The Christina Board of Education meeting last night was filled with some awesome discussion about what appears in the title of this article. I painstakingly transcribed the part of the meeting with the Superintendent’s report to the Board and the crazy discussion after. Board member John Young was on fire!!!! The topics dealt with Governor Carney’s plans for Christina’s Wilmington schools. There is A LOT of information in here. A ton. From venereal diseases to transparency to possible school closures and more! I have a feeling things are going to look VERY different in Christina’s Wilmington schools a year from now. And for the record, I agree with John Young on EVERYTHING he said!
Superintendent Richard Gregg: Progress is being made on the development of the Memorandum of Understanding with partners who engaged in a letter of intent last month. Since Governor Carnet met with the Christina Board of Education in October, there have been several meetings with stakeholders to seek input around issues related specifically to the Christina Wilmington schools. The Governor, joined by Secretary Bunting, Dorrell Green, Darren Tyson, and me, held Town Hall meetings at Bayard Middle School and Bancroft Elementary School to share ideas with the Wilmington community and members around our combined efforts to improve Christina schools serving our Wilmington students. Members of the audience were encouraged to share their concerns and to ask questions of the panel. In addition to Town Halls, I hosted listening sessions with parents at Bayard, Stubbs, Pulaski, and Elbert-Palmer to hear parents’ hopes and wishes for their children at our schools. CEA President Darren Tyson met with the faculties of Bayard, Bancroft, Stubbs, and Palmer to seek input from teachers on how to better address the certain e needs of our students. Teachers expressed an appreciation of an opportunity for their voice to be heard regarding the needs for their students. Principals of the five city schools met to discuss the same topics and to explore a variety of options including school grade reconfiguration, feeder patterns, efficient and effective use of our facilities, school capacity vs. enrollment, scheduling including school calendar and daily scheduling, staffing, curriculum, and resources. From these meetings there have been many common themes that continue to be expressed by the various stakeholder groups. Themes include, but are not limited to, the need for meaningful relevant professional development for our staff, increased shared leadership opportunities at the school level, additional support for educators addressing social-emotional needs of students, nutritional concerns for students, the availability of additional resources, capital improvement needs in our buildings, concerns about student behaviors that disrupt the learning process, and the need for consistent relevant consequences for students with student manual violations and culturally relevant curriculum. As the group begins to create and modify the component elements of the MOU, I’m requesting the Board of Education identify members who represent the board to attend and participate in weekly meetings leading up to the December study session. It is my intent to present and draft the MOU to the Board at the December study session for consideration of approval at the December General Board of Education meeting which is consistent with the timeline set forth by the Governor. In addition to discussion of Christina Wilmington schools, I’ve been engaged in initial conversations with representatives from University of Delaware and Wilmington University to discuss partnership opportunities for our city and suburban schools. As ideas are further developed I’ll bring them forward to the Board of Education for your review and consideration. I plan to schedule listening sessions in the Newark-Bear-Glasgow area schools with the intention of hearing from parents about their hopes and wishes for their children in our suburban schools and to apprise them of any plans being considered for our Wilmington students. Finally, I met with middle school and high school leaders to discuss programming for our high schools and subsequently middle school pathways that lead to our high school programs. Leaders are considering unique programming that’s intended to retain and attract students to our schools. Principals will be presenting their programming ideas to the Board at the December study session for feedback and consideration. As you are aware, the Strategic Plan for Christina expired in July. (goes on to talk about how he is hoping the board will consider a recommendation for a vendor the district’s Strategic Plan which will include what he discussed above).
George Evans: Any questions or comments from the Board?
John Young: Sure. So thank you for the update. A lot of it was non-specific, more kind of topical in nature. I guess I was gonna talk about this later in the meeting but I’ll talk about it now. I’m unsure of why a study session would be used for something like an MOU review. That doesn’t seem to purport with the reason why we scheduled a study session in the first place. The idea that we are going to review it on the 5th so we can vote on it on the 12th to be consistent with the Governor’s timetable, I speak only for myself, I have absolutely no interest in regards to the Governor’s timetable in regards to getting this right. I want to make sure that whatever the plan is that there is an opportunity, or whatever the MOU is, or the commitments are, that there is an opportunity to share that with the community as well and solicit feedback. The old adage is people tend to support what they help to create and right now, with all the meetings that have occurred so far, not withstanding your update tonight, there’s not a lot of details around that out in the public’s face. So it’s starting to feel to me like it’s not a fully transparent process and I want to make sure that we maximize all the, as many opportunities possible, to make sure this transparent to every single stakeholder and NOT be constrained by an artificial timeline put in place by the Governor. He should be concerned about getting it right, not concerned about bullying one of the members of the partnership into action. So I have a grave concern about the accelerated timeline in this development.
