Teacher Dearest

Gail Battistella is a diminutive woman, 50-something, with crisp gray bangs and a tiny, high-pitched voice. But she holds within her an explosive potential that could be measured in megatons, a force that hums and sputters and draws people to her almost as powerfully as it blows them away.

Battistella is the flashpoint of a series of battles over the management of Dragonfleye School, a northwest Phoenix charter school whose curriculum is supposed to revolve around a student science lab that Battistella developed.

On January 27, 1997, the Arizona State Board of Education will start hearings to decide if Dragonfleye's charter should be revoked. If that happens, it would be only the second such revocation in the two-year history of charter schools in Arizona. The first occurred last month when the state board closed down the Citizen 2000 charter school because of financial irregularities.

Charter schools were created by the Arizona State Legislature with the notion that the free market can educate better than the government can. If there were problems at any schools, they would be weeded out by good, old-fashioned all-American competition. Citizen 2000's problems centered on money, the currency of the market. Dragonfleye's problems are more complex, less tangible.

Battistella and her co-founders all shared the conviction that they could provide a better education than the public schools. But now, a continuous exchange of charges and countercharges between Battistella and some of her co-founders and colleagues has placed the school's destiny beyond the vagaries of the marketplace and into the hands of the state's board of education.

Running a school proved harder than they had imagined, and Battistella stood at ground zero of two major meltdowns at Dragonfleye within six months of each other in 1996.

The first came last April when, shocked and burned by her frequent explosions, Battistella's co-founders at the school tried to remove her from the school's board of directors and fire her from her position of science lab director.

The board president and school principal, Gregory Miller, went so far as to get a restraining order to keep Battistella off campus.

But Battistella took Miller to court and turned Miller out instead; 10 of the school's 11 full-time teachers and 135 of perhaps 160 students left with him to start their own charter school--but not before tearing apart Dragonfleye's classrooms--what Battistella and her attorney have described as "looting"--and making off with the school's financial, personnel and student records.

Then Battistella hired a new principal and four new teachers to open school last August. Just two months into the new school year, she accused the new principal of starting a near riot by telling parents and teachers that the school's finances were so strained that the school was in danger of closing. Battistella called the police to have the principal escorted off campus, and all four full-time teachers left with her. For the second time in six months, Dragonfleye had to scramble to put adult bodies, anybodys, in front of classes.

Such tumult begs hard questions of the charter-school dream, such as: If the market is supposed to weed out the bad schools, how long does it take? And what happens to the students at those schools while the market is taking its time? Children, after all, are the commodity of education. Each year wasted is a year lost.

Dragonfleye has already lost two years for its children because of the childish behavior of the adults in charge, and still the market has not rendered its decision.

The state agencies charged with the oversight of education--the Department of Education and the State Board of Education--have not moved much faster.

"I think there's some extreme dissatisfaction with this school," says Kenneth Bennett, president of the State Board of Education, which authorized Dragonfleye's charter.

But being difficult is not grounds for revoking a school's charter. And though Bennett would like to see charter schools held accountable for their academics, it is not its interpersonal pyrotechnics, its inability to keep teachers or students, that has called Dragonfleye's charter into question. Not directly, anyway. There had to be grounds the market understood--like bookkeeping.

The state board is concerned because Dragonfleye has not been able to produce all of its student, personnel and financial records for the board's inspection, the very records that angry parents and teachers stole from the files before they fled.

If Battistella loses her school and her platform, it will not be the first time. Twice she had set up her lab in public elementary schools, and twice she was asked to leave. The school district blamed her expulsion on her divisive and combative nature. With much trumpeting by lawyers and flogging of media, Battistella accused the unions and the school administrators of undermining her good works.

"It's a program that works very well, that's proven," Battistella says. "It's such a good program that it's a shame that this has been done to it by people who do not have the best interests at heart.

"Whenever you do anything as a pioneer effort, you're up against it in the beginning," she says. "It takes a very rare type of person with rare qualities to be a pioneer. It might sound very trite, but going down to the foundings of this country, it wasn't everyone who was up to being a pioneer and taking a covered wagon across country. A lot of people gave up and fell by the wayside. It was those stronger people--maybe it was strength, maybe it was determination, maybe it was vision. They fought through to the end and became the first ones to set foot on new soil."

