As everyone assuredly knows by now, Gateway Lab School was saved from closing at the end of this school year in a 4-3 vote yesterday at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. What you may not know is what was said during the discussion prior to the vote. Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy all but said the public outcry over the school’s possible closure saved the day for them. More specifically, the amount of comments made from the Delaware General Assembly trying to save the school with a very high population of special needs children.
What shocked me though was board member Patrick Heffernan’s immediate attack on the school. Half an hour earlier he had voted yes for the renewal of Delaware Academy of Public Safety’s charter renewal. Questions were raised about the upcoming academic framework all schools will have based on the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment. For this reason, Heffernan voted yes for their charter renewal, despite the fact the school had some academic issues based on the prior DCAS scores. So why would he not be consistent with Gateway Lab School?
In commenting on the school, Heffernan said “I know we’re seeing some good things going on there now, but I think the information we have in front of us shows that this has not been a very well-run school.” While not acknowledging the administration and structure for a school of this type would be run very different than a traditional school, Heffernan proceeded to base all his arguments for closure based on comparisons to traditional schools. Even Mark Murphy publicly stated it would not be fair to do so.
His wife, Debra Heffernan, a State Representative in Delaware, served on the IEP Task Force in Delaware, and she pushed for discussion about standards based IEPs, but nothing came of that out of the task force. The Heffernans have publicly commented about their own special needs child in the past, so I am very curious why they are judging special education so harshly and are trying to get special needs parents to blindly accept the Common Core State Standards. Research has shown these standards are not “one size fits all” and that children with special needs do not perform relative to their regular classroom peers on these tests.
While three members of the state board voted no, Heffernan, Melendez, and Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the majority voted yes, and Gateway is saved. On the school’s previously titled Save Gateway Lab School, Head of School Catherine Dolan wrote the following:
Dear Gateway Gladiator Parents/Guardians,
Mark Murphy, Secretary of Education, recommended a Conditional Renewal and the State Board voted to support him. We get one year to show major improvement.
Catherine Dolan – Head of School
While some were confused over what this renewal meant for the school, Executive Director of the State Board of Education commented this morning on a Facebook post:
Actually the action taken today was the renewal of the charter for Gateway, which is a five year renewal, however they were renewed with a condition to meet standards on an alternate academic framework by the end of the 2015-16 school year. If they are not meeting standards at that point then the state would pursue revocation through formal review.
Delaware State Representative Trey Paradee, of the 29th District, wrote the following:
Schools like Gateway and Positive Outcomes fill a very special and necessary niche: to help children who have not been able to find success in a traditional classroom setting. The parents of children who attend these schools are fiercely supportive of them and are grateful that they exist. To judge the students and teachers at these schools by the same standards that are applied to the traditional public schools is ludicrous. Hats off to the teachers who step up to the challenge of teaching at Gateway, Positive Outcomes, and the schools that serve a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children.
Meanwhile, I’m sure Gateway Lab School parents, students and teachers are breathing a collective sigh of relief as their school has been saved. As the Smarter Balanced Assessment is mere months away, schools in Delaware are all worried about the ramifications this already controversial tests will have on their own academic framework.