Elizabeth Paige: I don’t disagree with it and I remember back to Dr. Griffin’s comment about measure once and cut twice and I’m not sure we’ve even measured once. So I don’t know how we’re going to measure twice before we cut once in December, quite honestly.
Gregg: Well the reason we would bring it to the Study Session, to respond to your statement, is because the Study Session was intended to present information that the Board would need to consider action in the future so I think it is absolutely consistent with bringing the MOU and the discussion around the MOU to the Study Session because at some point there will be an expectation for the Board to take action and those are the opportunities we have in a public arena to have conversations around these issues.
Young: How many people attended the Study Session last week? How many members of the public attended the Study Session?
Gregg: Well that doesn’t mean it’s not scheduled and not posted for people…
Young: I’m sure it’s legal but my concern, Mr. Gregg, is when we look at the Study Session, an idea that the Board will act on it in the future purports, but the agenda so far has not matched the intent. And I’ll use the most recent one. There was an agenda item for wellness centers. And there was a discussion about distributing condoms and Chlamydia. That wasn’t on the agenda. There was no sensibility that’s what was going to be talked about. One of the agenda items said Delaware Autism Program, that’s it, no granularity, nothing beyond that. So how are we going to ensure that we put on the agenda is meaningful relevant granular information and to allow the public to make a decision about whether or not to participate in how their tax dollars are going to be spent on this MOU. I have grave concerns with this.
Fred Polaski: So Mr. Young, I’ll give you an opposite view. I believe right now in the State of Delaware, there is a significant amount of enthusiasm and support to go out to the population and the people of the Government believe this is going in a direction that is much better than we’ve ever had in the previous administration in making improvements. If the momentum is there, I believe we need to support it and move as quickly as we can to get it right. We’ll never get it perfect. But I’m just concerned that when you start talking about this that you want to make sure it’s perfect when we do it. I’ll guarantee you, we’re never going to get it perfect.
Young: We’ll never get it perfect.
Polaski: We’ll never get it perfect. Governor Carney’s goal is to start implementing change next year. There’s a lot of support and enthusiasm I believe this Board needs to work with that. So if you got a concern about it’s not posted well enough for the December Study Session then everyone here has heard about it. We can put it on the website. We can make sure the posting says Study Session for the proposed Memorandum of Understanding for the things going on in the city schools and make sure it gets out there were not making a decision at the Study Session.
Young: No, seven days later we would be.
Polaski: Seven days later we would have the opportunity if we think we’re ready. We could, at the December 12th meeting, decide to approve it or we could consider go back to the Governor with more things, we could decide we want another week to schedule another meeting for a week later. In fact, if we think we are going to need that maybe we ought to preemptively schedule one for December 19th. If we don’t need it, cancel it. But I believe that we need to support what’s going on, cause it’s more than just what’s going on with the Wilmington schools from an educational viewpoint. Last night I was at a, the Governor had a meeting in Wilmington with his Family Services Council…
Young: Cabinet Council…
Polaski: Council… and I probably didn’t get the name of it right. There’s a lot of things going on in that area to support the things that need to be done to help the children in our Wilmington schools. So the momentum is there and I don’t want us to be one part to that that slows it down and stops it.
Young: I absolutely, I appreciate your feedback Mr. Polaski. I’m not… so if my marks are being misconstrued as being against this, that would be an incorrect interpretation. The idea of getting it absolutely right is at the core for my concerns. So, as an example, the Governor wants us to interact with Family Services Cabinet Council but aside from last night’s meeting, that council repeatedly meets in private with no agendas going out to the public as well. And it’s Cabinet Secretaries, so I have grave concerns with our district entering into an arrangement that would have a limited interface with a Cabinet-born agency that doesn’t answer itself to the public. I have concerns with stuff like that.
Polaski: But that Cabinet is working… by the end of the meeting they had four sub-groups with a lot of areas that aren’t directly with education.
Young: Correct, yes.
Polaski: But in one of them is how they can share data between all the different organizations, family services health and all that to work better together. One of them is an idea…
Young: Did they talk about student privacy? In regards to that data?
Polaski: Well that’s one of the parts of the discussion.
Young: That’s right, and WE are responsible for the students so we need to make sure we don’t lock ourselves into that.
Polaski: They’re talking about sharing within other areas outside the Department of Education.
Polaski: They’re looking at a dual generational center in the city that will promote early childhood education, training for adults, needed skills to get a job, all that kind of stuff which they’re going to ask us to get involved with cause they’re doing.
Gregg: Everything’s a recommendation. Everything in this MOU will be based on the approval of the Board of Education. Nothing moves forward without the Board’s approval. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve asked for representatives from the Board to start attending the weekly meetings we have with Dorrell Green, Jon Sheehan, members of the Governor’s staff, Darren Tyson. We’ve been taking all the information that we’ve been seeking from the other stakeholder groups and putting those on the table for discussion. So we’ve had some preliminary conversations and some preliminary ideas, but right now, that’s where they are. And I’ve been representing the interests of the Board cause that’s what I believe I’ve been hired to do. We can have the Board meet as frequently as you want but I think I’ve been diligent in that responsibility.
Young: So Mr. Polaski, if there’s a recommendation to close two schools on December 5th, are you gonna vote to close two schools on December 12th? That’s what we could be talking about here.
Polaski: But as I understand it, the recommendation would be to consider closing schools. If the recommendation is, specifically, closing a particular school, I’m not ready to make that decision…
Young: in seven days…
Polaski: even with the facts that go with it. But if our MOU recommends we consider diverting a school, closing a school to consolidate, I’ll consider that I’m willing to vote yes, let’s go forward to assume that. It doesn’t mean we’ve considered that.
Young: MOU will need to make that…
Evans: I don’t want to speculate along those lines. I do want to address two points in the discussion. One was Study Session itself, it was on November 6th. It was posted and the benefit of the Study Session is, of course, to inform Board members of the various issues that are pending in the, to be presented, about information to the Board, the discussion with the Wellness Center, I believe, was well received by those who attended the Study Session. And it provided a pathway to consider in terms of what should be offered at Christina in terms of services. The public is invited, the public participates, so there is more time for discussion and I thought it was well-done. In terms of the urgency, the urgency is a perspective of a board member. The urgency for us is for the students who have not gotten the benefit of a kind of education that we want to present. This delay piece is not going to serve them either. I think it should be us out front, long ago, leading this charge, and here we are again at a point we are finding ourselves getting input and push from the State. But it’s our responsibility and I think we need to move on it expeditiously as we spent numerous hours in terms of developing the plan to address the needs of those young people and then implement those plans. And I think we need to get moving on it as quickly as we can so I endorse the timetable. Let’s get it done.
Young: So was there an action item for tonight on condom distribution for wellness centers, condom distribution to prevent sexually transmitted diseases? That’s what was talked about and because that’s supposed to be an action item moving forward, cause that’s what the Study Session agenda is about, it says class-size waiver, just a generic discussion on class-size waiver. And yes, we are having a discussing a motion on that tonight. That’s fine. But where’s the action item on the wellness center? Is it at a future meeting? Cause I’m going to tell you right now, that’s why I didn’t attend. We voted to have those meetings for a specific reason. If we’re not going to have them for the specific reason we voted on, then I’m not going to attend them. Cause the public that amasses at our regular meetings, deserves to have the information about the decisions we’re making in this district. And Mr. Evans, you are right. It is posted and not one member of the public shows up. And yes, it’s recorded. That’s great. There’s access but there’s not participation. Honestly, it feels as if that’s by design.
Gregg: I was told the board doesn’t need to take action on services by the wellness center. That’s in agreement with the Superintendent and the wellness centers. And so I felt, when they were approaching me about a change in services, that it was incumbent on me to present to the board that this was a new service they were offering to the students. And these services are only offered with the consent of the parents. Parents have the right to elect which services they want their children to participate in who are enrolled in those wellness centers.
Gregg: It was an information session.
Young: But not information for parents.
Gregg: We have a communication ? that is going to get out to parents as a result of that meeting.
Young: Great. Because the idea that’s something that needs to be discussed and the Board is indeed in support of that direction, this would be the meeting to do that at. If it requires action. I guess I’m confused about the original mission. So I asked for a couple of things when we made that vote. If we know these things are going to be on the next Board meeting, I would ask that we start to post the agenda for the regular board meeting earlier than the required seven day deadline. There’s no law against posting it earlier, there’s only a law about how late we can post it, and you said that it was your intention to move back those dates and get our regular meeting agendas posted earlier. So far we have done the seven day, not one day earlier so far so we haven’t seen any action on that front and I’m concerned that the Study Session is going to turn into something it wasn’t designed for. We have conversations where we have extremely low attendance.
Gregg: That’s what happened at last week’s Study Session cause it was held on a Monday cause of Election Day. In previous months it was posted on the Tuesday of the Study Session so it was at the same time. It was the Tuesday previous to the Board meeting.
Editor’s note: I accidentally deleted the rest of the talk about agendas and I’m tired. I don’t want to go back and retranscribe that part of the board meeting. After much back and forth, it ended with Gregg agreeing to post public notices for any of the weekly meetings about the planning for the MOU between Christina and the State of Delaware. There was an interesting part where three board members volunteered to attend those meetings and Gregg said no more than that. If four or more go, that is a quorum of the board and public notice would have to be given. Young stated that smells of secrecy, and there should be no limit on board member attendance. Gregg capitulated and said he would make them public. You can listen to it here, but make sure you have good headphones. I want an MOU between Christina and the listeners of their audio recordings so they can hear it better!