising, faculty recruiting and the school’s overall reputation. What are the benefits to Archer of defending Ms. English’s unnecessary actions?
  8. Is it true that no one from Archer, no attorney, board member or anyone else has ever discussed this legal case with the Josephsons or attempted to negotiation a settlement or see whether the animosity could be deescalated? If so, it baffles me how so many important men and women with business experience would not explore this sort of options.
  9. If you think the Josephsons’ claims are untrue why didn’t you do what the Marlborough board did and authorize an independent investigation?
  10. The Josephsons’ claim that the board has a legal obligation of due care to assure that thier are policies and procedures to prevent an abuse of discretion. Do you disagree? Even if there was no legal duty, wouldn’t it be a wise thing to do?
  11. Do you know the story behind the departure of Archers highly successful college counselors. I understand they both left under very unhappy circumstances concerning Elizabeth English’s management. Does the board ever conduct any exit interviews? Similar: Quite a few good people have left in the past couple of years. Has the Board done anything to determine the reasons?
  12. I think the Josephsons are on a bit of a vendetta and I don’t like that but they do not seem to be the kind of people who would do this unless they felt provoked to pushed against a wall. Why did Elizabeth want to push it this far? How was that a good thing for Archer?
  13. I assume Archer has D&O or general liability insurance bearing the bulk of the cost, there is at least a deductible. How much is it? Normally, if an insurance company pays a significant amount defending a claim rates will go up the next year. If there is insurance, how much do you expect the rates to increase. and  is substantial and that it will be much more difficult and expensive to renew the policy. Any way you look at it, it will cost Archer a lot of money that could have been better spent on academic programs or the building funds.
  14. Since the Josephsons sued Archer and the Board based on the actions of Mrs. English there is a huge conflict of interest between English and the School. Why did the Board not require separate representation? A lawyer just representing the school would have not automatically supported her every action, especially without an investigation.
  15. What is the obsession with confidentiality? Josephson already found a way to get the word out why doesn’t Archer just tell its side of the story, settle the case or, better yet, cut loose the person who caused all this.
  16. When is Elizabeth English is up for review? When you do review her will you take into account  the fact that a large segment of the community believes that Archer is unstable and without effective leadership?
  17. Is it true that Archer is far short of its fund-raising goals for the new expansion and that the overall budget situation is precarious?
  18. I was once involved in a case where our company stood on principle and turned down a settlement offer that was pretty low. Later ,when the other side won a judgment the insurance company said we had to pay the difference. Is there any danger of that here?
  19. According to papers filed in the Josephson action (on the Josephson v. Archer website) parents are not forced to sign the arbitration clause if they don’t want to or at least that they can negotiate the terms of the clause. Is that really true. Will Archer really negotiate with a parent who doesn’t want to sign the arbitration clause? I wouldn’t dare raise the issue for fear I would be identified as a troublemaker.
  20. How did the administration let this spin out of control up to this point? I’m a teacher at another school and our policy is to de-escalate not escalate controversy. I’m not sure exactly what was going on but if the family was willing to accept any other sanction that didn’t raise the medical problems why wasn’t this pursued. I don’t know if there was malice here, but it sure seems like gross incompetence.
  21. Why is this arbitration clause so important to Archer and why is it so expansive? It seems it is the student that should have the right to claim confidentiality, not the school. And is it really ever used? How often has Archer gone into arbitration with parents? I’ve been here for 5 years and I never heard of anyone who did this and I don’t know of anyone who knows Ms. English who would do this.

Who is on the Board? The Board members at the time the Josephson action was filed are: 1) Barbara Bruser, 2) Megan Callaway, 3) Justin Chang, 4) Stephanie Darrow, 5) Suzie Doran, 6) Beth Friedman, 7) Ann Gianopulos, 8) Mark Gordon, 9) Caroline Grainge, 10) Cathy Helm, 11) Michael Heslov, 12) Kathy Kennedy, 13) Debbie Lehman, 14) Scott Lord, 15) Jonathan Lurie, 16) Frank Marshall, 17) Ray Michaud, 18) Catrice Monson, 19) Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, 20) Hillary Newman, 21) Lawrence O’donnell, 22) John Ohanesian, 23) Karen Richards Sachs, 24) Victoria Shorr, 25) Jody Siegler, 26) Ana Serrano, and 27) Ron Stone.

[1] The Josephsons contend that the Board has been little more than a rubber stamp regarding the way crucial policies and practices within the scope of their responsibility were created and implemented of the Head of School. The impact of this “hands-off” approach can be seen not only in the vast damage done to all the plaintiff’s by the unaccountable conduct of Ms. English, but also by the board’s failure to meet its obligations to assure that Ms. English effectively pursues and accomplishes specific aspects of the Five Year Strategic Plan, which would have prevented or made less likely the improper conduct described in this document. In particular, Ms. English has not been held accountable with respect to her failures regarding the following aspects of the Board’s Strategic Plan.

  1. Goal 7 states that “Equally important to academic excellence is the quality of community that has been established by the School’s commitment to character development.” Ms. English has not been held accountable to demonstrate specific, tangible and effective means of promoting character development employed during her tenure. To the contrary, she dismembered the formal character development models that were in place and in process when she arrived at the school and failed to replace them with an effective equally comprehensive different strategy or program. Instead she installed an inherently defective student review process that has been ineffectual at widely promoting the development of positive ethical values and has, instead, promoted fear and distrust. Most pertinent to our case, she also used the discretionary power, conferred on her by the Board, to maliciously punish the Josephson children for what she perceived as a challenge to her authority.
  2. Goal 2 requires the Head of School to “Create compelling incentives to continue to attract and retain an outstanding faculty, administration and staff from diverse backgrounds.” It adds that “Excellent schools require outstanding educators. The caliber of its teachers is the School’s highest priority.” An explicit objective of efforts in this area is to encourage long-term commitment to Archer.” Had the Board monitored the pursuit of this objective, it would have found that another negative result of allowing Ms. English to base her management style on intimidation rather than inspiration is the departure of an unprecedented number of outstanding faculty members and a palpable alienation of a significant number of current teachers and administrators who are in constant fear of the consequences of disagreeing with Ms. English on any issue.
  3. Goal 3 focuses on Archer’s commitment to academic excellence. While the many excellent faculty members who remain have, by and large, achieved this goal, the lack of board oversight has permitted Ms. English to conceal or understate major deficiencies in the math and science curricula, so as to force families, including Josephson’s, to supplement Archer curricula by online courses (approved of and subsidized by Archer). Moreover, the Board of Trustees permitted Ms. English to proclaim that Archer is a STEM school (an institution with robust courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) although she has not been able to attract or retain teachers capable of offering calculus-based physics, computer science or a math class beyond Calculus BC, a math level two full levels lower than other independent schools in the area.
  4. Goal 7 also imposes on the Head of School the obligation to “support the highest ethical and moral standards in an atmosphere of honesty, respect and responsibility for all members of the school community.” Ample evidence of her dishonesty, disrespect and irresponsibility (detailed in the attached Memorandum) during her dealings with my clients demonstrate the impact of the Board’s failure to hold Ms. English accountable to this objective.

 

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