Parent Stacy Spinnato will not be sending her child back to Riverwalk Academy next year due to her growing concerns regarding the charter school’s future.
Parents and former staff members of Riverwalk Academy, a public K-12 charter school off Mount Gallant Road in Rock Hill, continue to share concerns about the recent firings of multiple staff members and changes in administration. A group addressed the school board during Monday’s regular board meeting.
Spinnato said she was excited when she first brought her child to Riverwalk, but was disappointed when teachers were let go and the administration changed.
Several Riverwalk teachers and staff members were told on June 9 via e-mail and letters that they would not have a job next year.
One of those staff members is Jane Guissinger, Riverwalk’s former receptionist, who Spinnato described as her “go-to” person at the school.
“Whenever I needed something done I would go to her,” Spinnato said. “I had great expectations and unfortunately this school failed me as a parent, my husband and my children. We won’t be returning to Riverwalk next year.”
I had great expectations and unfortunately this school failed me as a parent, my husband and my children. We won’t be returning to Riverwalk next year.
Stacy Spinnato, parent
Guissinger said she withdrew her appeal of the administration’s decision not to offer her an at-will position for the upcoming school year.
“I knew I would get nowhere,” she said. “I feel as though I was unfairly let go. I have given my heart and soul to Riverwalk Academy.”
Riverwalk functions on at-will employment, which allows both the employer and employee to terminate employment at any time without cause or reason.
The policy complies with the South Carolina Charter School Act’s requirement for a reasonable grievance and termination procedure, said Taylor Fulcher, director of communications for the South Carolina Public School District, which includes the state’s public charter schools.
Riverwalk does not have to comply with state law, which says the board of trustees of public school districts must give employees notice by May 1 concerning their reemployment, Fulcher said.
“In the district’s view, Riverwalk therefore is not required to comply with the Teacher Dismissal Act and is in compliance with the Charter School Act,” she said.
Riverwalk Academy Principal Cora Stepp said the school cannot publicly comment on personnel matters, but “each spring, Riverwalk Academy assesses the school’s personnel needs for the upcoming school year and makes employment decisions accordingly.”
Guissinger said the firing of her peers was wrong.
“We were all treated horribly and lied to by this adminstration,” she said. “I can only hope this administration’s decisions going forward will not include being lied to and that new policies will be put in place by the board to prohibit this type of unprofessional behavior from happening to others in the future.”
Board members cannot comment on personnel and student matters, but after Monday’s meeting the Riverwalk school board adopted a communications/public information policy, said Mariann Carter, board chair.
The policy “confirmed the board’s intent to cultivate and support active parental involvement to promote an intelligent and informed community,” Carter wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “The Riverwalk Academy board of directors appreciates and encourages the passion and dedication that students, parents and community members have for Riverwalk Academy, and the board looks forward to continuing to hear from and work with stakeholder groups for the growth and benefit of our students.”
Many parents have shared their disappointment in the school’s recent decisions.
Missie Maloney, a Girls on the Run coach at Riverwalk and a parent, said she has not seen the success of the program at the charter school that she has seen elsewhere. Girls on the Run is a non-profit that teaches 8 to 13-year-old girls life skills.
“Because Girls on the Run is such a fun and inspiring program, participants want to come back each season,” Maloney said.
At Riverwalk, Maloney said she has lost eight participants and both of her assistant coaches this year.
“This worries me,” she said. “If I looked at this school as a business venture, I would have to say that it is failing. It is failing to communicate effectively with its families, it’s failing to find out what the families’ wants and needs are. Sadly, I don’t think that the choices made were in the best interest.”
The changes also worry parent Kim Chandler, who said her daughter with special needs does not adapt well to change.
“All of these people she’s used to are gone,” Chandler said. “This was a lot of change and I find it unacceptable. Hopefully, this will end.”
Riverwalk parent Eve Rhodes, who will give the school another chance next school year, said the school board needs to hold the administration accountable.
“You guys have an obligation to us to make good decisions and to show up and do what you signed up for,” said Rhodes, referring to some board members having been late to a few of the meetings held this month.
“These kids are sent to school by their parents, and parents truly believe their best interest is at stake when they show up every day,” Rhodes said. “I want to see change for the positive.”
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082