Capital Drinks The DOE/Rodel/Markell Kool-Aid As They Join BRINC & Announce “Strategies”

As Capital joins the BRINC initiative in Delaware, they are moving forward with their Strategic Plans which will benefit corporations more than students.  It is like they copied the playbook of the Delaware Dept. of Education, Rodel, and Governor Markell and called it a plan.

At their April board meeting, the Capital School District unanimously voted to apply to join the BRINC Consortium.  BRINC is a personalized/blended learning group of districts in Delaware that involves spending money, potentially compromising student data privacy, and forcing teachers into a certain way of doing things.  While the Rodel/DOE loving teachers jump all over this, some are opposed to it.  But that doesn’t stop districts from convincing their boards to vote on joining.  I gave public comment to the Capital Board of Education at their April meeting with my severe concerns with student data privacy and the loopholes that exist in state and federal law that allows student data to get out.  But no one listens to the blogger when it comes to making important education decisions.  Or consults with the parents of students in the district to let them know they will be changing how students are instructed going forward using lesson plans from teachers they aren’t familiar with.  Despite my reservations, the Capital School District joined BRINC when they accepted an invitation to join the conglomerate of blended learning school districts in Delaware.  WBOC reached out to Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton who said:

Dr. Dan Shelton, superintendent of Capital School District, said he is looking forward to using technology as a resource for teacher collaboration and sharing quality lesson plans.

For a district that is in the middle of a Strategic Plan that was supposed to be about increasing public stakeholder input for the district, this one sure fell under the radar.  Without the ability for the public to comment on it, for parents to see what BRINC is, and their board passed the action item with no public announcement ahead of time and just a board agenda, Capital has shown once again they don’t really want public input, just the illusion of it.  It’s starting to look like the ability of this board to provide the much-needed pushback against the DOE and corporate driven education “best practices” has faded with the departure of Kay Sass as the Board President last year.  They had a bright moment when they wrote the Delaware General Assembly to support the House Bill 50 override AFTER they already voted on it, but aside from that, I see less transparency.  I believe they think they are being more transparent by announcing things with their Strategic Plan, but I have no doubt in my mind most of the outcomes for this were already decided on a long time ago.  In my eyes, transparency is announcing and soliciting community feedback before an item like BRINC is approved, not announcing it after the fact.

In the below press release from Capital, they announce what their strategies will be coming out of their Strategic Plan.  While it all looks great to read, I have to wonder when they are going to announce their Early Learning Academy at Dover High School.  But there are things in there that give me equal agita.  Items italicized are in the report, while the red-penned comments are my own.

Students, Parents, Staff and Members of the community share through survey data a more positive reflection of our communication.

Survey data you say?  Wasn’t that a very controversial insertion into House Bill 399 (the teacher evaluation bill), just last week?

Students report on surveys a more positive experience.

More surveys.  From students.  What are they going to judge?  Administrators, the district, teachers?  More information is needed.  Far too much potential for bias resulting in discipline against teachers that may not even be verifiable.

Student grades, attendance and standardized test scores improve.

Grades and attendance I like.  Standardized test scores…no.  Just no.  For the Capital Board to approve this and go along with it is a far cry from where they were a year ago.  In fact, I would say it is a 180 degree shift.

Student behavior referrals decrease

HA!  This is a district that has no consistency with this practice whatsoever.  It was also notated at their April board meeting that Booker T. Washington Elementary School, under the leadership of Dr. Dale Brown, had NO discipline referrals for this school year up to that date.  Not one student was sent to the Principal’s office.  The board questioned this and I later asked Dr. Shelton about this who informed me this was correct reporting from the school.

10-15 year Facility Plan is accepted by community of stakeholders.

This is what I like to call a future referendum for capital costs!

The board gives unlimited freedom to the implementation team as long as staff complies with regulations and board policies and the approved process for defining and implementing strategic priority projects are met.

