Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware!!!!

My little blog is now one!  This year flew by fast.  I still remember that Friday night, creating this monster.  The name Exceptional Delaware just popped up in my head.  And the main picture on this has raised questions from a few folks.  What is it?  Why do you have it?  It’s from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  I chose it to show how so many different folks can come together for a common goal.  And that’s what we all should be doing.  Parents, teachers, and schools should all be joining forces to eviscerate and destroy the corporate education reform scams going on in our schools.

In the past year, I’ve made many new friends and I feel very blessed for that.  I couldn’t have done most of this if it weren’t for them.  As my readership continues to grow, I often forget I have new readers, so I want to start doing recaps about what’s happened, where we are at now, and where we could be doing and where we should be going.

The enemies of public education think they are winning and they can just get stuff past us.  Sure, we might pitch a fit, but we can’t stop them.  Right? WRONG!  As more of us join forces and fight this money-making debacle that is killing schools and morale, we are finding out more and more everyday.

For all of Governor Markell and Arne Duncan’s false threats, we are still here.  We are still fighting the fight.  Some of us have won battles only to get our gut punched shortly after.  And so it goes.  But we have something the bad guys don’t: transparency, honesty, and a great deal of resolve.

In my eyes, special education will be what gives the final kick in the ass to the corporate raiders.  I’ve always sensed this.  It has certainly given me the motivation to do what I do.  Because nothing pisses a parent off more than watching their kid not get something they are entitled to.  Parents of special needs parents have their bad days, but do something to our kid, and we are on it like white on rice.  We are all wising up to the games being played in that arena, and we will do what we have to do.

A year ago, Legislative Hall had the Smarter Balanced bill as the huge education bill on the homestretch.  Sadly, it passed.  This year there are two kinds of education bills that will have immense implications: the opt-out bill, House Bill 50, and Senate Bill 122, which would give the UNELECTED State Board of Education the power to change district lines.  SB 122, as written now, may give the General Assembly authority over this.  The key word is may.  A lot of games are playing out with both these bills.  One has drawn out for over four months while the other has already passed the Senate in a matter of days.

All will eventually be revealed with all of this, and I will do my best to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.  But I can say this… a picture is forming and the missing pieces are becoming easier to find.  In any event, Happy Birthday Exceptional Delaware.  Here’s to another crazy year!

John Radell Tears Apart Common Core & Smarter Balanced Assessment

I thought this was one of the best parts of the Senate Education Committee meeting last Wednesday.  One of the speakers, John Radell with the Mid-Atlantic Education Alliance, effectively eviscerated the very curriculum, and yes I will call it a curriculum Governor Markell, that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is based on.  Well done John Radell!

I’m John Radell, I’m with Mid-Atlantic Education Alliance.  And what we know about Smarter Balanced.  It’s not a measure of academic achievement.  It’s a measure of how a child responds to stressful situations.  This test does not measure accountability of academic change.  Every professional in the country, and we have a DVD here we certainly invite you to watch, by Dr. Peg Luksik and Sandra Stosky, who helped design Common Core.  And Kathy Jasper who was a vice-principal at a Florida high school.  All different parties, all different persuasions, have said this is an absolute disaster.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is designed to fortify whether they are teaching Common Core, not academic standards.  So last time I looked, our children are not lab rats or guinea pigs that we experiment on.  This is an experiment.  Bill Gates helped design the system, has now said it will take ten years to determine if it works or not.  Well guess what, our kids don’t have ten years.  What you’re telling me, is a child going into 2nd grade now that’s a failure, has wasted those whole ten years.  This test is so bad, the curriculum is so bad, that the President of Princeton University just said “Any child that goes through ten years of Common Core and Smarter Balanced will not be able to get into Princeton University.  We’re hurting our children, not helping them.  We don’t need more gimmicks.  If you want something that works, and you need standardized testing, then look at the Massachusetts Education Law of 1993.  That was designed by Sandra Stosky, the one who I said was on Common Core, who resigned from Common Core cause she called it empty skillsets.  So were testing a test based on empty skillsets.  So what we need to do is start bringing experts here to talk about what the best way is to educate our children, test it, and implement it.  We’re testing this on our children.  These kids don’t have time.  And were not going to be able to go back in five or six years and go “Oh, this didn’t work, our kids are really dumb now.  Sorry about this.”  What are you going to do with those kids?  Are you telling me your willing to sacrifice a whole generation of children to find out this thing didn’t work? It’s wrong. It’s wrong for our children, and that’s why parents deserve the right to opt out.

Delaware Business Roundtable’s Die-Hard Opt-Out Opposition Is Worrisome, Should Lobbyists Be Allowed To Give Public Comment Like This?

To be fair, this was not the only registered lobbyist at the Senate Education Committee to give public comment in opposition to opt-out, but it was definitely the most biased in my opinion.  Below is Bob Byrd’s public comment, who introduces himself first as a member of his lobbyist firm and not the organization he is representing.

Bob Byrd, Delaware Business Roundtable 27:54-28:55

Thank you Chairman.  My name is Bob Byrd, of the Byrd Group.  I’m here today representing the Delaware Business Roundtable.  I’ve had the privilege to represent the roundtable education reform for more years than I want to tell you.  And we are very much opposed to House Bill 50.  We think it goes in the wrong direction.  We are very much in favor of your joint resolution.  We feel the pain of the parents out there, we understand there’s always questions about testing.  But we think this is the wrong thing to do at this particular time.  We totally agree that we ought to do an analysis of testing and see what’s out there and then come back with legislation next year, maybe doing something else.  And we understand that a lot of people are opposed to the current testing.  But were opposed to House Bill 50 at this time.  I have a letter from our chairman, Ernie Dianastasis.  I’d rather read it, and take up a lot of time but I’m just gonna put it in the record.  But the Roundtable, they’re much opposed to House Bill 50.

I’m sorry, but this guy is a registered lobbyist. If the Delaware Business Roundtable truly felt the pain of parents, they would do much more than oppose a bill that gives them dignity in the face of brutal opposition. These guys are all about the money. Don’t believe a word they say. Of course big business would be against something that wouldn’t provide more money to big business. That’s what it’s all about!

Academy of Dover Mom Slams School Over Denial Of Special Education Again For Her Child With Autism

Sabine Neal is not giving up on making the public aware of what happened to her child at Academy of Dover.  She is making it well-known she is not happy with their denial of services and what now appears to be a massive amount of suspensions.  Even with an extremely weak 504 plan, this child still has rights as determined by state and federal law!  Has this school ever heard of something called manifestation determination?  Child Find?

 June 12, 2015

To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Sabine Neal and my children are students at Academy of Dover. You may be aware of my family’s issues involving this school but I really feel compelled to voice my concerns again. I want everybody at the Department of Education well aware of the many issues that we have with the Academy of Dover.
My main areas of concern involve my son MarKayvion. He is six years old, attends kindergarten at this school and is special needs. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, high functioning autism, and separation disorder. He entered the school in August 2014 with the special education manager at the time, Patricia Miller, knowing that he had been diagnosed with both ADHD and autism. I requested that he receive a special education evaluation in August. My son does not transition very well and he requires a very strict schedule that must be adhered to at all times. I let Mrs. Miller know all of this. The first week of school seemed to be running smoothly until the bus driver would not allow my daughter and son to sit together because they were opposite sex. This was an abrupt change to my son’s routine and he resisted by running off of the bus at every stop. I contacted Mrs. Miller about this and she said they did not have the staff to put an aid on the bus and that he didn’t qualify for a one on one aid anyhow. Between her, myself, and the transportation specialist, Chavonne Stewart, we determined that it would be easier if I just dropped him off. I did have to relinquish my duties at work as a teaching assistant because I would not be able to get to the classroom in time with this new drop off time. The arrangement seemed to work for an additional week or so, until the school would no longer allow my daughter to walk my son to his classroom. This was such a small thing that helped him transition into the classroom, she has been doing this since he entered preschool. They said it was against protocol for a fourth grader to be in a kindergarten wing and that he was old enough to do it by himself. This, along with his teacher, Mrs. Burton leaving, really caused serious issues in the morning transition from my car into the building. I would have to force him into the building and then a staff member, such as Ms. Stewart or Mr. K (gym teacher) would go into the boys’ bathroom with him and let him scream and tantrum until he calmed down. It was a horrifying experience to have to leave my child like this every day. I could hear his screams all the way in the parking lot. Through all of this he had been suspended three days and I continually called Mrs. Miller who would never return my call. I finally insisted upon seeing her before I left the school. I asked why he hadn’t been evaluated and why there had not yet been any IEP meeting. She told me she was unaware of any issues and didn’t think that I still wanted an evaluation. I confirmed with her that I did still want an evaluation.  Around this same time it had become necessary to form a routine with MarKayvion upon his entrance into the building. Ms. Stewart coordinated this routine with him and things seemed to be working out better than before the routine was in place. MarKayvion had his first IEP meeting at the end of October, where it was predetermined that he wouldn’t be eligible because his autism diagnosis was 3.5 years old and it takes six months of observation for ADHD to be a qualifier. At this meeting it was confirmed that he would have a 504 B plan which would basically substantiate the routine that Ms. Stewart had already set in place. This routine does work if actually followed and if all steps in the routine stay consistent. There are issues when consistency is lacking. Following the IEP meeting I looked into obtaining a new autism diagnosis for my son. His pediatrician suggested a local neurologist at CNMRI which I did set an appointment for. He had already been to this neurologist but it was just a medication check. So I went to an appointment on November 4th where she gave me surveys for myself and the school to complete. They were returned to the doctor, at which point she said that she was not qualified to diagnosis him with autism. My son’s therapist, who he has been seeing since September, suggested that I try and schedule an appointment with Delaware Autism Program. I did schedule an appointment but he couldn’t be seen until after the first of the year due to a change in medical insurance. In late November my son came home from school concerned because a “stranger” pulled him out of class and talked to him. I called the school insisting I know what this was about. Apparently my child was being evaluated by a psychologist for a learning disability, to which I had no knowledge of. When I asked why I had not been notified, I was told that I don’t have to know or approve of everybody my child comes in contact with. I did request a second IEP meeting, and the new special education manager, Ms. Betts, scheduled a meeting for December 22nd. As far as the learning disability evaluation, he was found to not have a learning disability. This was no surprise for me because he gets A’s and B’s in school. At this meeting he again was deemed ineligible but the school reiterated that he could be deemed eligible for services if he received a new diagnosis of Autism by Delaware Autism Program. Unfortunately due to poor weather conditions this winter, he wasn’t evaluated until February 3, 2015. Dr. Susan Peterson was the psychologist who evaluated him at DAP and I returned two weeks later to receive her evaluation of MarKayvion. He was diagnosed with high functioning autism, again. Armed with this document and a document from his therapist listing his other diagnoses I returned to the school on March 5, giving all of the reports to Ms. Stewart who told me to give them to the nurse. Ms. Stewart told me that if they made him eligible for any services the school would notify me. I did not receive any notice and the year continued to progress in a negative manner. One of the days I went into the school and requested to speak to Ms. Stewart, Cheri Marshall, Ms. Halliday (3rd special education manager), and Mrs. Owusu (his “teacher”). I had already complained about the multiple issues my son was having with his teacher and the fact that she was not certified to be a teacher, she only had the credentials to be paraprofessional, yet she was actually hired to be a teacher. When I met with the three of them, I said that something had to be done. Their suggestion was for my son to attend a day treatment program at his therapy center, which I did listen to and placed him on the waiting list. To this day he is at number six on the waiting list. The fact that they suggested him going to a treatment program shows just how unwilling they were to do anything to help my child.
My son has been suspended on multiple occasions: September 5, October 7, October 8, November 13, February 23, March 11, March 26, May 4, May 11, May 20, May 26, June 8, and June 9. These are the days that I have documented, two of the being ISS days, however I know there are more than these. This is completely unacceptable. The school should have seen a bigger issue just by seeing how many days he wasn’t even in the classroom setting. My son always said his teacher, Juanita Owusu had a problem with him and he felt like she didn’t like him. He also told his therapist and I that he needed someone big to stand up for him at his school because he was scared. I tried to be patient with this school all year, I tried to make suggestions to his teacher on techniques that he uses at home to relax himself. She told me she had more kids than him to worry about. All of his issues really came to a head on May 4, 2015 when I received a call by Ms. Stewart saying that I needed to immediately come to the school. When I arrived I was ushered into Cheri Marshall’s office, where Ms. Stewart, John Leon, and Mrs. Marshall were all waiting. I was informed by Marshall that Mrs. Owusu had kicked my son in the leg, saying it was a natural instinct because she was frustrated. It had apparently been investigated, with Mrs. Owusu admitting to doing it and it was viewed on the camera. As a parent I was absolutely infuriated and to make matters worse Marshall and Leon tried brushing it under the rug as a natural instinct, saying my son doesn’t have to face consequences and that he know right from wrong. As much as I disagree with Ms. Stewart, she was the only person in that room that apologized and seemed upset that the situation had occurred. I asked where Mrs. Owusu was and what her punishment was, Marshall said that the situation had been handled and left it at that. The school did not report the incident to anybody or call the police, I did. While in the parking lot at 3 pm, dismissal time, I saw Mrs. Owusu leaving the building and I also later learned that she attended the staff appreciation dinner later that week and that she had only received a week off of work without pay. It was only after I raised a huge fit and contacted DOE and the police that the board at Academy of Dover allowed Mrs. Owusu to resign, she wasn’t even fired. This is very shocking to me because not only did she abuse my child, she admitted to doing it, it was on video, and my son had a huge bruise on his leg for almost 3 weeks. Since May 4th (ISS) he has been suspended 5 times. This shows a serious problem in the schools ability to acknowledge and deal with special needs children. In this time he has been threatened that the school would call the police and he would be arrested. Cheri Marshall has stated that she didn’t know of this problem until March or April which is a direct lie as she acted as the secretary at the first IEP meeting. Also she was Vice Principal and then became the head of school, how did such a serious problem pass by her? Which again it didn’t because she had no problem stating at a public hearing that the school had issues with my child all year long.
I know that the major area of concern that the DOE has with Academy of Dover is their financial issues but I implore you, as the Department of EDUCATION please care about these children’s education, care about my son’s education. Yes, he gets good grades but think of the education he missed and how great he could have been. My son is special needs. He has been diagnosed multiple times by multiple doctors. There have clearly been issues that impeded my son’s education. This school and the staff that has dealt with my son should NOT get away with what they have done to not only my son, but my daughter, and myself. Please consider this letter in any decision you make regarding Academy of Dover, a school cannot improve when it has the same unwilling leaders.
My last thought:
“Throughout history it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
-Halie Selassie
This letter might not mean much to you, it might not mean anything at all. But I do promise that this letter and everything that my family has gone through will mean something to the thousands of families with special needs children that have dealt or will deal with these issues in a school. I will not be silenced until justice is served. You, the Department of Education can do something, you have the power. This is my fight song and I will keep singing for my son, MarKayvion and every other special needs child who is not receiving the education that they are entitled to.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
 
Sabine N. Neal

I Am But A Shadow Of My Former Self

Rehoboth01

I’m not much of a photographer, but I thought this was a pretty cool shot.  I was taking pictures of the ocean yesterday, and I kept seeing my shadow in the shot.  I thought, what if I can get the whole thing.  It took a few tries, but this was the final result.

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This came from an awesome day I had with my son at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.  I learned amusement park rides don’t agree with my aging body, and I am no longer the young man I have pretended to be in my mind.  But my youthful spirit is still strong!  As well, Grottos has some of the best sausage pizza in the state.  I’m just glad that part of our trip didn’t occur before the rides.

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As we sat in Grottos, we played peek-a-boo with a one-year-old next to us as he kept saying “hi” to us.  We also played a game of “which channel is this tv show on”, and we debated which station Calliou is on.  It was different when he was a baby, but now it is on Sprout (he doesn’t watch it!).  Afterwards, my son was at the arcade, and that’s when I started taking pictures.

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The best part was just hanging out with my son, away from all the education matters going on with him and this blog.  Just a day, for the two of us to bond.  On the drive back he fell asleep and I would peek back to watch him look so peaceful.

Mark Murphy And His Magical Educational Journey To Excellence

I’ve seen Mark Murphy speak a few times and he was definitely playing it up a bit for the news cameras on him at the Senate Education Committee meeting a few days ago.  If there is one thing you can say about the former gym teacher, he is certainly consistent.

Thank you Senator.  We are all, all of us, appreciative of Senator Townsend’s sentiment that we are all supporting our children as they take this educational journey to excellence. And hopefully that will lead into success not just in 4th grade or 5th grade, but obviously success well into high school and beyond high school years.  In order to help deliver our children into a place where they are successful in the world we have to measure their progress along the way.  And to understand whether they’re on track to be successful in those middle school years, in those high school years, and beyond.  So that’s what this is about, this is about measuring progress.  When we use that progress, when we use that measurement, in order to understand what’s working.  Our pedalogical approach is working, our curriculum is working, the way that we organize our schools, the way that we allocate budgets, the way we resource schools and which schools need additional resources.  If we do not have measurement of how our students are doing against the standards that their teachers are teaching to them, then we are unable to make well-informed great decisions.  Certainly at this level, also at a school and district level.  Measurement matters.  We also agree, that we are testing too much.  We have said that a number of times over these recent months and we have launched an initiative to take a look at how many assessments our children are taking.  And more importantly than the number of assessments they are taking, is the quality, whether these are redundant assessments.  If they test the same thing the child was assessed on a week ago.  Are they relevant assessments for what the child needs to be learning to be successful later? Are they high quality?  Do they give us good data in order to make informed decisions?  And so while we recognize that we are in the middle of that process, we are asking that we allow that process to take hold, before we start making major decisions about opting out of important measurement tools.  Finally, these assessments help to unlock doors for us, the decision-makers, for our kids, for our parents, for our educators, in regards to decisions they can make to support the children better.  And that information is available at the student level, the teacher level, the school level, and the state level.  And we all need this information to move forward.

Is it just me, or does it kind of creep you out when he keeps referring to “our” children?  Not my kid Mark!  The information available Mark, does that mean we can ALL see the tests and the answers and the actual questions?  Sorry buddy, but a lot of parents have jumped off your train trip to la la land.  Cue the Puff the Magic Dragon music, we are out of here!