Those former colleagues, however, are not just falling by the wayside as in Battistella's pioneer metaphor. They're uniting against her. The problem with Dragonfleye Charter School, they say, is Gail Battistella.

"I don't know if any of us will ever heal from it," says Libby Bohlen, who taught sixth grade at Dragonfleye until the first blowup. "She is a wretched, wretched person. I think she is capable of really terrible things if pushed to the wall. She's a person who should not have access to anyone--not adults, and certainly not children--because nobody can ever be the same after any lengthy exposure to her."

Like one of her caged chameleons, Gail Battistella takes on a happier hue among the insects and animals in her science lab: tortoises and hares, languorous lizards, sedentary walking sticks, hissing cockroaches, a friendly ferret, and rats of the more trustworthy, four-legged variety. Their cages line the walls on shelves and tables. Little boys and girls in white lab coats wander purposefully from station to station, chopping up lettuce for critter chow, cleaning cages.

Dragonfleye was intended to revolve around the lab, to inject megadoses of hard science into an otherwise standard kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school curriculum as an alternative to what Battistella and her co-founders saw as the failings of public education.

"I'm here because I've seen the program that I do work with kids," she says, "and I've seen the public schools fail so many kids, including my own. And most of the other parents here have been failed in some way and feel there should be something better out there for their kids."

Battistella originally developed her lab as a volunteer parent at her daughter's elementary school. She'd earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, with a major in home economics, then spent a year in law school before embarking on a business career with several techno-corporations in the United States and in Europe.

She first set up the lab at Village Vista, a public elementary school in north Phoenix that her children attended. She was good at getting cash and merchandise donations from businesses, at gathering animals, both living and stuffed, and good at rustling up neighborhood newspaper stories. She claimed to spend 55 volunteer hours per week in the lab, and she won a number of parent-teacher awards. Nonetheless, the school principal asked her to leave in 1992.

In an April 1996 letter, Dr. James Jurs, superintendent of the Paradise Valley Unified School District, wrote that "the science lab was creating a series of disputes within the Village Vista community. Interpersonal relationships between Mrs. Battistella and those she came into contact with at Village Vista deteriorated."

But as Battistella sees it, the principal saw that the lab was good and decided to take it over. As soon as she was gone, she claims, the teachers let some animals die. She says they took the lab's microwave oven and refrigerator for the teachers' lounge and otherwise stripped the lab of its supplies.

Then another elementary school in the district offered to let her move in. She set up shop again at Echo Mountain Elementary School in the fall of 1993, but, as Dr. Jurs explains, "The same series of events occurred at Echo Mountain. The science lab became a distraction and divided the school community. Teachers and members of the parent organization again became frustrated with the direction the science lab took. Demands were made which could not be met. Interpersonal relationships again deteriorated."

Battistella claims that once again, union teachers stepped in and tried to grab her success away from her. She is so virulently anti-teachers union that she uses the term as a pejorative for everything bad in education and she tends to dismiss all public school teachers as union teachers or professional educators. And the prejudice ran so deep that one of her principals at Dragonfleye says Battistella would not allow the word "professional" to be used in the faculty handbook, even in the context of "professional attire," because the word smacked of "professional educators."

Battistella claims that she had wrangled a double-digit grant from the Arizona Community Foundation, and the union--or union teachers--wanted it for themselves.

"They called me into a meeting, and the union representatives told me to my face, 'You will not have your grant money to use yourself,'" she says. "'We will take it. We will give part of it to math and part to the other areas in the school.'"

Battistella fought viciously; she called the media, she found a high-profile attorney. Then the Paradise Valley school board voted 4 to 1 to expel her.

Battistella denies that her personality played a role in either eviction.
"Neither one of them were personality problems," Battistella says of those two dismissals. "They were made to look like that because that was the only thing they could use against us."

