Part 1 of the Wilmington City Council meeting recording transcribed by me, from the October 9th council meeting discussing the priority school plan, with guests Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and Dr. Penny Schwinn, is found here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/wilmington-city-council-vs-the-de-doe-murphy-schwinn-the-qa-part-1/
Gregory: Could you dispel the rumor, there’s a strong rumor there’s a federal list of school leaders that would be picked from and brought into Wilmington to head the schools.
Murphy: The school leaders are picked locally, the school communities choose the school leader. We will approve the school leader to ensure that that person meets the quality bar. But that person comes from the district.
Gregory: So you set the rubrics, and then you accept the school leader, and if the school doesn’t perform as you think they should, based on the standards, they will be closed, charterized, or given to a management company?
Murphy: No, the (whispering to Schwinn, moving hands around)
Gregory: What would happen?
Schwinn: Yeah, so, there’s the planning process, which is happening between now and December 31st, I think what you’re referencing in terms of an approvable plan. And the approvable plan basically says here’s the expectation, how you choose to get there at the school level is a local decision. Once those plans are approved then the responsibility role of the Department (of Education) is to monitor those schools in terms of performance based on the reporting template that those schools provide to us and that those schools decide on. So for years one through, when those schools are in operation, executing approved plans, the responsibility of the Department is to look and to make sure they are meeting the goals that they have set out for themselves in the school plans.
Gregory: Councilman Shabazz, she embedded in one of her questions, the fact that now you’re gonna consider what Wilmington thinks is important for their kids and that was an answer and then she and I got into a little dialogue. But there have been three neighborhood school plans, one from the Council, one from a community group, one from Senator Margaret Rose Henry, a task force, now we have another task force, will you take into consideration elements in those plans? Have you consideration of elements in those plans?
Murphy: Our focus here is on the six schools and the 2,000 children. If there are elements in those plans that the local communities deem are important and necessary, as they have deemed in the past through some of these task forces, then that could certainly be part of the plan to turn around the school.
Councilman Williams: Thank you first and foremost for your time this evening. Listening intently to your plan, I heard a few of the keys. You talked a little bit about leadership, you talked about community, you talked about the students. And aside from some incentives, what’s the buy-in for the educators, the ones that are in the trenches, the ones that performing these tasks that you’re asking of? What’s your overall consencus from the educators?
Murphy: (stumbling at first to find words) But one thing to make sure that we ground ourselves in, is that the research is crystal clear is that the quality of the teaching that children receive, the quality of the educators is the single most important factor in our schools. And so what, what we’re saying here is that as part of this process, our educators have got to be engaged, in how they shape the future of the school, what the programs are, what the schedules are, what the needs of the children are, what the extra services are, that has to be determined by the school community, and that school community is inclusive of the educators inside the school. Buy-in and ownership happens over time, through that authentic engagement in that planning process.
Williams: Thank you.
Chuwuocha: Councilman Cabrera…
Cabrera: Thank you Mr. Murphy and Dr. Schwinn, for being here today. You had mentioned about achievements, and I think as a parent of a child in that school district, I think there is concern for me. You talked about, I guess I wanna know the intensive support and intervention methods are going to be put in place. I know you’re asking the community to give input. Specifically, the president just touched on this, one of the things that we read going to be input from city leaders, but will there be actual authority from city leaders and others in the implementation of the plan? That’s one comment. Specifically, my concerns are obviously accountability. We hold teachers accountable when we look at the testing system. We basically put everything on their shoulders to transform some of the issues that are taking place in our community when it comes to dealing with children. Now my son goes to a school where there is a mixed community, more and more we see that as people move into that community there are challenges that the teachers have with children that they did not have before. We look at children that are coming from home environments where there has been trauma, where there is poverty, where there are issues beyond the teachers control in trying to teach a child. And I’ll tell you, my son right now, who has excelled, has been on the honor roll, is having challenges in his 5th grade class, because there are “children” who are unruly in his class, and he doesn’t feel like he is getting the education that he needs. He demanded homework the second day of school, he demanded extra work, he wants to just go back to his fourth grade teacher who challenged him, to the point that I don’t have to give him medication. I know we have excellent teachers, but were saying is that were gonna hold principals accountable, teachers accountable, and there’s just things going on that are beyond their control. So with this plan, and with this money, will there be support systems for the parents and the situations that are taking place at our homes that are causing some of these children not to succeed?
