Leaderless DOE Fails To Deliver On Charter School Transparency & The Big Plan For NCS

When you don’t have a leader going on a fifth month is it any wonder the Charter School Office is going to Hell in a hand basket?  As the authorizer for seven charter schools under renewal this year, the Delaware Department of Education can’t even follow their own timeline.  It seems like things are going on behind the scenes with Newark Charter School during all this.

On November 1st, the initial reports from the Charter School Accountability Committee were supposed to be released.  Here we are, November 6th, without a report in sight.

The question has to be asked- why isn’t the Department hiring anyone to lead the Charter School Office?  I was told a few weeks ago someone was hired.  I followed up with Alison May at the DOE on this who told me someone was hired but had not signed the contract.  Three weeks later and the position is still showing as vacant on the DOE website.

Being the authorizer of over 20 charter schools is not an easy task.  Which is why you need someone to lead that ship.  We all know Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting isn’t taking the reigns.  She couldn’t even lasso in Patrick Miller a decade ago when he was playing Catch Me If You Can in Indian River.

Is the Delaware DOE purposely not releasing these reports or is it just a case of being lazy?  Or, is it just too much work?  In most states, local school districts are the charter school authorizers.  With the exception of two charters in Red Clay, the DOE handles the load for the rest.  It has become more than obvious they can’t deal with the pressure.  Which makes the idea of the “Jaques idea” even more ludicrous.

The “Jaques idea”, widely supported by the likes of DelawareCAN and Rodel is to give the State Board of Education the authority to shut down “failing” school districts.  They would be taken over by, you guessed it, the Delaware DOE.  And what do you think the DOE will do with those schools?  Either run them as an entity of the DOE or convert them into charter schools.  Or just shut them down and approve a ton of new charters to fill the slots.

In the midst of all this uncertainty is Newark Charter School.  Not too long ago, NCS purchased a plot of land next to their property.  Their lofty goals would create a new building for students in 6th-8th grade.  Their primary building will hold K-2 and their intermediate building will hold 3-5.  What’s the reason for this?  Expansion!  Is this mentioned in their Charter School Accountability Committee initial report?  The DOE knows this would cause a crap load of controversy.  Especially since NCS hasn’t submitted a major modification request to increase their enrollment.  We shall see when the DOE gets around to doing that thing called their job.

7 thoughts on “Leaderless DOE Fails To Deliver On Charter School Transparency & The Big Plan For NCS

  1. I would think that NCS would be preparing for an exodus of middle school students from Christina, eho fid themselves no favor with the “Honors Academy” scheme. It will only deplete the remaining 4 middle schools of students whose parent’s want a “second best” to the charter they could not get in, and contribute to further deterioration of climate at these schools. I am particularly thinking of Shue-Medill with which I am most familiar, where Admin and staff have worked tirelessly to serve the needs of students, only to have their own district compete for these very students.
    Make sense?

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  2. By establishing grades 6-8 in BSS, CAB, Conrad and Dickinson, Red Clay’s middle schools have high percentages of ELL, low income and special needs children.

    The Board made the problem worse by changing the attendance zone of Skyline and providing district wide transportation to BSS,
    and Dickinson for the IB program.

    I note NO K-5 children who choice are provided transportation, only selected 6-12 children. Why are our legislators only providing transportation for 6-12 children who choice?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 4Equity2, you got it backwards. You can knock MSHA (Christiana High School Middle School Honors Academy) all you want, but I have a kid there who despite his 504 is thriving. It’s not about competing for kids. It’s about creating the most appropriate setting for all learners. MSHA at capacity will serve no more than about 600 students. When CSD moves all 600 as it grow to include an 8th grade next year, it will leave behind teachers who can more fully create lesson plans that target their less academically diverse students. Instead of spending time differentiating lessons for a broad spectrum, teachers will have students on a short continuum allowing them to give extra time and practice areas where the remaining students show need. You have to remember what sets MSHA apart from other district middle? The teachers can teach at an accelerated pace – creating a challenging and engaging learning atmosphere. Before the school year is out, these kids will be working on the next years curriculum. And they will be thriving.
    MSHA fulfills a second need, at capacity it will stem the loss of approximately 600 students to charters and vo-techs. Why vo-tech? Because MSHA students will be able to keep up with their engaged accelerated studies by matriculating into the already established high school honors academy. MSHA will in effect keep kids in Christina.
    Let me provide a start a contrast – to elementary school he was bored and disengaged because his teachers had to focus solely on teaching to the test. HW was optional then. Now my kid asks me for help while doing nightly hw which he has finally found to be useful. Don’t exceptional children deserve appropriate placements within the traditional school district? Why should we as parents have to look at non-traditional schools for our gifted kids? We drive ours each way everyday as we do not live in the feeder pattern. We could’ve taken the easy route, gone with the feeder, received transportation and saved ourselves hours each week lost to playing taxi. But, would my kid have been happy? More likely no, too big, too easy to fall through the cracks, too sensory overwhelming. And then their are other perks – such as a less drastic transition to high school. MSHA kids interact with the older students like participating in school activities together – they have perform in concerts together, middle school band played at a football game, etc. They already travel into the G building for music, the nurse, dismissals. And finally, when he completes 8th grade, he will matriculate into the established high school honors program, fully prepared for the work expected of him. Is it perfect, nah. It’s only in its second year of operation. But, I think we have a program that is scalable and can eventually be introduced into other middle and high schools. I’d love to see it replicated as a magnet. I believe we need to teach to each individual student, not expect the students to conform to how we teach. MSHA does that. And leaves room in the existing middle schools for those teachers to begin the same.

