School in turmoil: Eagle Arts Academy loses 3 principals in 3 months

Eagle Arts Academy, a Wellington charter school struggling through academic and financial problems, can’t seem to hold on to a principal this year.

Since August, three principals have departed the school after being fired or resigning, leaving the campus and its teaching staff in constant turmoil.

As it searches for a permanent academic leader, the school has tapped the school’s executive director to be interim principal, even though he has no formal background as an educator.

The tumult has Palm Beach County School District administrators worried about the effect on the school’s students.

“We have a concern about the instability of the administration, which would directly relate to instructional concerns that we also have,” said Jim Pegg, director of the school district’s charter school department.

The K-8 school, which educates about 780 students, dropped to a D rating this year and just went through a yearlong audit by the school board’s inspector general.

It also has faced controversy over its financial dealings with Gregory James Blount, its founder, executive director and now principal.

But the turmoil at the top started as the school year began in August.

First, Principal Ann Simone, who had headed the school for more than a year, resigned abruptly during the first week of classes, reportedly after a “falling out” with Blount.

She was replaced as principal by an assistant principal named Michael Smith. He lasted until late October, when, Pegg said, he was fired after a clash with Blount.

Taking his place was Paul Copeland, who left the principal post this month to take a job as a funeral director.

“Paul lasted two weeks and he resigned,” Pegg said.

Smith and Copeland both declined to comment. Simone did not respond to a request for comment.

The school district already has Eagle Arts on a school improvement plan to address financial and academic problems. But now administrators say they are also considering more drastic actions, including a possible shutdown of the school.

“It goes back to the lack of leadership,” Pegg said. “There are some teachers there that are dedicated to kids but they’re not getting any support. The instruction is sub-par.”

Neither Blount nor the school’s chairman, Timothy Quinn, responded to messages seeking comment. In a message to school parents released after a version of this story was published online, Quinn vowed that the school would not close and announced that Blount would take on the principal role.

“The school’s founder, Greg James Blount, is continuing to oversee all aspects of the school’s operations and will add the role of interim principal to his duties, providing the leadership as the school continues to realize his vision,” Quinn wrote.

Naming someone with no education experience as principal is an unusual move but not prohibited by law, Pegg said. State rules that require public school teachers to have state certification do not apply to principals.

Pegg added, though, that “in most cases when you have a non-educator trying to be the instructional leader, it’s not the preferred direction.”

As a charter school, Eagle Arts is financed by public tax dollars and privately managed by a non-profit board of directors. But it is required by law to comply by the conditions of its charter with the county school board.

Saying that the school’s financial dealings violated the school’s charter, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa in September ordered the school to recover money that it paid to Blount.

Avossa’s order came after The Palm Beach Post revealed last year that Eagle Arts had paid more than $175,000 to three companies owned by Blount, who founded the school, served stints as its chairman, then became its executive director earlier this year.

Among the transactions uncovered by The Post: more than $37,000 being steered to Blount’s companies as a loan “repayment” even though Blount had never loaned money to the school. The school also paid Blount an additional $9,600 in “interest,” records show.

Avossa concluded that the school’s charter prohibited any compensation for startup costs preceding the school’s opening in 2014.

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