Murphy: A school is a community. As part of what makes it that community are our teachers. But our teachers cannot and should not shoulder all the challenges that are faced in the children who walk through the doors. Nor should our principals shoulder these things. This has to be a community component. As I think you heard in some of my remarks, this is an opportunity for some of our service providers, for some other people in our community to come forward to help with things like mental health, with things like physical health, and if the school, for example your child’s school is struggling in that way, and they would be able to make those decisions for how they utilize funding, how they utilize services to meet those needs specifically. You also asked a question around accountability, and (Murphy points to Schwinn)
Schwinn: Sure, so in terms of accountability, and how I think different community members, families, elected officials look to the school plans and one of the required elements of the school plan is to have a school success team, a school advisory team that is in place to help guide the process once the priority schools are in implementation. And that part of that team is a representation of the families, certainly to provide input and guidance and feedback, and the staff members, and specifically teachers, and it’s also looking at community members and elected officials to be able to be a part of that team that work, to provide that accountability and to provide feedback. And to also recognize where there may be parts of the plan that need even more supports. And maybe there are special resources that can be included that weren’t specifically included in part of the plan. And there are different people who can provide those resources, or who have connections in the community who can provide those resources. So that is a significant part of the plan. It’s actually singled out as one of the elements of it, so I think that’s a significant way where various stakeholders can be involved outside of the planning process.
Chukwuocha: I would like to thank my colleagues for their questions. We’ll just take a few more council questions and then were gonna move to the public comment and questions. Council member Wright was before you sir…
Wright: Thank you Mr. Chair, Secretary, I just got a few questions. I guess what Councilman Cabrera was getting to, I wanna try to go back to it slightly, you mentioned the plan shouldn’t shoulder the responsiblity. See, it looks to me like the plan is shouldering responsibility on the teachers and the school leaders because that is where the funding is going. I guess for me, my question is how do we address some of the root causes of the problems? Sending money to a school is not helping a child at home, it’s not helping that home environment. Also there are barriers that children may have. Just a small thing is eye exams. If a child cannot see and cannot read and the teachers calls on them and they will act out because they don’t want to be made fun of. So are we implementing a program where there can be eye exams for everyone. Can we spend money in those types of areas. Another thing that I wanna know about is spec ed (special education). What is the percentage of spec ed in these schools among the students? I guess, let me stop and let you answer those things before I keep going.
Murphy: I appreciate the first comment, or question. This priority process is going to begin, to start, it’s not going to solve all of the challenges that we face in Wilmington. It is not going to solve all of the problems that our families face. And it is an effort around schools, and an effort to greater support schools so they can drive excellence in that school environment. But it is going to take other people stepping up in our communities to help solve some of these other deeply rooted challenges that our communities face. So we certainly do not see priority schools as some sort of panacea. It is an effort to support nearly 2,000 children in six schools who are struggling. The second component around uhm, around special education and eye exams. As we mentioned, if the school districts, if an individual school, says that that is a need, that this is holding their children back, then they can certainly build that into their plan. I would hope there would be others in the non-profit community and the foundation community and the business community who would come forward to maybe offer those types of supports. That’s part of this invitation. It’s got to be a part of the broader part of this invitation to come forward to support. And I think were also seeing some motions from the community that they’re willing to help.
Chukwuocha: President Gregory…
Wright: I wasn’t done. Thank you. What’s the percentage of special education students in these schools?
Schwinn: The percentage varies pretty widely between all the six schools. What I hesitate to do, because we have certain parameters with the state, where if there is a specific population which is lower than a specified threshold, which is 30, then we tend to keep that information private cause that is private to the student. But the special education populations are higher proportionately in these six schools than they are state average.
Murphy: And we can follow up with exact percentages.
Wright: So (feeling very flustered at the response, rubbing his face), I digress for a moment.
Gregory: I have a clarification question. The plans that I spoke of earlier, that came out of the city all called for universal and equitable funding for underperforming and challenging schools. This has been rolled out as an opportunity to get more funding for these schools, but then when I do the math and I look at your answers, it doesn’t seem to be the case. For example, a question that you got in advance was “How will this process help community members achieve more adequate resources for children in under resourced Wilmington schools?” Now you got $5.8 million dollars over six schools for four years, and I believe it comes out to a quarter million dollars per school, then you have to use some of that money for a planner, you use some of that money to augment a principal’s salary, that doesn’t leave a lot of money in the classroom. I know that you said it’s not averaged over the schools,they are varied, if they are all underperforming it can’t vary much in my opinion. This is your answer. You said “The state is dedicating about $6 million to the schools over the next four years.” Fact. “In addition to this funding, the state will continue to provide other areas of funding opportunities, eg, the Federal School Improvement Grant.” I would assume in your presentation they can get that anyway. “Districts may also choose to allocate additional funding to support the schools,” because they can do that anyways. “In the past, districts have not always pursued funding to support their lowest performing schools.” Now I can’t comment on that. I guess someone else can when they come up here, but I think that is skewed also. “Given the challenges faced by these six schools and their students, the Delaware Department of Education expects all the districts to pursue all available funding opportunities in the future.” I would assume they would do that. So the question is, the answer is just an empty answer for me, so can you clarify, can you put some meat and potatoes on it to show where there would be more adequate resources for these schools? I just don’t see it in this answer and I don’t see it in the monies that have been allocated under the priority schools plan.
