Will a Wilmington charter school become embroiled in the ongoing saga of Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security and Las Americas ASPIRA Academy? Many are saying yes.
For months now, I’ve been following the ongoing story about DAPSS. The school was put on formal review at the beginning of the year. In March, the State Board of Education put them on probation. One of the conditions was surrendering their charter by the end of the 2018-2019 school year and applying for authorization from the Colonial School District for the 2019-2020 school year. Since then, DAPSS Board President Margie Lopez-Waite has been making fast and loose decisions with very little input from students, staff, and parents. Lopez-Waite is also the Head of School for ASPIRA and many feel as though she is trying to make DAPSS an ASPIRA high school although she vehemently denies it. But now word is surfacing about a third Delaware charter school entering this mix.
Sources who wish to remain anonymous are saying Margie is now looking to start a consortium of charter schools called either Experia or XPeria with DAPSS, Aspira, and Freire Charter School. Which is very interesting because Freire is situated in the Red Clay Consolidated School District. As well, Freire is in a partnership with their charter school in Philadelphia to which they pay about $250,000 a year. DAPSS is located in the Colonial School District while ASPIRA resides in the Christina School District. This isn’t the first time the name XPeria has been mentioned. A student at DAPSS posted on social media last month that DAPSS was going to change to a dual-language school called XPeria.
At Freire’s April board meeting, their board was very concerned about a line of credit with Barclay’s Bank. Two of their board members work for Barclays but their roles with the company were about to decrease. As a result, the school was concerned their line of credit may not be renewed. It was set to be renewed on May 31st. Given that the Freire board does not have consistent monthly board meetings and their next board meeting is not until June 21st, I am unable to determine the status of that. The board did vote to have the school renegotiate that line of credit with a minimum of $800,000 a year. The school pays $776,000 for the lease on their property each year according to their FY2018 budget. Whether this is connected to these possible negotiations to enter into this consortium remains to be seen.
DAPSS hired Deborah Panchisin from the Appoquinimink School District to be the curriculum director for DAPSS. According to the conditions of their probation, they had to hire this role by June 29th. But rumors are circulating her role will be at Freire, not at DAPSS. As well, folks from Freire have been seen at DAPSS this week. Why would Panchisin take a role at Freire Charter School? Once again, I will stress this is based on rumors.
There is also the matter of Dakevis Matthews. When he received notice he would not be rehired for the 2018-2019 school year, he was told it was because the school no longer needed his role. But then they turn around and hire a teacher from ASPIRA to take over Matthews’ role. There have been similar stories of other staff being let go that were told this same thing.
Another rumor going around is that Lopez Waite will resign as Head of School at ASPIRA and instead of becoming Head of School at DAPSS, she would become the director of this potential consortium. Since the consortium is not a local education agency, she would not fall under the characteristic of being a state employee and would be eligible for pension based on her three highest years of salary at ASPIRA. So in a sense, she would be getting two paychecks. It is all perfectly legal but doesn’t smell right in my opinion.
The last board audio recording from the DAPSS website is a hot mess with feedback preventing the ability to hear what the board members were even saying. Since then, they had two “special” board meetings, on May 21st and May 22nd to discuss personnel issues.
Meanwhile, over at ASPIRA, word around town is that many parents involved with their PTO are fed up with Margie and are pulling their kids out of ASPIRA. This was even discussed during their May 24th board meeting. You can actually hear male ASPIRA board members complaining about the folks on the PTO. Way to encourage parent involvement at ASPIRA! One board member even said, during a discussion about a newly elected PTO board member, “I think it’s a good thing that the people that are leaving are leaving.” Not the most professional board member in the world! If their board acts like that I can understand how their PTO might have issues with the school governance!
Charter school consortiums are not new in Delaware. East Side Charter School and Family Foundations Academy belong to a parent organization called Vision Academies. But both of those schools are authorized by the Delaware Department of Education. If DAPSS were to go to Colonial and the other two charters remained authorized by the Delaware Department of Education would they be allowed to do that? There is nothing written in state code about that scenario.
The boards with all three of these charters have some interesting board members. On Freire, Mark Stellini serves on their board but he is also on the board at New Castle County Vo-Tech School District. Those members are appointed by the Governor of Delaware. Joanne Schlossberg, a recent board member at DAPSS is also the CFO of Newark Charter School. Lourdes Puig is the Board President for ASPIRA and is also a board member of Charter School of Wilmington. The odd part about that is he is not listed as a board member on their website but he appears in board minutes and agendas as a board member, as recently as their June 4th emergency board meeting. Donald Patton serves as the Vice-President of the ASPIRA board and he is an administrator in the Christina School District. At one point in time, Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey served on the ASPIRA board. As for Margie Lopez Waite, she serves on the boards of the Vision Coalition and the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.
If you are confused about the possibility of Freire Charter School getting involved in this potential consortium, join the club. It appears things could be happening behind closed doors and rumors are flying. I am not saying this is set in stone at all. But if I could give one piece of advice to Margie Lopez Waite, it would be this: lay ALL your cards on the table in a public meeting. Parents are upset, teachers are upset, and students are confused. This includes your plans for all staff and if there is a consortium in your plans. If I’m wrong on all this than please, by all means, blast me to the wall and shout it from the rooftops. I can take the heat. But if I am right, or partially right on this, just come clean. Now is a time for transparency, not secrecy! Just because Denise Stouffer is leaving as the head of the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE, that is not an invitation to play fast and loose!