    Now, go ahead and knock it. But, it’s solid and not going anywhere!

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    • You speak nothing of climate in the remaining middle schools. That’s a big issue. And don’t kid yourself about the Honors Academy having better teachers. Also, for now, the Academy takes everyone who applies. How long do you think that will last?
      Shue has advanced placement classes, particularly in math, ELA, and science. There are honors classes- not much differentiation needed there.
      Your kid may be doing fine. That does not justify the school’s existence. CSD is responding impulsively – not thoughtfully- to the success and threat of NCS, as if anything is better than nothing.

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  4. 4Equity, you are right. I don’t know the climate of the other middle schools. But, if I know preteens and middles school kids, (and I do after working with a middle school aged special needs, including children whose primary dx was behavior-related) I can’t imagine it’s all that different than what happens a MSHA. Middle schoolers are middle schoolers, they are hormone-driven wreaks, even the smartest. They are bullies and victims and downright mean to eachother. They have clicks. They back talk, disrupt classes, violate what Christina use to call the Code of Conduct. They have rules and try to bend and break them. Our school is visibly diverse, we have parents who drive their children from Wilmington to participate in the program. MSHA educates children who come from broken homes, poverty, violence, ptsd. Not all that different from the children that attend the other middle schools.

    So what is different? Our children are exceptional and craving challenge. Some are also searching for a place to fit in or a smaller learning environment. And it’s more than likely that these children can’t articulate this need as concisely as adults can. As parents, many of us feel that that our children, while attending strong elementary schools, were not challenged. They were bored, their needs were overlooked because of the emphasis on the test. Teachers are required to focus the majority of their lessons towards students who fall just outside the success rate on the testing scatter graph. If you fly high, the programs that challenged you in elementary school were rare. If you fly very lower, the system leaves you behind. How hard is it to differentiate education when the primary pressure on the teacher is move the kids just outside the success bubble into it? Very difficult.

    I never claimed that the MSHA teachers were any better than teachers elsewhere in the district. Do not put words in my mouth. What I said is that my teachers are able to teach at an accelerated pace. Teachers choose teaching for a myriad of reasons. They also have preferences for the population of students they want to teach. I chose to work with special education. When the opportunity exists a teacher will gravitate to the area where they feel they can make the greatest impact. Conversely, some teachers graduate from college, get that first job, and fall out of love with teaching before the year is over. Have you ever read the Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell? I strongly suggest it. And let’s be clear about one thing – the teachers in MSHA were Christina teachers before they became MSHA teachers. In fact, some of the teachers in MSHA were already Christiana high school teachers and have chosen to take on teaching not just high schoolers but chosen the challenge to deliver education to the middle school students as well.

    Aside from that, CSD had to turn children away from the honors academy this year. Not because they weren’t “smart enough” but because it reached capacity. I was and continue to be a strong advocate for not using Smarter Balance test scores to judge whether a child belongs in MSHA. In fact, the CSD board has spoken on this matter and directed the district to not use the scores to prioritize student choice. If the score is provided it helps in grouping students. My child was accepted without a score. I opt out. The decisions are based on portfolio of documents – a parent letter, a teacher recommendation, previous report cards, and a math test.

    At the end of the day we have two different dreams for education. Yours is to continue to boost more of the same – WHICH if you believe in the test, the results prove that model is failing. Your perspective is that MSHA was designed to stem the flow of students out of the district. If that’s case, then it worked. But, I don’t believe the creation of the academy was as reactive as you do. Christina has toyed around with revitalizing their schools for years. Most often, funding was the excuse to continue doing more of the same. No one complained when CSD opened the first public Montessori program. I see MSHA as no different – parents are given the choice to apply to another option in the educational spectrum. That the setting is provided in a traditional district school is a bonus. I have longed to to see 6-12 campuses where we harness the collective skill of energized teachers to redefine education, eliminate excessive transitions, and create opportunities for gifted students to thrive.

    I’ve heard the story as to how the program was rushed in with little vetting. I tend to think that the district has been vetting ideas for years, just lacking the catalyst to implement. They did have to expend a lot of time and resources on dealing with DOE regarding Wilmington schools. And before that it was Race to the Top, and before that No Child Left Behind. And the band plays on. I’m way passed competing with Newark Charter. That argument doesn’t hold water with me. And holding onto that argument has only stagnated change in the district. Education today is different than it was 30 years ago. The comes a point at which self-preservation has to take over. For Christina to continue to meet the needs of its growing spectrum of students, it has to diversify offerings, create new settings, set the bar at “the sky’s the limit.” It’s not about the kids we’ve lost, but about the ones we have and THEIR needs. And I think it’s pretty sad that you can’t see that. Equity doesn’t look the same for every kid. You of all anonymous commenters should know that.