But a melodramatic if not combative tone shows clearly in a letter she wrote at that time to the ACLU, accusing the teachers union, the school administration and the city government of conspiring against her.

"In this way they control our young and so control our nation," she wrote. Later in the letter she continues, "I have been raped and violated before the eyes of the public in broad daylight, not once but twice. Because no evidence could be found against me, a character assassination was launched to drive me out and in the process children became the innocent victims of a grand larceny. Although we put up a valiant fight, although we were right, although the law was on our side and although the majority should have ruled, we were defeated. Evil has triumphed, injustice is victorious."

Battistella's current lawyer, Kevin Ahern, points out that people either love or hate Gail Battistella, without any in between, and there was a passionate corps of parents who felt she had been wronged by the school district.

"It seemed perfectly reasonable that these school board members just didn't understand what was happening," says Lon Brouse, one of Battistella's early fans. Brouse is a chiropractor and a chemist, and he had visited Battistella's lab. "Here appeared to be learning, here appeared to be children doing things in a way that I'd been trying for 25 years to get people involved and educated in science."

Pam Miller was the only PV board member who had voted in favor of Battistella; her husband Greg became Battistella's most ardent supporter. Miller now claims that he suggested that Battistella incorporate and petition for nonprofit status with the IRS to protect herself legally in the future. That suggestion would come back to haunt him later.

Miller and Brouse put their heads together and talked Battistella into starting a charter school.

Greg Miller is a portly and portentous man. He exudes an air of patience and reflection, and he speaks with the authority of a self-appointed jack-of-all-trades. Although his college degree is in political science, he's spent a career as an environmental engineer. But he had long been a booster parent, involved in many aspects of his kids' education; his wife sits on the school board and he has chaired advisory committees on curriculum for the PV district. And over the course of that involvement, they'd both known Battistella for years.

Greg Miller "saw the lab as something that would work based on my snapshot view, based on my wanting to see something like this work."

And if he suspected that Battistella might be difficult to work with, he liked the potential the lab seemed to hold. Battistella came up with the name "Dragonfleye": A dragonfly views the world with a multifaceted perspective, the argument went; the creative spelling was to emphasize the word "eye."

The charter proposal they drew up envisioned a building of classrooms set in concentric circles around the lab. And the science classes they'd teach there would prepare students for corporate life afterward. Corporations would be happy to donate large sums of money. In short, the school would thrive in a scientific corporate utopia.

As for their own incorporation, the founders might have paid closer attention.

The organizational board for the school comprised Battistella, Brouse, Greg Miller and five others. All of their signatures appear on the title page of the charter-school incorporation proposal. Brouse and Miller mistakenly assumed that the organizational board would supersede the board of Dragonfleye Science, Inc., the entity that grew out of the Echo Mountain science lab, and that the paperwork down at the Corporation Commission would be changed to reflect the new board. In fact, there were only three names on the incorporation papers: Battistella's, and those of Jan Bingham (now Bingham Meyers) and Mike Kiedrowski, two of her closest supporters; the former was a parent she had met in the Paradise Valley schools and the latter was a veterinarian who looked after the health of her lab animals.

"There were many more critical things going on at the time," says Brouse of the oversight. "We all trusted each other."

Miller was named CEO of the school's board. Board members Brouse and Battistella were to be the on-site administrators, he as principal, she as lab director. The two positions were to be parallel in responsibility and both would report to the board.

Miller found a vacant building on North 19th Avenue that once housed Western International University, and then the fledgling educators made some major miscalculations on how much it would cost to whip it into shape. They'd budgeted $50,000; in fact, they couldn't get a contractor to put in a bid, and the resultant work cost closer to $200,000 out of their first checks from the state Department of Education.

Originally, they'd enrolled 250 students and expected, given attrition and absenteeism, that when the state made its student count--which it uses to calculate the allocation of funds--that there would be at least 200.

But construction took longer than expected and the school opened three weeks late. Students enrolled elsewhere, and the number of students the state counted was set closer to 150.

