President Gregory and Committee Members,
I hope this note finds you well. I write to you to express my regret at being unable to attend the meeting tomorrow night. I am very glad to know that Wilmington City Council had reached out to Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to provide testimony before your council on the recently announced priority schools initiative by Governor Markell. I write this as an individual public official who serves on a board. This e-mail, in no way, is designed to be or is necessarily reflective of the board’s quorum opinion.
The concepts of this state takeover have long been known to school boards and districts who have paid attention to the landscape of education policy since our state decided to apply for, and win, the Race to the Top grant in 2009-2010. The State Board of Education passed multiple administrative code changes in 2010 to set the stage for this momentous moment we now share: the complete takeover of 6 city schools. I realize this sounds like a hyperbolic statement, and that many people would contend that the state has no such right, but regardless of any legal wrangling that is currently or may soon take place, the state clearly believes it does have this right and the Priority Schools initiative is the opening salvo. I further recognize that there is significant and justified frustration with the self-determination rights of city residents with regards to the education of its own citizens that has been impeded relentlessly since 1978 by multiple court orders, the Charter Schools act of 1995 and the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2001 and all of the cumulative, resultant political fighting that has been waged and that still permeates the landscape of public education in Delaware today.
I write to you as an unpaid elected public official that collects votes district-wide which includes voters from the sections of the Wilmington that Christina serves in order to provide a very basic primer. Attached are 3 documents: a blank MOU, a copy of the Turnaround/Priority Schools guide, and the most recent CSD press release:
1) The MOU: unilaterally written by the DOE and presented to the districts with a demand to sign and enter into said understanding. Christina decided to ignore this document primarily due to specific language demanding the districts cede control of buildings, fire the entire staff (with a maximum of only 50% rehire), replace school leaders with a DOE only criteria. CSD undertook the decision to ignore the MOU as direct result of the passionate testimony of our community and our teachers. I would like to note and thank both Mr. Chukwuocha and Sherry Dorsey Walker for attending and Mr. Chukwuocha for speaking. I was particularly impressed with Mr. Chukwuocha’s desire to use this process as a starting point. I fully concur, but with significant admonitions about the parameters set forth by the DOE MOU. If we can work together with the DOE to get past some of the tenets being mandated by the MOU that have no evidence of working beyond an anecdote from a charter school (which bears no meaningful resemblance to a feeder pattern school) or some far away city, then I feel that Mr. Chukwuocha’s position to have great merit. My experience with our DOE unfortunately does not lend itself to implicit trust but rather one of careful caution. I trust Mr. Chukwuocha and Ms. Dorsey Walker can effectively inform the committee of their experience at our BOE meeting from 9/30/14. Again, thanks for attending!
2) The Turnaround Guide: it is 156 pages long and was presented to the districts, sight unseen, devoid of community input or peer reviewed evidence of working. Read at your own peril, it’s a difficult piece of work to understand for schools and education wonks. Lots of catch phrases and jargon, light on both substance and efficacy.
3) Our recent press release. I offer this to gently counter the emerging DOE messaging that Christina is being obstinate. We are not. We welcome the DOE’s “all ears” approach and are hopeful that they will cease the inflammatory language designed to convince local officials that we are acting as a roadblock to helping our students and join us in working for our students.
The problems in education are too deep and complex to cover in an email like this. We struggle ever day to maximize the effort and efficacy of our educators in an environment that does not provide equitable resource allocation to children in high needs schools here in Delaware. Resource allocation and weighted funding are simply not addressed by this initiative.
After a careful and deliberate reading are two things I can say with absolute certainty about this plan:
* Labeling our schools with a fancy name will not fix them
* Adding a paltry sum as proposed is an absolute insult to the intelligence of your committee and will in no way fix our schools
I do realize that this is a major moment. We must all remain laser focused on what works and not simply disruption for the purpose of making the adults feel better about themselves. I give the DOE a measure of credit for acknowledging that not all of their turnaround plans have worked. I wish they had taken some of those lessons and applied them here. This Priority Schools initiative takes from the worst of the practices: disruption and unfettered autonomy both created by fiat. The funds they have to offer to buy this model is a pittance compared to the needs of our kids, and they are counting on us focusing on some money being better than no money.
As a U.S. History major I urge you all to be measured and critical of that proposition. Schools have faced similar reforms being offered by the Delaware DOE before in Philly, D.C, Chicago, L.A., NYC, Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Miami, Milwaukee and New Orleans to name just a few. Their failures are simply too long to list. The hallmark trait of all of them: a dearth of community involvement.
History demands we pay attention and seek to learn from them.
Thank you for reading and good luck tomorrow, Mr. Murphy deserves to be both heard and questioned by your committee.
John M. Young
Member – Christina School Board