    Finally, I’ve seen the model in western New York work effectively. I support my district in diversifying programing. In fact, MSHA may just be the pilot for greater change. It’s scalable and could be replicated in Glasgow High School, maybe the focus there isn’t honors. Maybe we choose another focus. There are a myriad of options. Maybe we move in the direction that Red Clay undertook when it created Cab and Conrad. Maybe we think of something that hasn’t been done that reaches another population of our students.

    Whatever we do, we stop doing the same thing over again. It’s doesn’t work. We end the madness and start putting students needs first. Leave the politics of it at the door and let our teachers hone their craft and cultivate their students.

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    • I believe people can disagree and remain respectful. I am well acquainted with middle schoolers and what school culture is and how it is created. So,too, am I an experienced educator who has raised three children and lived in CSD for 35 years.

      First, imagine any school with a diverse population and a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch. It must, by law, teach all students, regardless of educational or emotional need. Parents suddenly have the option to remove their children from this environment into one more appealing to them.
      Who, of all the parents in the school population will pursue this option?
      Who will not be interested or not follow through, meet deadlines, etc?
      When those parents and children do leave, what remains? I am not suggesting that ALL involved, caring parents choose to leave, but that those who DO leave ARE those involved in the education of their children. It is a very specific drain, and has a very particular affect on a school. It affects the school climate, available volunteers, PTA.

      NCS has had this impact on CSD in a dramatic way.

      Second, CSD middle schools have worked to broaden their offerings. At Shue there are students taking grade 9 and 10 math courses. They are required to take the same mid-terms and finals as those high schoolers in the same courses.
      There is a vibrant honors program, Cambridge, which is continued at NHS.
      There are many children who “crave challenge” and are getting it.

      Third, My issue with the Honors Academy is that it offers nothing different than CSD already had in place- except an escape.

      Cab and Conrad are totally different in their focus. That type of program would have made more sense than an “Honors Academy”, but it would gave cost more in dollars, expertise and time.

      Lastly, I have read Gladwell’s book, and I am quite aware of the meaning and application of equity.

      This will be my final contribution to this conversation.

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  5. Ok. I respect your final contribution. However, there are a couple ideas that I think were vetted that led to an honors academy at CHS. And that comes to logistics. At the time the MSHA was being moved through to approval, CSD has been facing the potential relinquishment of its city schools and students. It’s high schools, aside from NHS, were very under enrolled. Losing the city students – whom I thoroughly believe should have had a choice as whether they wanted to attend high school closer to their homes or spend excessive time being bussed up and back to Wilmington – would have moved CSD into a state where it could not support the operation of three high schools. Logistically, placing the honors academy in Christiana High School potentially secured the school. A pipeline of 600 students eyeing the already established high school honors academy, and from pick-up I can tell you there are a strong number of kids there who are coming from outside the feeder pattern, is an enrollment boom waiting to happen. I agree that there the theme of the new middle school program has caused some people to be tremendously upset. But, I believe it was strategic to ensure that Christiana High School would continue to operate far into the future, regardless of whether or not the city schools were removed from CSD. With Newark and Christiana on more solid footing, that leaves Glasgow High, the red-headed step-child. Nothing has been done there to secure it’s feeder pattern or attract new students – not since RTTT through it into utter chaos. It was lucky to have the last principal last as long as he did. But, even he saw the writing on the walls. CSD is prepared to shutter that school whether anyone wants to say it out loud or not. That’s my feeder high school. And it’s located in prime commercial/industrial spur. Shuttering and selling the site makes dollars and sense for the district. Finally, let’s not forget the very public shaming that UD and the City of Newark cast upon CSD recently. That shade was devised to gloss over the fact that the University is slowly pulling its western campus – first Rodney and Dickenson, now the Towers will fall, with no publicly announced plan for the future of that campus. A new hotel and conference center is planned for the 896 corridor at the STAR Campus. New dorms are going up next to the health center. And UD is taking over the an apartment complex closer to 896 10 years early. What will this mean to UD’s contract with Shaner Corp, the existing hotel, and the aging Clayton Hall, both left behind on west campus?
    I think when we put all of this in context, when we study the geo-political theory that all these major players subscribe to, the explanation for an honors academy at Christiana High makes tremendous sense. You may think I’m reaching, but I’ve lived in Newark 30 years, just five less than you. I remember when NCS was in trailers on the backside of Oaklands. I’ve watched it grow. But, I do not think believe that NCS alone resulted in the demise of CSD. I think CSD has spent way too much time complaining about NCS and neglecting their obligation to the students they do have. Many who are bright and talented and who have been overlooked for so long, their parents feel forced to look outside the traditional system. I know from my experiences touring CSD middle schools, not a single of the three touted its honor’s or accelerated offerings. No one was selling me on any of the three existing schools, unless my kid liked ag. Then he could go to Kirk.

    That speaks volumes about how CSD feels about its own traditional middle schools.

    Like you, I’ve said my piece.

    Like

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