The school had gotten a large check in July, based on the earlier 200-student estimate, and, to everyone's dismay, the adjustment had to be taken out of the October check. Instead of receiving $75,000, Miller says, the school got $7,500.

Miller scrambled to find a short-term loan so that the school could remain open. Brouse, meanwhile, had burned himself out with the demands of opening the school, and was already frustrated from dealing with Battistella on a day-to-day basis.

"It was very obvious that she was the queen bee and that she intended to be in full control and intended to run her school," he says. "All the rest of us looked at each other and said, 'Wait a minute, aren't we part of this program?' And it was plain very early on that none of us were."

Greg Miller still stood behind Gail Battistella when she felt that Brouse was failing to keep up with the principal's duties.

Battistella wanted Brouse out, and Brouse couldn't agree more. When Greg Miller showed up at the school to counsel him, Brouse quit.

At first Battistella was delighted. But Miller grew increasingly concerned that Battistella, despite claiming that she worked until midnight every evening, never had time to unpack the lab.

The science lab, of course, was supposed to be the hands-on centerpiece of the school, the reason that parents sent their children there. Instead, it was hands-off, as unused and untouched as the sofa in the front room that Mom won't let you sit on. Students would come in and clean cages for a couple hours each day, and they could pay to come in after school. In essence, it was Battistella's private petting zoo and students were only being used as free labor. And, according to Brouse and Miller, Battistella refused to set up a schedule to rotate all the students through the lab or set a date when it would be fully open.

Instead, Battistella spent her days rolling paper through the spindle of her typewriter, churning out page after page of stream-of-consciousness memos. There would be a paragraph to Greg, one to Lon, one for every teacher in the school, listed each after the other. She questioned every invoice, the quantity of photocopying a teacher was doing, the soap in the ladies' room, an extension cord someone had borrowed without permission.

When the first-grade teacher asked that her class be given time with the physical education teacher, Battistella wrote a long rant to Miller, saying, "In my mind, this is one more example of the TEACHERS UNION forming down at yonder end, pushing their luck in wanting more, and more, and more. I advise strongly to cut back and cut back strongly before they get out of hand. [. . .] This is just a repeat performance of what I left behind at Paradise Valley."

Downtown at the offices of the State Board of Education are several fat files chronicling the events leading to the first big explosion. In those files, there are literally hundreds of pages of in-house memos and letters to and from various parents and teachers and state agency personnel that appear to substantiate the claims of Battistella's foes.

In January, the record shows, the lab was still not running to the satisfaction of the other board members, who felt that Battistella was increasingly showing signs of stress and strain. Miller suggested that Battistella take a month off and recuperate, then come back and get the lab going.

Battistella was furious with the suggestion, and instead dug herself a bunker and prepared for a long siege.

The letters in the Board of Education files detail the board members' concerns. According to those letters, Battistella was berating students, sometimes publicly.

"Mrs. Battistella was threatened and intimidated by any student who asked her a question she couldn't answer," says Lon Brouse.

Miller claims that Battistella reduced an eighth-grade boy to tears in front of an audience at an Arizona State University science fair because she mistakenly thought he was not where he was supposed to be. Letters in the downtown files reveal that on another occasion, a parent brought an entomologist from the University of Arizona to see the lab, and Battistella, who was already fuming over other matters, unceremoniously chased them both away. The parent was so embarrassed that she charged back into the lab after the professor had gone and called Battistella a pig.

Battistella's long memo to Miller explaining the outburst shows the state of her mind at the time. It begins: "Shortly after I wrote you the first memo about [the parent], as I was sitting at my typewriter having an ulcer attack and debating whether to call 911, she walked in with the entomologist from UofA."

In early March, the board, now firmly under Miller's command, decided to redesign the school's flow chart so that Battistella would have to report directly to Miller, who was now president, CEO and principal.

The State Board of Education and the Department of Education refused to allow that change.

Miller's attempt to consolidate power only polarized the school further, with teachers and parents lining up behind Miller and Battistella and trading threats and rumors. Marie Coleman, the former office manager for the school, claims that one parent, Michael McNally, threatened her when she refused to hand over Miller's confidential personnel records.

