Gateway Lab School Saved In Close State BOE Vote No Thanks to Pat Heffernan! @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat

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.

Gratefully,

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.

Family Foundations Academy: “potentially serious allegations of financial mismanagement”

As the drums of war continue to beat against Family Foundations Academy, news surfaced at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting yesterday that a 200 page audit of the embattled school was received by the Delaware Department of Education the day before.

Patrick Heffernan, a member of the board, stated he was “very disappointed this report came in at the 11th hour”, a day before the board had to decide on their charter renewal.

While it wasn’t implicitly said, there was a general feeling there were serious questions about the audit the school had done last winter, with Auphsite Consulting Group.  I had my own questions about that report as it blindly accepted what the school said were education expenses.  Furthermore, the individuals who compiled the audit were questionable.  I searched the three members on the report, Darnell Sulaiman, Nakisha Hadi, and Terri Muhammad.  I did find information on Sulaiman and Muhammad, but Nakisha Hadi, the financial analyst and certified forensic accountant does not appear to even exist.  Anywhere.  The only places that show them as a legitimate business appear on the company’s own website at 1500 Walnut St., Ste. 700 and a Manta business listing that shows them at a separate address, which is a row-house in Philadelphia, not the Walnut Street address on the report and their website.

Another company in Philadelphia, on Market Street, is Charter School Renewal, a company run by Alan Wohlstetter, a former attorney for Fox Rothschild.  Wohlstetter appears to be the current attorney for Family Foundations Academy based on the Delaware Charter School Office documents on their own website.  Fox Rothschild had many payments sent to them in 2014 from Family Foundations Academy, totaling well over $320,000.00.  Wohlstetter recently joined the firm of Zarwin, Baum, DeVito, Kaplan, Schaer, Toddy, P.C.  In their news release for Wohlstetter’s placement in the firm, they wrote the following:

Prior to joining the firm, Alan Wohlstetter was involved in financing more than thirty charter schools, serving as a Bond Counsel or Underwriter’s Counsel for schools in Pennsylvania, California, Texas, and Colorado. Most recently, he closed a $30 million bond financing for a Philadelphia charter school and currently serves as General Counsel to three charter schools. What’s more, Alan also serves as President of Charter School Renewal, a consulting firm which helps charter schools navigate change. 

Last June, Wohlstetter wrote a document for Fox Rothschild called Common Ground In Education: Closing Pennsylvania’s Low-Performing Charter Schools.

Another attorney from Fox Rothschild, Wali Rushdan, appeared to be helping Family Foundations Academy at their September 30th board meeting by taking minutes of the meeting.  Rushdan is also a member of the very same Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity that all the members of the Family Foundations Board and Head of School Sean Moore belong to.  While this could all appear to be coincidence, it should definitely be looked into by investigators.  There are just way too many connections here folks, and there needs to be answers and explanations to all of this in a public forum.

As well, Moore served as treasurer of the Delaware Charter School Network governing board.  This advocacy group for Delaware charter schools is essentially a lobbyist firm for charters.  According to their 2012 Form 990, the organization spent $24,000.00 in lobbying costs.  If Sean Moore was treasurer for this group, and he is behind a great deal of the financial malfeasance at Family Foundations Academy, I would have to wonder if he misspent funds there as well.

I reached out to State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office this morning but no one was able to talk at this point in time and I am awaiting a return call.  As well, I called Auphsite Consulting Group which does answer as Darnell Sulaiman but I was unable to connect with anyone there as well.

To be continued I’m sure…

Where Do We Go From Here? The State of Education in Delaware @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @Roof_O @DelawareBats #netde #eduDE #Delaware #edchat

The last major education meeting of 2014 happened yesterday, and it was a doozy!  As I look back at all the events of 2014 in our 1st state with regards to education, I have to wonder about the future.  There are several things going on simultaneously.  Something happened yesterday at the DE State Board of Education meeting that can change everything.

The board voted 4-3 to renew the charter for Gateway Lab School.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy’s comment about why he chose to renew their charter stemmed from about a month of the public pounding on the choice not to renew.  This means the public does have a voice and is able to influence education in Delaware.  The problem is not enough of us have been using that voice.  If the groundswell of support for Gateway happened with things like the removal of Common Core and parental opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, just think what could happen.

Over half of the Delaware General Assembly wrote to renew Gateway’s charter.  Some of them were ones who already speak out about the changes in education and the priority schools.  But many of them are ones nobody ever affiliates with education.  The Gateway crisis actually opened a lot of ears to education in Delaware.  It also exposed the DOE as being to beholden to test scores.  This is a good thing.

Our next moment of direct attention needs to be towards the priority schools initiative.  While I’m not an expert on state code and the Delaware Constitution, I can see things are manipulated and twisted in order to allow the priority schools demands.  Governor Markell and Mark Murphy have looked for the most miniscule of loopholes to do this, but did they find them all?  Some, like State Representative John Kowalko, do not think they did and he has a strong case for the legality of the initiative.

Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment will be a hot button of talk in the coming months.  More and more parents are waking up to the reality of this, and anyone who finds out what the true purpose of it all is wants it to be gone.  A message for those parents: spread the message fast and furious and do it yesterday.  Because everything the DOE and Markell have done, want to do and will do ties directly to standardized test scores.  It is their sole focus.  We are no longer a state where true education, occurring everyday in our schools, is a concern.  It’s about a once a year test that will judge teachers, principals and students.  And by a large default, parents as well.

I firmly believe the purpose of these “initiatives” is not for the betterment of our children’s education but the creation of more and more charter schools.  Some may ask, “Then why are they closing charter schools?”  Because even Super Bowl winners need to cut the weak links on a team.  This becomes a reverse choice option for parents.  They’re forced to make a choice against their original choice.

For the charter supporting parents out there: I know you will defend these schools and I support you for doing that.  But do not be blind to the realities behind charter schools.  They have boards that are not publicly elected, they have budget committees (or don’t in some cases) that do not have the proper representation, and their version of transparency is very clouded.  Nobody was talking about Family Foundations a month ago, but in the past week it is all anybody is talking about.  Years of financial mismanagement and allegations of outright theft at that school will hopefully lead to a careful examination of all the charter schools and how they spend their money.  I am not saying all the charters do this, but it is more than you think.  And I will expose them if the state doesn’t.

We need to do what is best for our children.  Every single one of us.  Far too many of us disagree on what the best course is, but we all need to come together one way or another, before any choice is gone forever.

 

More insight to Delaware Governor Markell’s willful abuse of power

Delaware legislator calls for DE Sec of Education Mark Murphy’s resignation @arneduncan @washingtonpost #edude #netde @dedeptofed @destateboarded @usedgov @EducationOIG @huffingtonpost #neatoday @NSBAComm @NatlGovsAssoc