Ex Delaware Military Academy Leader’s Letter To Gateway Lab School Gives Stunning Insight On Charter Schools

Recently, a Gateway Lab School board member reached out to the former leader of the Delaware Military Academy, Chuck Baldwin, for potential recommendations for Gateway.  This was presented at one of their recent board meetings in public session, therefore, this is a public document.  The letter gives certain… well, I’ll let you read it and tell me what you think!  I’m pretty sure those with their Delaware military charter history can guess his date error at first glance but I wanted to present the document as is!

RECOMMENDATIONS presented by Delaware Charter School Leader Charles W. Baldwin, founder of the Delaware Military Academy, Founding Committee of the First State Military Academy, former President The Charter School of Wilmington

STUDENT ENROLLMENT

Delaware Charter Schools may register 5% above authorized enrollment . Critical that you always prepare and plan for the highest enrollment due to the financial inequities in which Delaware Charters operate. If you are not at your number by the end of Feb. for your May 1 report to DOE, a sense of urgency needs to occur and your priorities must shift in order to achieve your objective. You prepare your budget based upon authorized enrollment. The 5% over must be placed in reserve as part of your contingency plans.EX: 200 students authorized, enroll 210 for May 1. I have used this as a guide and in my three Charter Schools have never missed enrollment objectives. In the case of CSW, and DMA that is since their opening days in 1995, and 2003 and in the case of FSMA since they opened in 2004. RECOMMENDATION: Charter School Boards must ensure their Charter School Leader has a similar plan and keep them advised as to exact enrollment status prior to budget approval for the fiscal year.

STAFFING

The Delaware Department of Education provides Charter Schools with funding based upon May 1st numbers. If you receive 100 dollars, your budget and staffing may not exceed 100 dollars-1and ½ % for a contingency plan. Do not use grants and fundraising as hopes for increasing your staffing level. If you run into a situation based upon an IEP requiring an additional staff member the only resolution is for you to contact DOE and ask for an augment of funds. If it is declined you will have to instruct the parents to either contact DOE themselves for assistance barring a positive outcome you may not enroll their student. I have always had DOE honor my requests and never had to bar a student.

Outsourcing is a must and you must be creative and fair in your staffing. All staff should be aware of the challenges faced by charter schools. Hiring of substitute teacher for example should be used for long term substitution. Staff should provide coverage for the short term solution. This will serve you well as students respond much better to staff with whom they are familiar and it will discourage some staff from abusing the absentee policy.

ED’s should always be contracted for IEP’s. Only in the event of a huge special needs population should you consider hiring full time. As principal of a public middle school (1100 students) I had over 150 with special needs and had only two ED’s. They did a good job and went home everyday on time.

There is a reason DOE does not offer funds for an Assistant Principal under 500 students. At DMA with over 500 students I did not require an Asst.   My Athletic Director ran a full athletic program and handled discipline. At CSW the business manager covers hall duty, lunch duty, bus duty, and is in charge of transportation and bus contracts along with all his required duties. There is one Asst. Principal for over 1000 students. Athletic Director covers discipline as well.  A close examination of Delaware Independent and Parochial Schools demonstrates what a masterful job they do at coordinating duties in order maintain staff at only what is necessary to provide a superior educational experience. (I knew a gentleman at Sallies who taught History, served as Band Director, drove a bus and made less than his public school counterpart).

Thanks to the multitude of those who oppose charters in Delaware a school leader must be about the bottom line at all times. I sometimes joke about when I was a public school principal at the end of the day I would lock up my office and go home. As a Charter school leader I lock up my office at the end of the day and then make sure all the lights are out, no toilets or leaky faucets in the restrooms and the trash has been emptied.

In other words the Charter School Leader must be the Captain of the Ship ( there cannot be two) and must be aware of any and all things preventing mission success. Communicating and keeping their Board informed (the Admiralty) is paramount.

School Leader and the Board have at their disposal a distinct advantage over public schools in ensuring educational excellence, the one year, at will, no tenure contract. It is always tough to let someone go but the alternative is to deprive our children of the best educational experience. I recommend if your decisions are staffed based and not kid based, you probably should remove yourself from the education business.

BUDGET & BOARDS

-Managing the budget is very simple, you may not spend more than you have been authorized to spend.

-Instructing staff in fundraising and grant writing is imperative if they wish to have the extras for their classroom. I averaged writing four or five successful grants a year as Principal and always alert for resources.

-Charter School Boards must realize their obligations as well. They are not elected and have stepped up to the plate to improve education as volunteers. They differ from traditional School Boards in that they are a Corporate Board with challenging fiduciary responsibilities. All three of my Boards spent the majority of their time negotiating fair leasing agreements, raising money and resources for the Head of School to utilize. If you are a Charter Board member you should always being asking yourself what are you bringing to the table. Your Head of School needs to operate the school and if you are spending time managing that aspect than it is either time for a new head of school or for you to leave the Board. You have graciously volunteered to help and don’t need the drama. I have worked with four or five Charter School Boards that have been outstanding and have been excellent resource providers. Head of School and the Board must click.

– Head of School must be tight with the purse strings and hold contractors accountable for their work. Whenever I had a bus that was late or did not show up I would call the company and demand a free after school bus trip. They were shocked and after I had collected almost 20 free trips I found all of my transportation issues had disappeared.

In closing, if your school is having issues and not reaching the objectives in your Charter a solution to your problems may be found in NETWORKING. Many successful schools in the Charter world, most are always willing to share ideas. I visited 15 States and over 20 Charters schools( on my own dime) in preparing to open DMA. Each visit I took away something of value and it made me a stronger school leader. I had to retire due to a health related issues but still love sharing and helping with the Charter movement. I continue to teach leadership for the US Navy and live in Wilmington during the school year (Italy from May to August).

My book  Carrier to Classroom  (charter school development) may be purchased online  at Amazon or Barnes and Nobles for $15.00 and all proceeds go to benefit the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund.

Charles Baldwin

BMCM(SW)
USN Ret.

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