McNally claims he only wanted a copy of Miller's employment contract, which would be a matter of public record, and that Coleman refused to turn it over. "I asked her nicely," McNally says. "I was never abusive."

On April 17, after two written reprimands, after offering a resignation deal, Greg Miller and the Dragonfleye board fired Battistella. Aside from the outbursts and the insubordination and the failure to run the lab, which was her primary job, they alleged that she had breached confidentiality by sharing her notes on students and staff with some of the school parents whom she saw as allies.

But Battistella refused to leave.
The next day she posted a note on the bulletin board announcing that she had dissolved the Dragonfleye organizational board and appointed a new one that would meet the next day.

Miller was stunned by her audacity.
When she still refused to leave the building, Miller called the police and had her escorted off campus. Then he took out restraining orders against Battistella and three sets of parents closely allied with her.

"The next two weeks were the quietest we ever had," Miller says. It was the quiet before the storm.

Once out of the board's sight, Battistella froze the school's bank accounts, and on May 6, she had Miller called into Northwest Justice court to contest the restraining orders against her and the parents named in the injunction.

When Miller showed up, he was surprised to see that Battistella was accompanied by her lawyer. He called his own, but to little avail. Battistella's paperwork was perfectly in order.

The State Board of Education had entered into its charter-school contract with Dragonfleye Science, Inc., and the articles of incorporation registered with the Corporation Commission showed that Dragonfleye Science, Inc., had just three directors: Battistella, Jan Bingham and Mike Kiedrowski. Whether the names of the other school founders had been left off the paperwork intentionally or by accident, Miller had no valid legal claim to Dragonfleye in the eyes of the court.

John Barclay, the justice of the peace, ruled that Battistella was a rightful owner of the school's charter, and he likened Miller's actions to a South American coup d'etat.

"My understanding of the present charter-school laws are the following," Barclay told the courtroom. "If Mr. Gregory Miller thinks that Ms. Battistella is going to have chaos wherever she goes, then he has a right to form his own school and take all those unhappy students from Ms. Battistella away and have them sign up at his school."

And that is basically what Mr. Gregory Miller did.
As for whether Battistella was qualified to run the school, Barclay later told New Times, "She probably has a personality problem, but I wasn't ruling on her personality. I wasn't ruling on whether her teachers liked her."

Judge Barclay's ruling burned up the telephone lines, and teachers and parents on both sides of the debate raced to the school. What happened next is open to argument.

The teachers who had backed Greg Miller claim that they had only taken their personal belongings, but Battistella's lawyer, Kevin Ahern, says that when he returned to the school after the justice court hearing, there were cars backed up to the school doors and adults were carrying boxes and boxes of books and papers out of the school and putting them in cars. Inside, he claims, they were looting the school.

"When they left, there was nothing on this campus," Battistella says. "They took the world globe. They tore toilets off the wall. Some classrooms didn't have a book, didn't have a piece of curriculum left, nothing."

Battistella and her parents took photographs of the destruction. One of her exhibit photos shows about 10 computers lined up on a floor, and she claims it as evidence that the renegade teachers tried to steal everything they could.

"Those computers had been lined up from the day they were donated," says Lon Brouse. "Gail took all donations and put them into a locked back room that only she controlled. So those pictures and most everything else she presented was a lie."

But in fact, parents or teachers took most of the school's student, personnel and financial records, whole file cabinet drawers at a time.

And everyone behaved badly. Ahern recalls seeing one teacher push a police officer out of her way, place a box of materials in her car, start the car and nearly run him over despite his orders to the contrary.

Michael McNally, one of the parents who had been subject to the restraining order, allegedly strutted around saying that no one could keep him off the school grounds. He found his daughter's teacher--he and his wife had long complained that the teacher gave too much homework--followed her into a room and let her know that he'd gathered a tidbit or two about her past employment. She still believes he was given access to her employment records.

McNally claims that the information was on letters that students found while cleaning out her room.

