At the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security stay open for another school year with very stringent conditions. At that point, Colonial’s Board of Education could very well decide to take over their charter. Queen Margie once again made it all about her. But the discussion that reached this point was very intense. Much more information here than you will find in the Delaware DOE press release.
The conditions are as follows:
*Have 200 students on their roster by May 1st, must have signed one-year agreements by parents
*They must have an instructional/curriculum leader in place by July 1st
*All teachers of core content must either be certified by August 1st or a plan must be in place to get them certified
*They must apply to be a part of Colonial School District’s alternate teacher evaluation plan by March 29th
The meeting was a bit of a circus in my opinion. The committee did not delve into their financial picture at all except for the number of students they need to keep the school financially viable. I felt Kendall Massett overstepped her bounds as a non-voting member of the CSAC.
The meeting began and Kendall said instead of CSAC asking “disjointed questions” the school should have an opportunity to “tell their story”. Which is what they heard at the initial meeting, but I digress. Margie Lopez-Waite, the Chair of their Board, went into a long diatribe about how DAPSS compares to traditional high schools in the area. She also identified herself as representing Las Americas ASPIRA Academy (LAAA) as a strategic partner. So the Head of School of a strategic partner is also the Chair of the school that needs that strategic partner. No conflict of interest there (at this point, please insert sarcasm here).
Dusty Blakey, the Superintendent of Colonial School District spoke and said 1/3rd of DAPSS’ students come from the Colonial School District so they already have that niche. He explained that our job as educators is to provide access to students, “to see opportunities that would exist”. He said DAPSS’ pathway program is aligned to many things happening in his district.
There was no Director of Curriculum because, as Lopez-Waite noted, Dr. Erica Thomas “resigned” last week. She basically ripped into Thomas’ work and said quality is better than quantity. She was referring to DAPSS calendar of professional development for teachers. She said it doesn’t matter how many hours you put into it if you aren’t getting the results you wanted. Those results being the school’s SAT scores. Last year, 0% of the school’s SAT takers were proficient in Math. It became very obvious that no one had evaluated Herb Sheldon, the current Head of School. Now Lopez-Waite will be “mentoring” Sheldon. She said partnering with Colonial will provide better attempts and better results.
Sheldon was very difficult to understand. His answers appeared to be mumbled and he spoke very fast at some points. His answers were not well thought or articulated. When asked about data from the professional development Dr. Thomas gave, Sheldon said that was Thomas’ area. Sheldon responded to a question about student count and said there are 214 students and 62 will graduate this year. He said there are 58 applications for incoming 9th graders next year. When Karen Field-Rogers said 200 students gives them 15 full-time employees but their budget for 200 students gives them 20 full-time employees, the room became very quiet. No one responded to this glaring error.
Blakey brought up a point about DAPSS’ educators being invited to Colonial’s professional development events, for free. As a member of the public, I was not able to ask questions. My question would have been this: does any money that comes to charters from local charter payments pay for any of that professional development? If so, and they are getting that professional development for free from Colonial, will DAPSS send back that portion of the local charter payment to the districts that pay them? CSAC member Chuck Taylor thanked Blakey for everything Colonial is doing to help.
“Queen Margie”, as I dubbed her today, started flaunting her newfound power at this meeting in a big way. She proudly said SHE has to make decisions that won’t be popular. SHE will be starting from the top all the way down. SHE is not at liberty to divulge those conversations. But SHE told the board members if their top priority wasn’t student achievement, they either need to step up or step down. By the way, Lopez-Waite has committed six months on DAPSS’ Board of Directors. After that, she plans to continue to help DAPSS, possibly as a consultant. Consultants cost money. Major red flag/conflict of interest there Margie! SHE has identified a new curriculum director with 30 years of education experience who is “wonderful”. She will begin on July 1st but will be helping out at the school until then.
New CSAC member Chanda Pitts asked some great questions. She mentioned the “scurry of activity” since the school went under formal review but asked why that activity wasn’t in place prior to that designation. She said she had the opportunity to listen to the audio recording of the initial CSAC meeting (why is this audio recording NOT on the DOE website) and talked about how what the school has written down is not necessarily what they are saying in these meetings. She asked Blakey if there is a contract with Colonial and he said “not yet”. Lopez-Waite described the recent activity as an “organized sense of urgency”. Pitts asked if it was a good idea to get Colonial to help when their proficiency numbers are comparable to DAPSS. Lopez-Waite responded that working with William Penn High School is a good idea due to similar challenges and Colonial has been able to do better than DAPPS.
