Emails obtained by The Journal show that parents complained about the leadership of the Children’s Kiva Montessori School for more than a year before the head of school and two board members resigned in September.
The complaints, which began as early as March 2017, focused on the conduct and communication of former Head of School Susan Likes, as well as the CKMS board itself.
The Journal found records of at least 12 complaints presented to the board since 2017. Discontent escalated last month when two parents and an anonymous writer who claimed to be a school staff member submitted complaints to the CKMS board regarding Likes’ conduct and communication.
Within days, Likes resigned.
The board accepted Likes’ resignation during its Sept. 24 meeting. After the board meeting, board president Chad Fish and vice president Nate Seeley also resigned.
The Journal is not aware of any formal grievance submitted to the board since the resignations, but at least one parent, Angie Seeley, has complained that the board has continued to inadequately communicate with parents.
Complaints against LikesIn March 2017, a group of CKMS parents detailed complaints about the board’s choice to renew school leaders’ employment contracts, including then-Head of School Likes.
“There are many individual parents, including those signing this letter and those who have already left the school, that are not satisfied with the quality of leadership, communication skills, and transparency of the organization,” the group said in the letter, dated March 17, 2017.
CKMS parent Alexis Cosper said in a grievance sent two days before Likes submitted her resignation that Likes’ communications to parents regarding changes at the school lacked detail and “truthiness.”
“In (her) emails, (Likes) is making Herculean attempts to appear positive and inspiring in a difficult situation,” Cosper said in the complaint. “Unfortunately, those attempts are backfiring; they have the result of eroding trust because I don’t feel we are being told the whole truth or all the facts.”
Identifying information in the complaint, including Cosper’s and Likes’ names, were redacted in the copy obtained by The Journal, but other public records show that Cosper submitted the complaint regarding Likes’ communications.
Cosper’s complaint echoed those against Likes relayed to the board for more than a year.
“It is important that the board is aware that several families are already making plans not to return to the school or transition from Children’s House (early education center) in light of the recent resignation and the current leadership of the school,” the parents said in their 2017 letter.
The day after receiving Likes’ resignation, Emily Wisner, a parent of a child attending CKMS, submitted three grievances to the board regarding its conduct and policies. She mentioned the departing head of school in two grievances.
“The resignation last night of (Likes) was a stroke of pure luck for the BOD (board of directors),” Wisner said in one grievance. “The BOD should have responded with due-diligence months, even years ago, removing (her). Use this as an opportunity to truly start over.”
Identifying information in the grievances, including Wisner’s and Likes’ names, were redacted in the emails obtained by The Journal, but other public records show that Wisner was referring to Likes’ resignation.
The board’s responseAfter receiving the March 2017 letter from CKMS parents, the board of directors responded with a public statement a month later. The board said in the letter that it agreed that a formal grievance procedure should be developed, and it passed one the next month.
However, the board’s statement did not directly address the parents’ complaints about communication and transparency. It also did not address the concerns regarding the lack of input in the decision to retain Likes and then-Financial Director Aaron Knox, whose contracts the board had renewed a month prior to the complaint from parents.
“The board made the decision to offer staff contracts for another year without all board members having the opportunity to fully review and candidly discuss performance, growth plan, and contract content prior to offering new contracts to (Head of School Likes) and (Financial Director Knox) for the 2017-2018 fiscal year,” the parents said in the letter.
In the copy of the letter sent to The Journal, the CKMS board redacted the names of the people who received contract renewals, but earlier, official records show that the individuals were Likes and Knox.
CKMS reviews the contracts of its financial director and head of school every 11 months. After renewing Knox’s contract in 2017, he resigned in 2018 when his contract was up for renewal.
The board renewed Likes’ contract in 2018, but she resigned after complaints regarding her leadership were sent to the board.
After Wisner told the board last month that they were failing to respond to complaints sent by parents who did not strictly follow the CKMS grievance procedure, board members are now working again to revise the procedure.
“The Board agrees that the grievance procedure needs timely work to ensure it is not only accessible, but user friendly,” the CKMS board said in a written reply to Wisner’s grievance.
The board said in the reply that it would update the procedure before March 2019.
In response to the sum of Wisner’s three complaints, the board said culture and climate at the school were a primary point of discussion among board members, who hope to “shift the gauge.”
“The Board hopes that over the coming years the culture will begin to shift once more into one that reflects our mission and vision,” the board said in its reply. “This is a top priority for the Board.”