"No one got to her records," he says. "I respect confidentiality."
Days later, when they learned that records had been taken from the school by the exiting teachers and students, Miller and Brouse and Marie Coleman all claim that they asked the offending parents and teachers to bring that material to Miller's attorney and that the materials were returned to Battistella.

Two days later, Miller was back in justice court, accused of contempt by Battistella's faction. Someone had seen him talking on a cell phone during the May 6 court appearance and assumed he was ordering the looting of the school. Barclay threw the allegations out.

When the dust cleared, 100 families, 135 kids and 10 classroom teachers had left with Miller and held classes for the next three weeks at a local church. Miller says 30 students--Battistella says 50--remained at Dragonfleye, along with one full-time teacher and a couple of part-timers.

Battistella refused to see the dispute as another personality conflict.
"A coup d'etat is not a personality conflict," she says. "It was an attempted theft.

"What you see is a pattern of people not doing the work, wanting to steal something that's very, very good.

"Excuse me, and this is important," she says, "but there is no behavior on our part, at all, ever, at any moment that could be termed impropriety or anything out of line," she says.

"All of it was Greg! All of it!"

Challenge Charter School opened in August in the classroom buildings of Community Church of Joy in Glendale with 88 students, six teachers and the office manager Marie Coleman. Most of them were refugees from Dragonfleye.

Battistella claims that the Challenge teachers and board members stole her enrollment lists and called those students over the summer to say that Dragonfleye was reopening in a new location under a new name. She alleges that the former teachers and employees harass her and her board in other ways, such as making crank calls.

Dragonfleye reopened as well, with a new principal, four new classroom teachers, about 70 students and a drawerful of bills left over from the year before.

Gary Ullom, the Dragonfleye board member who handles finances, says, "When we totaled everything up, we came up with about a quarter-million dollars of unpaid debt."

Ullom, it should be noted, removed his children from the school, even though he sits on the board.

Kate McClaren, the new principal, was at first wary of taking a job at the beleaguered school, but after meeting with the board members, she says, she believed that Greg Miller and his cronies had indeed been a cancer on the school and had stolen the school away while Battistella was buried and busy in the lab. She trusted the new board.

"I was looking at them as the injured party," she says.
McClaren is pert and perky, a 25-year veteran teacher, a specialist in trilingual education--English, Spanish and American Sign Language. She'd been a nun. She'd been a Catholic school principal in Phoenix and in St. Louis. She'd even applied for her own charter, but turned it down when she was offered the Dragonfleye job. That job, as she understood it, was to run the school and report to the board; Battistella's job was to run the lab.

McClaren hired the four new teachers, and the year was off to a fresh start.
But then the scenario started to repeat itself.
The lab never seemed to be available to all students, and of those kids who had a regular lab period, McClaren says, "They cleaned cages for the whole quarter."

"The explanation," McClaren continues, "was that Gail was so busy taking care of business things that she could never really get the lab to where it needed to be."

And then the rule-making began. No one could move furniture without Battistella's permission, McClaren says, even to borrow a chair in a pinch from a nearby classroom. Every piece of paper that teachers sent home had to be approved by Battistella.

One of McClaren's responsibilities was to administer the dress code; she felt that Battistella frequently countermanded her decisions in that regard. And they tangled as to what constituted appropriate discipline.

"[Battistella] told me routinely, she told teachers routinely that she wanted us to tell parents that they should be spanking the children," McClaren says.

The tirades began anew.
"She was being mean and nasty, berating people," McClaren continues. "There was one kid who sat at my desk with his mom over his interactions with Gail, and he sat there and said, 'There is nothing I can do right in her eyes.' And he was right."

When McClaren took her concerns to Battistella, Battistella made it clear that McClaren reported directly to her. McClaren thought she answered to the board, but Battistella told her, "The board didn't matter because she had gotten rid of one board and she could get rid of another."

On October 28, the board presented McClaren with a list of things she could do better. And since the school was financially strapped--they said--they wanted her to step down as principal and take a job as seventh-grade teacher at a lower salary. And they couldn't even afford to pay her at all for the next six weeks.

