Parents, staff fed up with new private school


As Alexandria Academy prepares to finish their inaugural year, a group of former parents are raising concerns about the schools staff, the remaining students and the founder. 
Facing financial difficulties, academy officials opted to close the school in April, only to reverse the decision when many of their debtors agreed to waive outstanding payments until after the school year. With most of the original teachers laid off, the parents of all but five students chose to withdraw their children. 
Founder T.R. Ahlstrom decided to push ahead, teaching civics and rhetoric himself, according to a letter he wrote to Mayor Bill Euille obtained by the Times. Mathematics are taught by a teacher who opted to carry on without pay, while a group of volunteers from St. Johns College and Alexandria lead the schools remaining classes. 
Believe it or not were going to make it, Ahlstrom said. I will say this: this is the greatest expression of civitas, of public, ordinary citizens stepping forward to do good, that Ive seen in my life.
But former Academy parent Ann Henshaw is worried about the education the remaining five children, four of whom are on scholarships, are receiving. She also wonders why the academy is operational while indebt. Former staff members have not been paid, Henshaw said, and cannot collect unemployment. 
The teachers, if you talk to these young teachers, they worked and then they didnt get paid, she said. Yet theres still a school down there, there are still teachers down there. Without all the fluff, thats just wrong.
Shes quick to point out there is no animosity between her and Ahlstrom. Henshaw believes in the school model, which emphasizes a classic education based on rhetoric, grammar and logic, but worries the academys financial instability will give the school a black eye in Alexandria.
Until theres a substantial change until we pay off a ton of debt from the moral and ethical perspective it shouldnt be allowed to go on until the debts are cleared, Henshaw said. From a parents perspective, you shouldnt be able to go forward unless youve caught up with your past and paid up your teachers for services rendered.
At least one former staff member has taken out a warrant in debt, essentially a lawsuit, against Ahlstrom in Alexandria court, according to court records. 
Henshaw and a group of fellow former parents also have contacted the city, speaking with Euille and requesting an inspection of the school by code administration. The review, performed early in May, cleared the academy of any violations, said John Catlett, department director. 
Theres not much city officials can do, though theyre aware of the parents concerns, Euille said. 
The academy is a private school, its not a matter that the city or the public school system has any authority over, he said. Its not a charter school nor is it a nonprofit or anything else that has contract relations with the City of Alexandria. Its a private entity and it is what it is.
Euille does plan to discuss what, if any, options municipal authorities have with public schools Superintendent Morton Sherman. 
Ahlstrom did approach the city with a request for possible funding, though the academy is not on the list of potential grant winners headed before the city council Tuesday evening, the mayor said. 
Ahlstrom has taken a dim view of former parents turning to the city with their concerns. Its about money, he said.
I know I have my critics and I know why theyre upset. No one could be so cruel that theyd really want to close the school for other kids, Ahlstrom said. I cannot impute motives to other peoples bad behavior, but shame on anyone who would try to shut down the school.
Its about more than just money, Henshaw said. She fears Ahlstrom will continue to take cash from other parents for next year though no official decision as to whether the school will open again in the fall has been made, according to Ahlstrom. 
I believe in the academy and Im concerned about its stability. I wouldnt want anybody to go through this, she said. I could just go away and say my kid is fine, but Im worried about what happens next. I wouldnt want somebody to go through this.