Murphy: One point of clarification is that the six million dollars is over the course of the three implementation years. So it is not inclusive of the planning year.
Murphy: Secondly, the, as Dr. Schwinn mentioned, the school improvement grant may add hundreds of thousands of dollars to that $6 million.
Gregory: But it may do that anyways.
Murphy: That money comes through the state and the districts apply for that money.
Gregory: So it’s a condition for getting it they have to sign this MOU that they are voluntarily agreeing to sign?
Murphy: Yes, they have to apply for the money.
Murphy: And then, we did note, that we believe this is an opportunity for the schools to take a critical look at how they are spending their current dollars and asking some hard questions about whether those are being spent in the best possible ways.
Brown: Who was involved in the process of selecting those priority schools and what was that process?
Schwinn: So that process is through methodology, approved by the US Department of Education in our ESEA Flexibility. That ESEA flexibility was approved in July with the methodology. And the methodology is in two parts. The first is schools over three years, so a three year trend, where the average of ELA and math was less than 40%, if they had that low percentage for two of the three years, they were on the list. They could be exempted from the list, schools were exempted off of the list if they were in the top quartile of growth in the state and they had achieved them in the last year and an ELA and math average that were over 45%. So in essence, it’s saying if you had growth, and you had gotten more than 45% in ELA and Math average, than you were exempted off the list and there were several schools that were exempted.
Brown: So that goes back to the test?
Schwinn: It is referencing DCAS, yes.
Brown: The test. The test that has been determined to be a failure? (audience clapping, Schwinn unable to answer, (audience still clapping)
(unable to tell who is saying this): We’ll come back to….
Chukwuoga: Okay, we’re going to move forward, for my colleagues I apologize, were going to more forward so we can assure our guests we do allow for ample time for public comment. (Chukwuoga gives comment which I may include as part of all the public comments and councilmen comments, but I did want to touch on two more parts)
Chukwuoga: Secretary Murphy, if you could (motion if towards sitting in the audience), Secretary Murphy is going to the audience. We are going to allow the Council to a question and answer period. Each question will be recorded by DOE as well as by Council staff. And then Secretary Murphy is going to come address those questions. We did it this way to allow, to make sure people got their questions and comments heard.
(Public comment given by various speakers)
Chukwuoga: We’re going to ask Secretary Murphy, if he would join us again
Murphy: I don’t think there were many questions on there…
Chukwuoga: There weren’t too many questions, but if you wanted to…
Murphy: For what? For what?
Chukwuoga: I’ll leave it up to you if you wanna?
Murphy: You got a…. (voice trails off as Chukwuoga speaks)
Chukwuoga: Okay, okay. Thank you sir. Well, there were some…
member of audience: condescending…
Chukwuoga: We’re gonna have some closing comment, if you wanted to give one Secretary Murphy, I’ll give you that opportunity. President Gregory has one, and I have one as well.
(Murphy walks up to stage)
member of audience: Don’t do it (referring to Murphy giving closing comment)
(Murphy gives closing comment)
The reason I highlighted this last part, after the public comments, is because this was addressed with the DOE on Facebook, on their Delaware DDOE public Facebook page. The DOE vehemently denied that Murphy refused to answer questions, however the audio recording tells a very different tale. As well, Chukwuoga announced before the public comment how this would occur. Murphy got heckled by the audience because of how he chose to answer the question.
Mike Matthews said the video did not capture it, and he saw Murphy shaking his head no when asked the question by Chukwuoga about coming back up, and the two were using facial gestures to communicate with each other. Councilman Walsh said there were no public questions, just comments. However, I amplified the sound on the recording, turning it to full blast, with headphones on, pressing the headphones deep into my ear, to hear what I transcribed. This was the Delaware DOE response on their public Facebook page:
RemoveDelaware Department of Education (DDOE) That is because that did not happen, Laura Enghofer. Councilman Chukwuoccha asked if Secretary Murphy wanted to come up and give a closing statement because there had been no public comments, which the Secretary had planned to return to answer. The Secretary said he didn’t need to but the Councilman then explained it was customary for each council member to do so and he was welcomed to again. The Secretary then accepted the invitation and gave a few more remarks. You can watch the meeting on Wilmington’s cable station to observe the actual interaction for yourself.