Big mistake! Very big mistake.  A board needs to carefully watch things like this.  If they give up their authority to stop this, aside from budget constraints or those that conflict with district policy, they are handing the reins over without any rationale behind that decision.  This is just more erosion of local control from a local district.  We will see more of this than we already have in our local school districts in Delaware, mark my words.

My biggest question surrounds who is actually on the implementation team which the press release, and to the best of my knowledge, and the Capital website don’t specify.

https://www.scribd.com/document/317550144/Press-Release-CSD-Strategies-With-Attachments

To give some background on their Strategic Plan, we have to go back to a year ago.

Prior Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas retired last year.  As well, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Spangler and Director of Human Resources David Vaughn left as well.  The Board of Education hired Dr. Dan Shelton last July.  Shelton immediately embarked on his Strategic Plan.  Shelton and Demosophia owner Andy Hegedus already knew each other.  As former employees of Christina, they have connections all over the Newark area.  Hegedus wrote his own biography on the website for Demosophia.  He proudly lists himself as a Broad Fellow, which also has such distinguished members like Joey Wise, the former Superintendent of Christina, and Lillian Lowery, also a former Christina Superintendent and the former Delaware and Maryland Secretary of Education.  Hegedus proudly boasts about participating in a plan to change the Christina schools as far back as 2006 in this document.

The subject of a new Strategic Plan for Capital first came up at the October 3rd Board Retreat.  The only people in attendance at this Board Retreat were the five board members, Dr. Shelton, and Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Henderson.  On their Board Docs, it clearly states in Item #2: “Capital School District Strategic Plan”.  The board went into open session at 8am to discuss the Strategic Plan and then went into executive session the rest of the day to discuss contracts and personnel evaluations.  At their next board meeting on 10/21/15, the minutes reflect the Retreat was seven and a half hours. In the same meeting, there is no action item to move forward with the contract for the Strategic Plan at all in the minutes.  Under Delaware state law, if any state entity wants to obtain a vendor in an open bidding process, they must submit a Request for Proposal (RFP).  Capital gave a very small window for their RFP.  The public notice of the RFP went out on 10/30/15 and proposals were due by 11/13/15.  The RFP seems to be custom designed for a company like Demosophia.

An article in the Dover Post from 1/6/16 went over the thinking behind the Strategic Plan:

“I don’t want our direction moving forward to be Dan Shelton’s direction. It needs to be the community’s direction” he said. “We’re going to use our teachers, our administrators, and members of the community who want to volunteer for different portions of this plan.”

However, this is a direct contradiction with a part of the Superintendent Update from the Board’s 10/21/15 meeting:

Reviewed long term facility plan which will be incorporated into Strategic Planning Process

If the Strategic Plan was truly represented by the community of the district, how could they have a long term facility plan that would be “incorporated” into the Strategic Plan?

In fact, we don’t hear about the Strategic Plan in the board minutes for Capital again until their 1/20/16 meeting when the board unanimously approves the $45,000 contract awarded to Demosophia.  For a five year strategic plan, they sure didn’t leave a lot of time for companies to submit a bid.  Almost as if it was already decided who would win the contract.  However, they did have three top-ranked firms apply for the bid with a total of six interviews according to the audio recording from  the 1/20/16 meeting.  Board member John Martin asked how Demosophia was chosen as the vendor.  Shelton explained they scored 301 on the rubric with the two other firms placing at 294 and 232 points.  Board member Sean Christiansen said he was a member of the interview committee which included district staff, teachers, and members of the community.  He said Demosophia means “wisdom of the people” which is exactly what they were looking for at their 10/3 Board Retreat.

In the Board Docs for this meeting, there is no contract listed as a document.  In fact, the contract with Demosophia can not be found anywhere.  The Awarded Contracts for the State of Delaware website only shows the award letter issued to Demosophia.