When asked about how Colonial’s plans fit into their budget, Lopez-Waite said they are looking to see if Colonial or LAAA has the capacity to provide those resources. Blakey kept talking about milestones that had to be met but did not go into a lot of detail about what those milestones were. I was happy when he said he believes students are more than test scores. That a test score is not a full picture of what a student is. He factors in student and teacher growth into a measure of success. But the part that confused me was Blakey’s comment about costs. He said there would be no upfront costs but eventually there could be costs to Colonial and LAAA. Didn’t he sell this to their board on not costing the district anything?
Donna Johnson asked about this “sense of urgency” and wished it was their before this point. Lopez-Waite said that was why SHE brought in Colonial as a strategic partner. This woman who can only commit six months to their board is familiar with leadership and how it should work. Johnson asked Sheldon, since Dr. Thomas was getting mentoring by someone from Delaware Academy of School Leadership, who is mentoring him? Lopez-Waite said that would be her. When asked about programs in place at the school, such as IXL and Khan Academy, Lopez-Waite said those programs need to be managed as opposed to just having students “log-in”. Johnson also asked about using alternate routes for educators, such as Teach For America or Relay Graduate School. Sheldon said the school uses programs through University of Delaware but Johnson responded that was for their Public Safety program and not for core content. Blakey jumped in and said he is looking forward to using those programs not just for DAPSS but more for Colonial as well.
Both Karen Field-Rogers and Tracy Neugebauer, both employees of the Delaware DOE and members of CSAC, said Colonial is mentioned three times in the paperwork submitted by the school so it is hard to see what is going to happen. Blakey said his board just voted on this last week and it is hard to see what is going to happen “given all the balls in the air”. He said once these (mysterious) milestones are achieved, Colonial can assume their charter. If those milestones don’t happen, the school can turn their charter in or let the situation play out. When asked, Blakey said Colonial’s Board of Education voted 5-0 in favor of helping out DAPSS. He said his board’s commitment to helping out DAPSS is to work with LAAA and DAPSS for contracted services to “create a foundation” (didn’t know LAAA was part of that conversation with your board Dusty) and making sure DAPSS has access to the same supports and services Colonial uses (and are paid for from Colonial taxpayers but I digress).
Pitts asked about commitment and mentioned Lopez-Waite’s six month commitment and questioned whether or not Sheldon would be there as a part of his evaluation process. She wanted to know where that commitment would come from. Lopez-Waite said if she steps down, SHE will make sure the new Board President echoes her (the arrogance of this woman…I can’t even…).
It came down to actually coming up with a recommendation. A lot of talk around conditions and timelines took place. An original condition would be that 100% of their core content teachers are certified by August 1st. Lopez-Waite told CSAC if they were going to impose that condition on the school they might as well close the school down now. CSAC changed that to the above condition that all core content teachers are certified OR a plan is in place. Denise Stouffer, the Director of the Charter School Office, said DAPSS is up for charter renewal during the 2019-2020 school year. Which would mean they would need to apply for that in the 2018-2019 school year. Ideas bounced around for a while about having the recommendation be one or two years. Eventually, CSAC decided on the above conditions.
There was no talk about special education and the number of settlements DAPSS had. This documentation was requested by CSAC after their initial meeting and I believe the school gave that information but it would have personally identifiable information so I can understand that not being shown on the DOE website. But some discussion around it should have happened. It was brought up that if the charter school does not meet these conditions should they just hand in their charter or have CSAC meet again to discuss it.
At this point, it will be up to Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting and the State Board of Education to decide DAPSS’ ultimate fate. That will happen at the March 15th State Board of Education meeting. Public comment closes on March 9th and there will be another public hearing.
I don’t like this. There is far too much uncertainty. While I am against schools closing and disrupting the lives of students, I don’t see this school having ironclad plans in place. Lopez-Waite is running the entire show. That became very obvious today. It also seems like it is her way or the highway. The fact no other board members came to this meeting and none of them were mentioned by name shows SHE is ruling the roost. The CSAC seems to blindly accept the school’s financial position as the Gospel truth. I am not convinced. And Colonial…oh Colonial! What are you thinking Dusty? You tell your board there is no cost for this but you open up to CSAC about eventual costs. How much are we talking here? Doesn’t the school already get local payments from Colonial along with the other districts that send payments? Have the taxpayers from your last referendum agreed to these costs to help out a charter school if it happens? I know everyone is all gung-ho over “partnerships” these days but what happens when those partnerships end? Or Colonial taxpayers say no more? Who pays the ultimate price? The students. If anyone wants to argue about what I wrote for this article, I recorded the entire two-hour plus meeting.