- Associated Press - Thursday, July 20, 2017

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) - The New England Center for Circus Arts has elected a new board of directors and hired an interim executive director and operations director, effectively ending a leadership crisis that saw its previous board members resign after they fired the center’s founders.

In a news release Thursday night, the center said it had rescinded the termination letters sent to the nonprofit’s founders, sisters Elise Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, and invited coaches who quit their jobs in protest to return.

New board president Elizabeth Wohl said the coaches are central to the circus school’s mission. “We are so fortunate that their commitment to their students runs so deep,” she said.

The center, founded in 2007, offers classes in circus arts, such as trapeze, trampoline and aerial skills. It serves more than 2,000 people of all ages each year and recently moved into a new building in Brattleboro.

The center hired Jeffrey Lewis as interim executive director and Jamie Hodgson as operations director. Lewis is former executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. He is the chief executive officer of Apetrop USA, a Brattleboro-based insurance consulting company. Hodgson has been with NECCA for 10 years, serving as program director of its Intensive Program and more recently the ProTrack program.

The new seven-member board replaces a four-person board whose members resigned amid pressure from the staff after the founders were terminated. Three board members resigned on Wednesday and board chairman and executive director Micheal Helmstadter resigned July 14.

Helmstadter said after the founders were fired many staff went on strike and camp sessions were canceled early this week, Vermont Public Radio reported (https://bit.ly/2voDkhY). Classes resumed Wednesday after a mediator was brought in, but the staff insisted the four-member board resign.

“The board is taking this opportunity to step aside so that new leadership can continue the conversation,” the previous board said in a press release Wednesday. “We look forward to seeing the new building filled with students.”

One parent, Keith Marshall, said he’s brought his daughter to the circus arts center for four years and he’s not surprised to see a nonprofit struggle as it grows.

“It’s called mission drift,” he told Vermont Public Radio. “And unfortunately, a lot of nonprofit bylaws are written in a way that doesn’t safeguard against having a board of directors that has a vision that is different from the founders.”

Board member Mel Martin said the timing of the turmoil has not been good.

“One of the most pressing needs right now is our financial stability,” he said before he resigned. “The impact of last week’s actions have simply been severely impactful on the finances of NECCA.”

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