At 8:08 a.m. on Sept. 17, a person claiming to be a Children’s Kiva Montessori School staffer emailed CKMS board members an account of alleged mismanagement and neglect by a superior at the school.
The email described the superior’s “rude and condescending” presentation toward staff, parents and students, “unknown expectations” from the superior and “rude remarks.” The staffer emailed anonymously out of fear of losing a job.
“Staff have left because of the way they are treated,” the staffer wrote.
That day, Susan Likes, then head of school at CKMS, dated her letter of resignation to the Kiva board of directors.
The board received the letter six days later and voted to accept her resignation at a board meeting on Sept. 24. That morning, the president and vice president of the CKMS board of directors sent out their own letters of resignation.
The three top school officials’ resignations were not merely a result of the anonymous complaint, nor the eight other grievances sent to the board since January: CKMS test scores have steadily dropped since the 2014-2015 school year, and the school’s enrollment in grades 1-8 peaked two years ago, according to data from the Colorado Department of Education, yielding other resignations and layoffs.
Through an open records request, The Journal received a copy of the anonymous email, but names, personal pronouns and other identifying information regarding school personnel were hidden from the message in accordance with Colorado open records laws. The Journal could not verify the identity of the emailer nor the emailer’s relationship to the school.
The Journal could not verify the identity of the individual named in the email.
“(Redacted) attitude from day to day is unpredictable,” the anonymous emailer wrote. “I fear coming to work because I don’t know if I am going to get a friendly good morning or a rude comment and yelling by (redacted).”
Likes’ last day, according to the CKMS board, was Oct. 5. The board appointed Alexia Hudson-McGraph, the director of CKMS’ sister school Kiva Children’s House, to be the interim head of school 10 days later.
Children’s House is a Montessori preschool that also enrolls kindergartners. It was opened in 1987, 27 years before CKMS, a public charter school, was established.
Board members resignAfter the Sept. 24 meeting, board president Chad Fish and vice president Nate Seeley resigned.
Board members serve on a volunteer basis, and Fish and Seeley cited work obligations as their reasons for departure.
However, Kelli Jackson, current president of the board, gave another reason this month.
“The Children’s Kiva Montessori Elementary/Middle School experienced a lower-than-expected enrollment this school year, which resulted in our head of school and two board members leaving,” Jackson said in an email to The Journal.
Fish and Likes declined to comment for this article. Seeley did not return The Journal’s phone calls, and Jackson canceled a scheduled interview and has not directly responded to additional interview requests.
Improvement plan requiredCKMS faces more than just leadership challenges. The school’s test results have fallen since 2015, and the board is developing a “priority improvement” plan with school staff and Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 as part of state-required oversight.
Standardized test participation rates at CKMS between 2015 and 2017 ranged from 40 to 80 percent of the school’s eligible students, a ratio that is below the state’s 85 percent threshold for “representative” results.
However, CDE reported 100 percent participation at CKMS in 2018, and test results showed that CKMS students in grades 3-8 “approached” state expectations in language arts testing. In mathematics, the students “did not meet” expectations.
CMKS’ growth in both subjects was lower than the district average – in the bottom 50 percent in language arts and the bottom 30 percent in math.
Low enrollment creates risksAccording to an annual report from the Montezuma-Cortez school district, CKMS saw a 4 percent annual decrease in enrollment overall for grades 1-8 since last year.
According to data from CDE, which oversees and collects data from the district, enrollment in grades 1-8 at CKMS peaked at 91 in the 2016-2017 school year, with no change in enrollment going into the 2017-2018 school year. CDE has not finalized 2018-2019 data.
The stagnation and decrease in enrollment mean CKMS is receiving less than anticipated financing from the state and county collectively. Per-pupil funding varies each year based on the state’s determination; this year, CKMS was allocated about $7,500 per student in grades 1-8.
CKMS has laid off staff because of the cuts. According to Jackson, four have been laid off and three have resigned since January, including Likes.
In addition to layoffs, CKMS is showing other red flags in financial health. A financial oversight report by the Re-1 school district released last week marked CKMS at “medium” or “high risk” in three of seven “near term measures” of financial health.
The school showed medium risk in the district’s key “sustainability measures” of financial health – the school’s spending versus its income and its debt-to-asset ratio.
For comparison, last year, the school was marked “low risk” in all but one of the district’s financial health measures.