Not only was the school unable to make payroll, but McClaren understood that it was close to shutting down altogether. In fact, the board and Battistella had put the entire staff on notice of the shortfall and let them know that if they couldn't work without a paycheck for the next several weeks, they were free to go.

McClaren had signed a contract to be principal and she didn't want to be anything less, and so she chose to turn down the offer for a teacher position, since they weren't happy with her performance anyway.

Wednesday, October 30, was to be McClaren's last day. It had been set aside for parent-teacher conferences, and the students were released early. As McClaren walked the halls, a parent arriving for a conference stopped her and asked if it were true that she was leaving.

McClaren admitted that she was, and as the parent expressed her regrets, a commotion broke out down the hall.

Gail Battistella emerged from the ruckus. She marched down the hall and as she passed McClaren, she spat, "You bitch. Goddamn you."

Before McClaren reached the ruckus, before she could figure out why Battistella had cursed her, another teacher approached her and asked, "Why is Mike [McNally] changing the lock on your door?"

McNally had taken over the school's upkeep under the new regime.
McClaren forced her way into her office to find Battistella on the phone to the police, calling them to have McClaren escorted from the premises for wreaking havoc.

Five police officers arrived and, under their watch and those of McNally and Battistella, she cleaned out her desk.

Battistella's version of the story alleges that McClaren was inciting the teachers to tell parents that they were leaving.

"They had kids crying all over the place," Battistella says. "They had parents upset coming into the office demanding their children's records right then and there. They had kids withdrawing. They had a minor riot here."

And so Battistella did exactly what Greg Miller had done the year before. She called the police and she changed the locks.

"Yes, I called the police to escort the principal out of the school," she continues, "lest there be any more disturbance and lest she steal anything like Greg Miller had done last year."

The school's four full-time teachers left with McClaren; three of them followed her to Glendale and went to work for Greg Miller at Challenge Charter School.

Jan Bingham Meyers, who has been on the Dragonfleye board since its inception, dismissed the teacher walkout as union nonsense.

"You're talking about people from the teachers union. They've all been educated by the same system. They all come from the same mindset," she told a New Times reporter. "They're all liberals. And I guess you are, too."

On January 27, the State Board of Education will hold a hearing to decide whether Dragonfleye School's charter should be revoked.

Although there are myriad complaints about Battistella's behavior in the files at the state board, they are not cause for revocation in themselves.

Kenneth Bennett, the state board president, explains, "It is a frustrating situation where some things having to do with the operation of a school, however inflammatory and frustrating it is for us to look in and see it or hear about it, some of those things do remain within the threshold of the management of the school. When students are leaving en masse, that's very frustrating."

But essentially, it's a personnel matter that can only be dealt with by the school's administration and governing board--which Battistella controls.

"The weakest area [of oversight] right now is the most important area, and that is the academic accountability of the schools," Bennett continues.

"I would like as president of the board to try to move us in the direction of a much more comprehensive accountability of these charter schools."

Ironically, the grounds of possible revocation cited by the state board in its notice of intent was that Dragonfleye had failed to "produce all attendance records, teacher grade books, student evaluations, all financial records, class lesson plans, and all USFR [Uniform System of Financial Records] records."

In short, those are the materials that disappeared when Miller's teachers and parents descended on the school in the wake of the justice of the peace restoring the school to Battistella.

Miller claims that all the records were returned to the best of his knowledge. Battistella says they were not. And the state board doesn't care who took them, but clearly feels that Battistella is responsible for them.

"Whether it's a business or a private school, the IRS wouldn't take too kindly to me saying, 'Oh, darn it, my accountant didn't file my tax returns the last three years and I don't have that stuff anymore,'" Bennett says. "That just doesn't count, blaming it on someone else."

Kevin Ahern, Battistella's lawyer, hopes that the state board will be more interested in allowing Dragonfleye School to fix its problems than in making an example.

"I think there should be a measured and reasoned response," he says, "and if Dragonfleye can demonstrate that it's in substantial compliance, I would hope that would be their goal."

Such a decision would be what in business is called a "win-win situation."
For the children who go to school at Dragonfleye, either way the board decides could be lose-lose.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >