Christina Priority Schools & The Weird Behavior Of The DOE & State Board

On Christmas Eve, Avi with Newsworks/WHYY published an article called “A year later, still no money for three Delaware ‘priority’ schools”.  I found this article to be fascinating and revealing.  Especially since it gave information that, apparently, the Christina Board of Education wasn’t even aware of.  One thing is for certain: the Delaware Department of Education is gunning for the Christina School District and they don’t care who knows anymore.

Last year, the DOE labeled six Wilmington schools as priority schools based on standardized test scores.  Three in Christina, and three in Red Clay.  Red Clay submitted their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), their plans for the schools, and received funds from the state for the initiative.  Christina fought it tooth and nail in many intense board meetings.  Finally, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee released their recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The Christina Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOE giving a one-year pause on their priority schools and granting them a second planning year.

The Christina priority schools seemed like a dead issue until October of this year.  At the Delaware Education State Support (DESS) meeting, a DSEA representative asked Penny Schwinn (Chief of Accountability at the DOE) what would happen to the three Christina priority schools if the redistricting effort fell through.  Schwinn responded that had been a recent topic of conversation at the DOE.  But as per several members of the Christina board of education, nobody from the DOE contacted them about the priority schools or even mentioned them until the State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.

Both Avi and I were present at this meeting and we both saw State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray’s very bizarre behavior.  Avi described it well in his article:

The issue surfaced publicly during last Thursday’s State Board of Education Meeting. In the middle of a presentation, board president Terri Quinn Gray grew so upset she rose from her chair and blurted, “I need to take a break.”  She meant it literally. Gray grimaced, clutched her stomach, and walked out of the board meeting.  The source of Gray’s discontent wasn’t charter schools or testing or redistricting in Wilmington. It was priority schools.

There were several contentious moments at this board meeting.  But for Dr. Gray it was something that should have been a throwaway line during a presentation from Penny Schwinn’s Accountability department.  The second Penny Schwinn mentioned Christina was on their 2nd planning year for their priority schools, Gray either was truly surprised or she was putting on a show for everyone to see and hear.

The State Board is presented with information for their meetings from Executive Director Donna Johnson.  Most of the time, the information can be seen by the public on the State Board website.  But sometimes, information isn’t seen until the day of the meeting.  I truly don’t know if this applies to the actual State Board members or not.  But based on attending one of their State Board retreats, I did see the information was available to them and not the public when it came to a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Now whether they actually read this information or not ahead of time, or any of the information presented to them, cannot be determined.

During a late September 2014 Christina board meeting, Dr. Gray and fellow State Board member Gregory Coverdale gave public comment and pleaded with Christina to sign their MOU.  The audience was filled with Christina board members, and Gray and Coverdale were booed and left when board member John Young was talking about how the DOE needs great leaders.  As revealed in a FOIA of DOE emails a year ago, Donna Johnson accused Christina Board member John Young of giving a speech that was most likely written by State Rep. John Kowalko or State Senator Bryan Townsend.  Both Gray and Johnson were hammering Christina at the State Board of Education.  And we can’t forget Donna Johnson’s very bizarre and strange accusation leveled at the Christina School District last summer.

Based on the last link, I filed a complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights & Public Trust against Johnson.  Over three and a half months later and I have not received an answer to that complaint.  No one has contacted me to clarify any of the information about it.  I did speak with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn a week ago about the status of these complaints.  He explained to me that the new office in the DOJ is still in the planning stages and they are still sorting out what they can and cannot do based on state code.  He also said someone from that office would be contacting me in a few days.  That never happened.

In my perception, this is a very personal amount of contention against Christina between Gray and Johnson.  I do not think the State Board will approve the WEIC plan for the redistricting of Christina’s Wilmington Schools into Red Clay.  I think they are reintroducing the Christina priority schools conversation to put us back to the exact same moment we were at a year ago where the State wants to take those schools and convert them into charter schools.  The Delaware Met building is in the Christina School District.  There is room in the Community Education building for another school, which is also in the current Christina School District.

The true disconnect here seems to also be taking place within the Christina School District itself.  Acting Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski admitted to having conversation with the DOE about Christina priority schools earlier this month.

Andrzejewski, who started as acting superintendent on October 1, told NewsWorks/WHYY he didn’t know money was available for the three priority schools until early December. He said the district will submit sub-grant applications for each of the three school before the month ends.  “It kind of surprised all of us when we heard come December that there was money available,” Andrzejewski said.

But this is something the Christina Board had no idea even came up until the State Board meeting on 12/17.  And it doesn’t stop there, because Andrzejewski submitted an application for a grant without anyone on the Christina Board even knowing about it.

State and district officials say they’re working together and that both want the schools to receive money as soon as possible. As this article was being reported, a Christina spokesperson told NewsWorks/WHYY that grant applications for each of the three schools were sent to the Department of Education on December 23.

It sounds to me like Andrzejewski needs to get it together and actually speak with his board.  The board hired him so he is beholden to informing them before anything like this is submitted to the DOE.  Beyond that though, this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.  The DOE should have given those funds to Christina once they had them available.  Instead, they are pretending this is a big deal to give it a media push.  Behind the scenes, they are just biding their time and waiting for the pushback from Christina so they can take the schools.  And lest we forget, Schwinn herself said one of the consequences of Christina not agreeing to the DOE’s terms on the priority schools is making Christina a “high-risk district”.  Imagine if the DOE could somehow take the whole district lock, stock and barrel?

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5 thoughts on “Christina Priority Schools & The Weird Behavior Of The DOE & State Board

  1. Unbelievable! I knew this would be their play. They want Christina to fail so they can make it the premier charter district in the country. Not just the five Wilmington schools. I believe they want the whole district. They are getting desperate because Markell’s term is coming to an end, and he wants this accomplished before he goes. That’s why the veil has come off. If they are going to accomplish this it has to be out there in the open. I hope and pray their plan backfires big time. How dare they — the institutions that are supposed to support and facilitate education in our state — work to cause education to fail so they can take over! They should be ashamed! And Dr. Terri Quinn-Gray? What is she thinking? I use to work with her in PTA. I don’t understand what has happened to her. Maybe her stomach clutching is her gut telling her she’s not doing the right thing. Listen to your gut, Terri. For the sake of the thousands of children in the Christina School District, listen to your gut!

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