RemoveLaura Enghofer While it’s true that i was not able to attend, I was able to follow the social media accounts of some who were there. I must say, the news article paints a mush more complimentary picture of Murphy and the proceedings in general than the real-time accounts of attendees.
RemoveSteve Fackenthall He’s right when he says we can do better. Our schools can be FULLY FUNDED. They can use more teachers, paras, emotional/behavioal support without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. If Murphy wants to compare these schools to East Side, then give the schools the teachers for the smaller class sizes.
RemoveMike Matthews No one was misunderstood, DDOE. More questions wanted to be asked. Watch Councilman Chukwuocha’s head shake when Sec. Murphy says no. I guess it may be difficult to see on the video, but it was clear to people in the audience. Murphy declined further questions.
RemoveDelaware Department of Education (DDOE) Mike Matthews, you were mistaken. Sec. Murphy was never asked to answer additional council questions. He would have been happy to do so if asked. He also would have been happy to answer questions from the public as planned but none were asked. He declined an invitation to make closing remarks.
RemoveMike Matthews Wait what? Are you seriously going to continue this lie, DDOE? Committee Chair Chukwuocha CLEARLY asked if he’d like to take more questions. He declined. I’m very confused by the Department’s ability to tell the truth here. Loretta Walsh and Maria D. Cabrera am I wrong here?
This has got to stop. First a disgusting flyer handed out at the meeting and now just lies upon lies.
RemoveMike Matthews Start at 15:40. The video doesn’t capture it, but Chukwuocha clearly was saying “There aren’t too many more questions.” Nnamdi and Sec. Murphy were nodding and shaking as their method of communication. I was there and saw it all. Chukwuocha essentially asked Murphy if he’d come answer more questions. Murphy shook his head no. This is what happened.
RemoveLoretta Walsh He did say no questions were asked from the public. I believe Nnamdi asked him if he would like to answer questions asked by the attendees and he said there wasn’t any. That being said, I really don’t think he gave any answers to questions asked. I thought my questions were somewhat simplistic yet I did not receive one understandable answer. I just heard a lot of bureauspeak. Most questions can be answered with a simple yes or no. That never happened. Also, when you (DOE) are setting time lines wouldn’t you be able to answer questions about what would happen if not met?
RemoveMike Matthews Your answer was great. I laughed at your comment at the meeting about sending more questions down to DoE. It was the interpretation of all surrounding me that the muffled communication and body language between Murphy and Chukwuocha was a refusal to take more questions. I believe the Council had more questions. I feel they should have been answered. The crowd was engaged
RemoveKevin Ohlandt Laura, I was being ironic with the DOE. They love to talk about proficiency scores and data data data, so I was wondering what they rated themselves for the meeting. I watched the whole thing, and I have to admit it started great. Murphy gave a very emotional synopsis of why the DOE wanted to do this. Once it came down to questions though, Murphy and Schwinn were not able to answer many questions directly. And I caught Murphy turning down questions at the end with Chukwuocha’s face and hand movements. And there is an issue of who to believe: The DOE or the many members of the crowd who all saw the same thing. The DOE doesn’t have a good track record with myself and my fellow Delawareans.
RemoveKevin Ohlandt I thought it was very telling when questions were raised about funding, and neither Murphy or Schwinn could say how much each of the priority schools got from Race To The Top funding. I would think that would be the FIRST place you would go to when looking at these schools.
RemoveSusan M. Hessling “These schools are not providing the conditions for success that our students need,” Murphy said. “We must do better.”
DDOE/Sec. Murphy – question: how did it get to this point in the first place?You didn’t realized that The Neighborhood Schools Act would bring about schools with the highest poverty levels, and the unique/diverse needs that accompanies such a population? Did you have a plan in place for these concerns? If not? Why? The movie, “Major League” keeps popping into my mind……Because data coaches are great, BUT are they reading specialists? It’s time the educators, parents/community start questioning the role, and seemingly premeditated plans that DDOE/Murphy/Markel had/currently have with this Priority Schools Plan. As far as I know, 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 22, things aren’t adding up. Please feel free to inbox me?
urphy got heckled by the audience because of his actions.