DORSET — The Long Trail School’s faculty and staff have called for the “unconditional and immediate resignation” of John Moser, the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, an independent review of head of school Seth Linfield’s performance, and pledged to walk off campus if those demands and others are not met, the faculty said in a letter sent to the school community Monday.
The letter also seeks the removal of a policy added earlier this month that allows for disenrollment of students whose guardians behave unacceptably or cause disruption, at the school’s discretion.
In a response sent to the Journal by Moser, the board did not address the faculty demands directly, including the demand that he resign, but reiterated an invitation extended by Linfield to faculty members, to take part in a “listening session” set for Friday, and a strategic planning session planned for November.
“The Long Trail School will be strongest and the students best served when the entire community works together. This is best achieved through in-person communication,” the board said. “Earlier today we sent an invitation directly to all faculty and staff asking them to share their concerns and thoughts with us this Friday ... in a listening session that will be moderated by a third-party professional and attended by the Head of School, the Chair of the Board and other Board members. We hope that all teachers will participate in this meeting so we can hear their ideas directly and have a constructive conversation.”
Asked what he thought of the request he resign, Moser said “I look forward to hearing their specific concerns on Friday.”
The faculty action comes a week after a public meeting at which faculty and parents expressed concern about a lack of transparency from the board and what they characterized as Linfield’s top-down management style.
At that meeting, Long Trail community members raised concerns about the number of faculty and staff who have left in the past three years and the student-teacher ratio in the middle school grades, where enrollment has grown in the past two years. Board members did not attend in person, and Linfield said he could not attend because of religious observance.
At that meeting — a rare peek behind the curtain of independent school governance, usually conducted in private — the grades 6 through 12 independent school’s founder, David Wilson, called on all sides to enter into private mediation to settle the differences, saying they should do so for the good of the school’s 239 students.
In response, the board pledged it would “continue to solicit feedback from all members of our community, including teachers,” and conduct a special strategic planning meeting with staff and board members to focus on enrollment, growth and class size.”
Faculty and parents said that response did not directly respond to their concerns, and characterized it as “filled with obfuscations of the truth.”
Linfield has been the head of school since 2017. Moser, of Dorset, is the CEO of CityLax, a nonprofit group dedicated to growing lacrosse in New York City and Albany, N.Y. He also teaches a course at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality.
The letter from faculty calls for a mediated forum, to be held by Oct. 14, with goals including an independent “360-degree review” of Linfield; Moser’s resignation; a review and update of the board’s bylaws to reflect local and national standards of school governance; and new board of trustee elections that would add a teacher liaison elected by faculty, a minimum of two parent representatives, an elected alumni representative and a student liaison.
The faculty are also seeking information about the school’s finances and its line-item budget, as well as the details of Linfield’s contract and contract renewal date.
If these conditions are not met by the end of the school day Oct. 14, the letter said, its signers will not enter school on Oct. 15, instead gathering for class on the school’s fields.
“Furthermore, if stipulations are not met by the end of the day on [Monday] October 18, the signatories will continue the walkout off campus on October 19 ... and look forward to returning to the classroom when the aforementioned concerns are resolved.”
Linfield, in a letter to faculty, recognized their concerns but did not speak directly to the demands. The letter was provided to the Journal by the administration
“Thank you for always meeting and speaking with me candidly, including this past Friday,” he said. “I understand that you have concerns regarding the governance of our school. We take your concerns seriously. The Board and Administration of LTS greatly value open expression and communication. That is how we improve and best serve our students.”
“Furthermore, there is much work to be done on strategic enrollment, compensation and benefits, and our culture in coming together to educate the students we serve and their families,” he said. “Two intertwined school-wide task forces, on strategic enrollment led by Katie, and on compensation led by Mary Ellen, will help us navigate today’s complex landscape and forecast scenarios. All faculty and staff have been invited to join either or both task forces. We will combine all of our experiences and expertise to analyze our situation, collect data, and think creatively.”
Twenty-six members of the faculty signed the letter, including all four teachers who spoke at the “town hall” that highlighted faculty and parent concerns on Sept. 20.
That forum was attended by about 60 people in person and was seen by another 260 people online. It took place after a group of four concerned parents said they sought and were denied a hearing with the board of trustees. The school’s leadership met with one of the parents.
At the town hall meeting, faculty members raised concerns about the loss of the school’s tight-knit sense of community, one of its hallmarks since its founding; about the number of faculty and staff who have left under Linfield’s administration; about Moser’s response to a faculty letter of no confidence in January 2020; about the lack of posted board of trustees meeting minutes; and questions about whether the board of trustees has a legal quorum under its current bylaws.
Parent organizers said the most recent version of the bylaws they have seen, as of 2019, set a term limit of seven years for service on the board. The Journal has made repeated requests for a copy of the current bylaws to Linfield and Moser, and Monday’s faculty letter seeks the publication of the bylaws on the school website.
In a statement attributed to the board before the town hall meeting, the board said it backed Linfield “1000 percent,” citing his leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic and the growth of enrollment at the school.
In addition to Moser, the board includes Andrea Ross of Manchester, Jim Anderson of Chittenden, Dr. Julie Foster of Rutland, Sue Bastian of Manchester, Thomas Whalen of McKinney, Texas, and Amy Thebault of Manchester.