Hegedus doesn’t even talk about the Strategic Plan with the public until the 2/17/16 board meeting.  So the board and Shelton knew about Demosophia’s involvement with the plan since at least 11/13/16 but this isn’t revealed until the 1/20/16 meeting.  Two and a half months after the Board Retreat…

The forums were held at the end of February and the beginning of March with the one-on-one interviews taking place in March.  The Capital Board was supposed to have a workshop on 4/6/16 to discuss how the Co-Labs would work, but it was abruptly canceled and never rescheduled.  The Co-Labs began in April.  In fact, Capital has been extremely transparent with the activities surrounding the Strategic Plan on their website.

In the Co-Labs, participants state their ideas and it is all thrown into a computer system which will generate the results based on the input.  It actually records exactly what these “stakeholders” put forth.  It then spews out a picture graph (as seen in the above document) of the most talked about ideas and forms a conclusion for what the main issue is.  This already happened in April.

Hegedus’ company, Demosophia lists other companies as their “world-wide affiliates” based on “Structured Democratic Dialogue”.  All of these companies participate in programs to “consciously design humanity’s future”.  These affiliates, including companies such as Institutes for 21st Century Agoras, CWA Ltd. ( a link to their website doesn’t even work), and Future Worlds Center.  These are all think tanks that want to guide a conversation toward pre-determined goals.

What are the goals of Dr. Dan Shelton’s ideal Capital School District?  He wants to start a Pre-School Academy at Dover High School.  Yes, you heard it right.  All of the forums involving the public and this came up how much?  Not much at all.  So how does a Strategic Plan spit out this big idea?  You have to look beyond the illusion crafted by the public forums.  The true meat of this agenda lies in the Co-Labs and who was on the committee.  85% of the members were paid employees of the district.  One board member, one student, one member of the district’s CBOC, two outside parents and one Dover High School  PTO vice-president.  However, in this document, it paints a very different picture of the representation on the committee.  It overlaps many district employees as parents of students at certain schools.  This is the trap.

Many task forces, committees, and advisory groups are stacked in the favor of those who want a desired outcome in Delaware.  Other current or recent groups in Delaware include the Assessment Inventory Committee, the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, and the Education Funding Improvement Committee.   In fact, when the IEP Task Force was brought about by Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 in June, 2014 there were no outside parents on the group at first.  I successfully rounded up people to contact their legislators to include that crucial representation on that task force.  Their input was invaluable to the Task Force and helped to shape the final legislation brought about by Senate Bill #33 last year.

Make no mistake, this Strategic Plan is entirely Dan Shelton’s idea.  It is comparable to many initiatives going on in Delaware right now.  Governor Markell earmarked $11 million for early childhood programs in the state, but the final budget only had $9 million given to the initiative.  Since the federal Race To The Top for pre-schools ended last year, the state is on the hook.  The goal of these early childhood programs is to reduce the number of students who receive special education services in later years.  I heard as much at a Senate Education Committee meeting this winter.  That should not be a goal taking up $9 million state funding when things like the WEIC redistricting plan or basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade failed to be included in the final budget.  But I firmly believe Capital wants to strike gold on this while the funding is there.  By becoming the first district in Delaware to have universal pre-K services, they will increase attendance in the district which is their true objective.  The district lost a ton of students the past few years.  I don’t blame them for that, but the way in which they are going about it is not a long-term strategy if they don’t improve upon the basic issues in the district.

The district, like many others in Delaware, seem to have an overreliance on Response to Intervention as a cure-all for what ails the district.  RtI is a failed experiment that has long since outlived its original purpose of helping children to read better.  It is used as a substitute for special education services when nothing a school does or says can reduce a manifestation of a child’s neurological disability if they are not utilizing even the most basic of special education services.  And if they start this at a pre-school level district-wide, I fear for the outcomes of these children.  It’s almost like the district read the Every Student Succeeds Act, took the very worst parts inserted in there at the last minute by lobbyists for the corporate education reform machine, and came up with this Strategic Plan to implement it through the smoke and mirrors of community input.  In looking at the picture graphs, I see very little in regards to actual improvement of the district’s special education efforts.  The words special education are not even in there.  I see a lot mentioned about the “whole child” and “community centers”.  Many citizens in the district already feel our schools should not become all-day day-care centers.  But this plan seems to call for that, using outside organizations to improve the educational outcome of students.  While the district would be correct in stating they have a high population of students coming from low-income, poverty, and violence-prone communities or homes, they should not put themselves in the unsustainable position of becoming the go-to source for what affects children out of school.  Wrap-around services should be directed from parents, not a school.  If a parent is unable to provide those services for their child, there are already existing mechanisms by which a school district can help get those services for a child in the event of neglect.  But our schools should not become a Band-Aid for students.  Not to mention the already existing fears by many of state control over children and loopholes in student data privacy laws.

Full disclosure: I ran for the Capital School Board this year and I lost.  I bear no ill will towards the district or the board for that outcome.  In fact, I’m glad I lost and I certainly want to wish Dr. Chanda Jackson the best of luck as she is sworn in at a special board meeting tonight at their district office at 7pm.  I’m quite sure the district will say BRINC is the best thing for student outcomes and will come up with some fancy way of saying so.  Of that I have no doubt.  What I doubt is the ability of the board to question these things anymore and just goes along with whatever Dr. Shelton wants.  But the board lost a key player when former President Kay Sass resigned last year.  I thought Matt Lindell was the voice of sanity on this board, but I fear I misjudged him.  And who will pay for all this?  The citizens of the district, that’s who.  And as the Christina School District will be knee-deep in the Demosophia think-tank way of doing things with their own contract in the fall, Capital will be ahead of the game showing the residents of Dover what the eventual price tag for these plans are.

 

 

 

Christina Continues To Recruit For District Administrators As Referendum Opponents Seethe

That didn’t take long.  No sooner does a Newark High School principal gets a lofty district position, the district announces two more administrative positions.  Despite librarians not being fully restored even though it was a sort of/kind of referendum promise.  Was this what the referendum was about?  Filling more district slots?  Have the class sizes been reduced in their planning for next year?  Have all support staff been rehired or hired?  Have all school budgets been restored?  Has funding for performing and fine arts been restored?  Does “enhancement” mean the same thing as “more district staff”?  If the answer to all these questions are a resounding yes, then by all means, hire away.  But if you can’t honor the promises made to taxpayers, then don’t complain when they vote no the next time around.

ChristinaAssessmentCoordinator

ChristinaAsstSuper

ChristinaAsstSuper2

That last one looks tailor made for anyone working in the Delaware Department of Education Accountability unit.  What does the Acting Superintendent do after all those job roles are shifted to someone else?

***UPDATED***Delaware Approves $20.7 Million So Markell & Sokola Can Have Safe Bike Rides But Ignore Special Education Funding Bill?

markellcyclingThis is the heart of what is wrong with Delaware.  In an article by Bike Delaware, the group brags about how the General Assembly approved $20.7 million for bike trail improvements in Delaware.  Meanwhile, students considered to be basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, go for a sixth year without special education funding from the state.  Pork indeed!  Now before bicycling enthusiasts come at me, I fully support bicycle safety and awareness.  While I don’t ride a bicycle these days, I think it is important for further safety for the sport.  But not at the expense of children in public schools!  And we can say this is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget.  But money shifts around ALL the time at Legislative Hall.

We are especially grateful for the leadership of State Senator Dave Sokola, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the capital budget, and Governor Jack Markell. It’s not a coincidence that Senator Sokola biked to work yesterday (about 60 miles) and Governor Markell biked to work today (also about 60 miles).

I have no doubt it isn’t a coincidence!  And by mentioning how Sokola is the co-chair of the committee that writes the capital budget, you might as well throw out the words “conflict of interest”.  Are we really saying, as a state, that despite all the arguments about education funding and how we will “commit to doing better next year” that our General Assembly approved $20.7 million in taxpayer funds for what amounts to a select special interest for a hobby?  But the legislators who question this kind of nonsense are considered “unpatriotic” by people like State Rep. Melanie Smith…

This is a disgrace.  How much longer will high-needs students continue to go without while fat-cats like Senator David Sokola and Governor Jack Markell can bike to Legislative Hall?  While I was not always supportive of the WEIC plan, I think that was much more worthy than bike trails.  We have schools that desperately need restoration and improvements, but paths for cyclists are more important?  What the hell is wrong with this state and when will our legislators finally step up and say no as a collective body to this insanity?  We have homeless people, increasing violence in our cities, and jobs that don’t pay as much as they used to.  We have police that aren’t getting the funds they need to effectively do their jobs.  But this is okay?

House Bill 30 would have guaranteed funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade with the designation of basic special education.  Based on a unit-count system, these children get no state funding in these grades.  It is one of the most transparent and visible flaws in Delaware education funding.  But I suppose it is okay to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable of children so people like Jack Markell and David Sokola, whose very agendas and laws have further demeaned these children multiple times, can get more out of their bicycle hobby.  What a joke!

What kind of Governor bikes sixty miles to work?  What if something happens to him?  Is that in the best interest of the state to have your Governor biking to work on a hot day?  Do his bodyguards have to bike with him?  Do they get extra duty hazard pay for that?  Since we don’t have a Lieutenant Governor and something happened to Jack while bike-riding, who steps up then? Schwartzkopf?  Good lord!

I can think of many different ways we could have allocated these funds in a “tough budget year”.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee and the folks on the Bond Committee need to open their eyes and see what they are doing to this state.  Meanwhile, cyclists across the state rejoice!  While students suffer…

Updated, 7/5/16, 2:35pm: On Bike Delaware’s Facebook page, the group responded to comments made on there about this article with the following:

80% of this money comes from the federal government for transportation system (capital) investments. The federal government does not permit this money to be spent on schools (or anything not related to transportation). It’s deeply unfair to criticize Governor Markell and Senator Sokola for failing to spend these federal transportation dollars on schools. Neither Governor Markell or Senator Sokola have any authority to re-program this money this way. (They can spend it on walking and cycling projects rather than new roads but they can’t spend it on schools or libraries or hospitals or anything not related to transportation.)

To which I responded:

Be that as it may, it is just more pork. Even more distressing this comes at a federal level when IDEA Special Education funding at a federal level is at 37.5% of what it should be when the law was reauthorized in 2004. While that has absolutely nothing to do with Bike Delaware, it is symptomatic of a disease in our country where those who already have so much more than others get more while those who don’t have those luxuries lose out. I’m pretty sure an argument could be made somewhere that Delaware’s transportation grants from the Feds could be used to get rid of the Neighborhood Schools Act which has further segregated our schools, especially in Wilmington. Funding is twisted all the time in our state, this should not be an exception. Once again, though, I do want to reiterate this is not a slam against those who enjoy biking, but rather what I consider to be a misuse of funds during a time when others desperately need funding for more apparent reasons.  With your permission, may I update my article with your comment?

And their response:

Please do. To repeat, it’s not within either Governor Markell’s or Senator Sokola’s discretion to spend these federal transportation dollars on anything other than transportation projects. All they have done is take about ~5% of those FY17 dollars and dedicated them for improving the state for people walking and cycling. And, given that Delaware is the deadliest state in America for pedestrians, it’s not out-of-line for the state to be making improvements that make it safer for people to walk and bicycle. Not to mention, that 2/3rds of Delawareans are overweight or obese and making it safe for people to be more physically active is a critical public health priority. And, if you are an environmentalist, every bike trip that replaces a car trip means less air pollution….These are urgent public policy priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with anybody’s “hobby.”

I appreciate Bike Delaware’s response, but like I said, this is a matter of what side you agree on.  Regardless of where the funds generate from, we live in a country where those who have the luxury and time to bike over bridges along the C&D Canal in Delaware have that ability.  But I fail to see how these bike trails, while I’m sure are utilized by some who are less fortunate, will solve obesity problems and pedestrian deaths.  In my opinion, I think pet projects like this are pushed by people like Markell and Sokola so they can enjoy them, not the people who probably aren’t even aware things like this exist because they are too busy looking for work, or already work several jobs, just to put food on the table.  And it goes all the way up to a federal level and funds are locked in for specific purposes like this so they can only be used for pet projects by legislators and Governors.

*the above picture is from DelDOT

Call For NEA To Cut Ties With TeachStrong Coalition

Another new business item at the NEA Rep. Assembly in D.C. this week would call for NEA to quit the TeachStrong Coalition sponsored by the Center for American Progress.  Delaware Governor Markell is one of the biggest advocates for this farce of a coalition and helped to launch the initiative.  The Center for American Progress was also the same group that led the “Testing Bill of Rights for Education” which landed with a resounding thud.  This led to my creation of the “Parent Bill of Rights for Education” which pretty much led to a two-week banishment on Facebook for myself in April.  How dare parents voice their opinion!

The NEA has to realize they are cutting their own throats by aligning with these companies.  They need to fight this crap, not join it.  To read more on this NBI, please go here.  How much do you want to bet the TeachStrong ambassadors were carefully selected by these partnership organizations to further their own agendas, including the ultimate privatization of public schools?  Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, you are not leading your membership to glory.  You are leading them to the slaughter…  will the NEA members wake up and take back any shred of decency before it is gone forever?

NEA Members Call Out Lily Eskelsen-Garcia Over “Partnership” With Relay Graduate School

A new business item showed up this morning at the National Educators Association’s annual representative assembly, held in Washington D.C. This one is very interesting. It concerns an alleged partnership NEA has with Relay Graduate School of Education. They are both involved in the corporate education reformer led “Teach Strong” initiative. But a partnership bears further investigation. In an article calling out both NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, both NEA leader Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT leader Randy Weingarten were raked over the coals for their affiliation with these groups and companies.

NEARelay

This action item calls for an explanation from Eskelsen-Garcia on why she is partnering with an organization that is the anti-thesis of NEA.  Programs like Relay and Teach For America diminish the role of teachers in public education and cause a wide-spread path of destruction along the way.  Their teachers, no matter what their intentions are, do not receive the same training regular teachers do, and get rammed into a crash-course on teaching.  Many of them frequently do not stay in the profession.  Some become administrators, leap-frogging past certified teachers, or get jobs with ed reform companies or state DOEs.  If NEA is partnering with an organization like Relay, their members definitely need an explanation from Eskelsen-Garcia.

I called her out last year over NEA’s rushed endorsement of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  As well, they were a very early endorser for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential candidacy.  Even though they are making it an official vote at this rep assembly to endorse her, it is something leadership did almost a year ago already.  Right now, Hillary is speaking to the assembled NEA members at their assembly.  In a picture taken before she arrived on the stage, teachers are seen waving and clapping as if Hillary is the second coming.  Someone made a comment of “Stepford Teachers”… a comment I am inclined to agree with.  I am no fan of Hillary, or Trump for that matter.  These are dark times…

NEAHillary

As the saying goes, while you may want a seat at the table, you also need to recognize when you are on the table.  NEA members need to be extra vigilant these days.  It’s not just a matter of trust, it is also a matter of survival in an increasingly hostile environment for public school teachers.   When dealing with these corporate education reform companies, collaboration is the same thing as alliance.  In Delaware, we have this ridiculous thing called “The Delaware Way” where parties comes to the table and compromise.  It is ridiculous and absurd and allows very bad entities into things they have no business being in.  NEA seems to have taken up this mantra as well.  Time to call out the leadership folks!