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ISAAC charter school drops accreditation bid after questions raised about work environment

Students in front of school
Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Publ/Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Students wait to be picked up in front of the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) School, as seen from Governor Winthrop Boulevard in New London.

A New London charter school has dropped its bid for accreditation after facing questions about its work environment. Our Accountability Project has been following this story for more than a year.

For years, leaders at the ISAAC school in New London worked to achieve a major goal — getting accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

They even produced a 108-page self-assessment as part of the process.
But that all came to a halt last month when the charter school pulled out of the process.

Just days earlier, NEASC signaled that it would terminate the school’s application after school leaders failed to cooperate with an investigation into complaints of a toxic work environment.

For Barbara Zegarzewski, who taught at ISAAC for 21 years and filed one of the complaints with NEASC, this affirms her feelings about the culture of the school.

"I guess I feel validated. I applaud NEASC for upholding their accreditation process and enforcing the importance of their standards," Zegarzewski said.

In a letter to Zegarzewski, NEASC officials said the complaints they received raised serious concerns about the school's climate and culture. They also said school leaders would not agree to give the NEASC team unrestricted access to all members of the school community during a proposed site visit, which is why the accreditation candidacy was set for termination.

For Nancy Rodgers, a former ISAAC educator who also filed a complaint, the accreditation issue should raise red flags to the state education department, which recently released ISAAC from probation.

"So, if everything was going so wonderful (sic), why would you prevent the accrediting body from coming in to investigate complaints made by former staff? What do you have to hide?" Rodgers said.

ISAAC was recently released from probation after the state found that the school was out of compliance with state laws and the school’s board was unable to provide effective leadership.

In an email, a spokesperson for the state education department said the accreditation issue does not affect ISAAC’s release from probation or upcoming charter renewal since the school is not required to be accredited. But the department will follow up with both the school and NEASC to learn more about what happened.

"I hope that that the board can come together and take a look at what has happened over the last three years, and really make some difficult decisions on the confidence that the staff, the board, the families, the students have in this leadership because it is a very different school than it was three years ago," Rodgers said.

The school’s administration did not respond to our most recent request for comment, but in a previous exchange, the board chair said The Accountability Project’s inquiries about the probation issue amounted to harassment.

Meantime, the school remains under investigation by the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities after a former board member and parent filed a discrimination complaint. School leaders have denied those claims.

Walter Smith Randolph is Connecticut Public’s Investigative Editor. In 2021, Walter launched The Accountability Project, CT Public’s investigative reporting initiative. Since then, the team’s reporting has led to policy changes across the state. Additionally, The Accountability Project’s work has been honored with a National Edward R. Murrow award from RTDNA, two regional Murrow awards, a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists, three regional EMMY nominations and a dozen CT SPJ awards.

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