The Academy of Dover is going through the very laborious charter renewal process with the Delaware Department of Education. On April 30th, the DOE gave the school their renewal report and AoD had 16 days to respond. The school had a rough couple years. Between a very damaging state auditor report on their former head of school embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, low high-stakes testing scores, a very large settlement with a former management company, and compliance issues, they have had their hands full. The former assistant principal now leads the school. A former principal from Town Pointe Elementary School in Capital School District runs the curriculum now. The board has shifted and received training in areas that caused some of the problems. Will it be enough?
This charter renewal comes at an interesting time. The 2014-2015 school year was the first year Smarter Balanced came into play. As such, the scores from that year don’t really count, but the DOE is using the ratings from the Delaware School Success Framework as a substitute for their Academic Framework. Let me say from the start, I feel bad for charter schools in the respect that the state assessment plays such a large part in anything going on with the DOE. AoD has a large population of low-income and minority students who typically fare worse on these tests than other schools.
Other factors that could affect their renewal involve Noel Rodriguez, their local school district, and the scores from the 2015-2016 SBAC. The former Head of School, Noel Rodriguez, will face charges at some point. I know of at least one other Delaware charter where the Attorney General’s office recently issued subpoenas about their own similar issues. Yet another Delaware charter had their board file for insurance claims due to embezzlement at their own school from former leaders. So something is coming which will put the school in the spotlight when Rodriguez faces charges. However, this issue already came up in their 2015 formal review and they were not shut down for it then so the DOE should not put them under the same scrutiny twice.
Capital School District, under the new leadership of Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton, is looking at their own district with their Strategic Plan. What comes out of that, to improve the district, could affect AoD in the long run in terms of enrollment. But it should have no bearing on their renewal process.
The scores from the recent Smarter Balanced Assessment for the school will not play into their academic framework since it is not a part of the renewal report, but the impression could taint the process. Once again, I will stress my opinion these should not even factor into their charter renewal, but the DOE and I do not agree on this point.
I will admit I have softened my stance on Delaware charter schools a bit. My own experience with them tainted my view a bit. I still don’t agree with some of their very discriminatory practices up in Wilmington and the only one in Sussex County. But I believe they are just as much a victim as traditional school districts are with the DOE in terms of very bad regulations, mandates, and accountability. Academy of Dover and I had a frosty relationship in the past, but that has warmed up a bit in recent months. Many of the complaints against most charter schools are a result of politics and tainted legislation by people in Dover who should really know better. I believe the Delaware Charter Schools Network adds immensely to the perceptions against charters. With that caveat, Academy of Dover has a former State Representative on their board who does carry a bit of clout in Kent County so politics can play a part to help the school.
Many of the issues with Academy of Dover are well-known by the DOE and have come up before in formal reviews. There really aren’t any new complaints which suggests the school has fixed many of the issues since Noel Rodriguez left. No school is perfect, but Academy of Dover seems to have turned a lot around in the past year and a half. Rodriguez controlled the school and left a considerable amount of damage in his wake.
My one concern in the below response from the school is this 11 week Smarter Balanced Boot Camp after school for struggling students. In this era of high-stakes accountability, schools are under the gun for kids to do well on these tests. But they can go overboard with this effort. Calling anything a boot camp with education is a bad idea in my opinion. It suggests a dire need for these kids to do well on these tests regardless of the cost. The sooner we can get schools to stop giving in to this very bad proficiency environment, the better things will be in the long run. It gives the Delaware DOE all the power. But I also don’t run a school with that kind of pressure thrust upon me so it is easy for me to say that.
I know the school had special education issues in the past, but we won’t know until June how they may have improved. That is when the DOE issues their special education compliance annual reports. However, those are usually about three years behind and would reflect the height of the Noel Rodriguez era so that should be taken into consideration as well. Special education is a hot mess in Delaware overall. There seems to be a mass amount of confusion between Response to Intervention and true special education. This is an ongoing issue that will only get worse if we stay in this high-stakes accountability environment.
Dr. Steven Godowsky, the Delaware Secretary of Education will issue his final recommendation to the State Board of Education at their December 15th board meeting where they will vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.
Below is the charter renewal report from the Delaware DOE and Academy of Dover’s response: