What Delaware Can Learn From The Newark Charter School Students And The “Slappening” Sit-In

Last Friday, Newark Charter School students performed a “sit-in” to protest an incident which has been referred to as “The Slappening” among the student body of Newark Charter School.  200 high school students participated in the sit-in until administrators broke up the party in the cafeteria.  This is about 1/4th of their student body at their high school.  While we don’t know if the teacher was reinstated, we do know that when the majority of the people stand up for something they believe in, people take notice.  This was what I attempted to push for the opt out movement in Delaware.  If everyone opted out, then Smarter Balanced would have disappeared.  We can still do this, but not just with “Smarter” as the DOE puts it (which is ironic because it is dumber), but all standardized tests.  Whether they are once a year or embedded as “stealth test” in personalized learning technology coming soon to a school near you.  And when it comes to all that ed tech, you can opt out of that as well.  If enough parents do it, we can make ed tech irrelevant and be assured our child’s every keystroke isn’t tracked and catalogued by Education Inc. and their data is safe.  As well, this will protect the teaching profession so they don’t become glorified TFA or Relay moderators.  It’s a win-win.  No battle is ever won by sitting at the table and compromising to the point of surrender.

Wait one minute, let’s get back to “The Slappening”.  I saw many tweets which indicated the teacher was terminated after the student sit-in at Newark Charter School last Friday.  While I won’t put minors tweets on this blog, I can say one tweet was pretty definitive!  I have a very good idea of what actually happened between the teacher and the student last week and what led to “The Slappening”.  I can’t see, in that situation, where a teacher should have been terminated.  That teacher has rights.  She also has the right to due process.  Had I known about this sit-in beforehand, I would have sat in with the students as well (Yeah right, like Greg Meece would let that happen)!  But I do respect what the students did.

This has been a very bizarre year for the higher-ups at Newark Charter School.  From their insane awards based on Smarter Balanced results to the “social engineering” of their lottery last winter  to my strange discovery they are the only charter school in the state that doesn’t file IRS 990 tax returns to the district-charter funding war which has now become the charter-Christina-DOE lawsuit to “The Slappening”.  I have to wonder if a change needs to happen.  Not my place, but just putting it out there.  Many students were terrified of the sit-in and what could happen to them.  But they did it anyway.  They stood up (or sat down) to the school leaders and said stop with the madness.  Granted, what they were hoping for didn’t happen, but it did draw attention to the school through major Delaware media like the News Journal.  Even the students seemed shocked they made delawareonline.

It is 2016.  Newark Charter School is having a VERY bizarre year.  With absolutely no disrespect intended for the students or the parents, but your administrators and board have made some really strange decisions.  It’s refreshing in a weird way that NCS has lost its aura of being such a well-behaved mild-mannered gee we’re awesome school.  It brings the school back down to earth.  I hope more students and parents speak out about issues going on there.  I’m not saying NCS should become a priority school tomorrow, but the era of invincibility is over.  NCS had the veil lowered and we are all getting a chance to peek in.  Greg Meece has allowed his temper to get the best of him this year and he has been there a loooooooooooooooooong time.  He can do one of two things: keep the Harry Potter cloak back on the NCS schools or just let things flow.  I’m hoping for the latter.  But that will require him also lightening up on a few other things.

I believe the original intent of NCS was for parents to get their kids out of the Christina School District.  Did they have cause?  Sure they did.  But there are really good things happening in Christina right now.  There are also bad.  As there are in every single school in America.  Even NCS.  I get the need to protect your child.  But if it gets to a point where what one student has means many others do without, how is that teaching any child right and wrong?  I’m not saying this to start a fight.  Truly.  But if we always have this divide in this state, nothing anyone does will ever fix anything.  This lawsuit NCS triggered… it’s not good for Delaware.  It’s not good for NCS or Christina.  Lawsuits cost a ton of money.  But more than that, they take away from students.  They create long-lasting hostilities that play out for decades.  NCS sees this one way and Christina sees it another.  Eventually, unless it goes into some type of settlement, a judge will decide.  Chances are it isn’t going to play out the way the fifteen charters think it will.  I have no doubt Meece thinks he has some smoking gun he thinks will make the case.  It might, but not against Christina.  The Delaware DOE?  Probably.  But never underestimate what happens when you poke a bear.  If NCS truly thinks Christina will take this like a champ, they are wrong.  All 15 charters are wrong.

At a time when Delaware as a whole is trying to figure out pretty much every single aspect of education, from funding to academics to post-secondary outcomes to early childhood to special education to testing, we have a group of charters merrily led by their cheerleader over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, some legal eagles, and probably a few other “stakeholders” trying to upset the apple cart and make sure they get what they think is their bounty.  But have they given one thought to what this means to Delaware students as a whole?  Nope.

That teacher the NCS students staged a sit-in for… why don’t they do that for ALL Delaware students.  They loved their teacher and fought for what they believed was just and fair.  Something was taken away from these students and they didn’t like it.  They did what Americans have been doing since the Boston Tea Party.  Now imagine all those students in Christina who will have less so the charters can have more.  Is that fair to them?  NCS has their engaged parents and their cafetorium and all that.  Not every school in Christina does.  Some schools don’t even have a librarian.  Stage a sit-in for that.  If the teacher you lost is as great as you say she is, she will find a new job.  This issue, due to your efforts, has been very public.  But the students in Christina… they might not get those second chances because of this ridiculous lawsuit.

Education is never going to be fixed no matter what all the corporate dreamers think will happen.  As long as there is one individual in a school, there will always be issues.  But the key is trying to find a way to make it work.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t the way.  This is why the charters, despite what they think happened and are behaving worse than any petulant child, are a classic example of what not to do in education.  This is making them reviled and hated more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

 

 

Early Childhood Education Exec. Director Susan Perry-Manning Resigning From Delaware DOE

I heard this as a rumor a few weeks ago, but the State Board of Education agenda for their meeting on October 20th confirms it. Susan Perry-Manning, the Executive Director of the Office of Early Learning, is resigning from the Delaware Department of Education effective tomorrow, October 7th. She joined the Department in February of 2015, just as the Every Student Succeeds Act and its push for more early childhood education became a very big topic in Delaware and the rest of the country.

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Prior to her stint at the Delaware DOE, Perry-Manning was the Executive Director for the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. Early childhood education hasn’t been on my radar too much since I began this blog. K-12 education keeps me busy enough! But as I see this corporate push for what many are now calling a “cradle to grave” thing going on, I expect that to change. I’m all for kids learning as soon as they can, but I also worry about what pushing kids at too early of an age, before they are developmentally ready for certain things, will do to future generations of children. I joked once about a fetal Smarter Balanced Assessment. That was years ago. While we haven’t quite reached that point, I am skeptical of more and more corporations getting in on education. I don’t believe in “toddler rigor”. But I do admit I need to understand early childhood education more and see if I can separate the opportunists from those who truly want to help. There is a fine line at times…

Another noteworthy departure is Wayne Hartschuh. He is the Executive Director of the Delaware Center for Educational Technology (DCET). I find that one very interesting because of the personalized learning push in Delaware. He has been with the DOE for over twenty years, so he is definitely a lifer! It looks like the last of the bigger names at the Delaware DOE are leaving before Jack Markell leaves his post as Governor in three months. There is still one more who I wouldn’t shed any tears over if they left. “Elementary, my dear ______” There are a few others who look like they may stick around into the next Governor’s term: Susan Haberstroh, Karen Field-Rogers, David Blowman, and Donna Johnson. Time will tell on them! But the big question is who will be the next Delaware Secretary of Education! Or will Godowsky stick around for a while?

As well, we see the “official” announcement of Denise Stouffer taking over for Jennifer Nagourney, which I wrote about last week. Stouffer has to be having one hell of a week between Prestige Academy turning in their charter at the end of this school year and the bombshell charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.

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Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning: How The Lawsuit Against Christina And The Delaware DOE Happened

On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School.  The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.

Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”.  In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:

I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.

Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995.  But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.

Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP.  It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above.  Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS.  And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration.  The irony is still astounding!  Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:

Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”

Whatever Kendall!  Many decisions were made without full clarity.  In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers.  In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.

This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates.  Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th.  Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step.  In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.


From: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request

Rep. Kowalko,

Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.

I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?

Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.

Please send me a timeline of events, including:

When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.

                *Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)

                *Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)

                *Christina response received June 8 (see attached)

Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE

                *David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley

When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents

                *August 8 (see attached)

When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts

                *August 12 (see attached)

When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts

                *August 16 (see attached)

When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina

                *See above dates

Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week.  Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett

As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.

This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.

And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue.  Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.

In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008.  Why 2008?  At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery.  Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education.  The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE.  Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit.  But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why.  I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe.  But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.

Brief Overview of Newark Charter’s Lawsuit

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Although not named as the primary litigant, for all intents and purposes, this lawsuit will herein be referred as the “Newark Charter’s Lawsuit Against The Christina School District”, or “Newark Charter’s Lawsuit” for short….

Those who know,… know why.  No further explanation required or will be given.

The lawsuit seeks to do several things.

First, it wants to freeze the $7 million of Christina’s Current Funding it disputes. This is to prevent it being spent before the court can deliver a verdict.  Doing so would have a negative effect on Christina’s 22,000 children by depriving their district of funds needed for operation of specific tasks pending the court trial.

Second, it wants those funds to eventually go to charter schools because that was the certification as of September 1st.  You may remember that certification was reversed when the public got outraged and …. well, basically after the DOE got caught with their pants…

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