Breaking News on Delaware Met: Charter Revocation Recommendation By End Of Next Marking Period

The Delaware Met had their final formal review meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee this morning.  The group’s final recommendation: charter revocation by the end of the next marking period! Which would bring this school to a close by January 22nd.  Of course, the Delaware State Board of Education has to also vote on this, which they will at their meeting on 12/17.  Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the meeting, but I will report details once I receive them.

The group said the Delaware Met violated the terms of their charter.  The school opened in August after a one-year delay approved by the DOE.  Charter closures are serious business.  I feel bad for all the students and parents who made a choice to go to this school.  It looks like they will need to start searching again.  I didn’t wish for this school to close.  I really hope any school can do the right thing for their students.  In this case, I don’t think the school had the capability and the means to effectively run this school.

A great deal of the student population at Delaware Met came from Moyer, which also had its charter revoked during the last school year.  As well, the school has over a quarter of their population as special education students with IEPs.

Delaware Met’s Appalling Response To The DOE Raises Even More Questions

In spite of a very intensive hiring process, we were unable to find many teachers with urban experience or a familiarity with the local community and those that we did hire were from charter schools that had closed such as Moyer Academy. Those teachers brought with them the “alternative school” mentality, along with lingering conflicts from the past years, which perpetuated the punitive, authoritarian mindset, which is the antithesis of the BPL design. We had hoped that the past relationships with the students would have a positive effect on their relationships with students, though this was not the case.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse with Delaware Met, I ran across many updated documents on the Delaware Department of Education Charter School website regarding their formal review.  The number one issue at this point seems to be their enrollment.  If they were approved for 260 students, and they must maintain 80% of that as required by Delaware law, that would be 208 students.  As of their September 30th count, they had 215 students.  In these documents, they announced four more students have withdrawn since 9/30, and six more will withdraw from the school very soon.  This puts their enrollment at 205.  They are now completely out of compliance with their charter.

The letter from the Delaware DOE’s Exceptional Children’s Resources Group is very telling.  59 IEPs were looked at by the DOE, and ALL 59 are out of compliance.  Delaware Met’s Special Education coordinator, Sue Ogden, used to work in the Delaware prison system as a special education coordinator, so she should be well aware of DOE timelines and what is needed in student’s IEPs.  While the below documents give many reasons for the school challenges, I still can’t help but think many of the events at this school could have been avoided.  It is now near the end of November, and NONE of the IEPs are in compliance as of November 25th.  This does not bode well for students with disabilities at this school which now represent over 28% of the school population.  Furthermore, in the narrative in the documents below, there is talk about going through 80 IEPs.  Have 21 students with disabilities who had IEPs left the school?

For their in-school suspension, students are required to write the following:

DelMetBehaviorLesson

And another “behaviour lesson”:

DelMetThinkingAboutBehavior

Now, with a school filled with at a minimum, 59 IEPs, and admitted issues on teacher parts where they treated a school like an “alternative” school, are the in-school suspensions warranted?  I can’t answer that, but I do know in-school suspension does not count towards a manifestation determination hearing.  Only out-of-school suspensions or expulsion.  And is it just me, and I get the whole concept of restorative justice, but isn’t the point of school discipline already a punishment?  What could a student do to “make up to the school” for their behavior?  What if they have a disability and it was a manifestation of their disability and they don’t even realize it was a “behavior”?

This “in-school suspension room”.  I have some big issues with it.  It seems like an easy solution to stop discipline problems.  Student gets in trouble, send them to the ISS room.  The below documents also state their special education coordinator, Sue Ogden, will make sure accommodations are being followed while students are in there.  But is one of their accommodations to be sent to an ISS room if they get in trouble?  There are more questions than answers here.  Sue Ogden, as I stated earlier, used to work in the prison system.  Even with all its issues and students with potential legal issues, the Delaware Met is not a prison.

The Charter School Accountability Committee will meet with Delaware Met for their final formal review meeting next Tuesday, from 8:30-10:00am.  At this point, the committee will determine their recommendation for the school.  The Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education will decide the school’s fate at the December State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.  In the meantime, read the below documents to find out the school’s interpretation of events.  I still have this nagging feeling there is much more going on at this school…

Delaware Met response to Charter School Accountability Committee

Specific Information requested by the Charter School Accountability Committee

Exceptional Children Resources Group monitoring and letter sent to Delaware Met

Teachers Emails regarding Science and Social Studies Curriculum

Board of Directors questions to Innovative Schools with response from them

 

 

The Truth Is Out There With Delaware Met: Public Hearing Transcript Sheds Some Light

The Delaware Met had their public hearing for their formal review on 11/16/15.  Yesterday, the Delaware Department of Education released the transcript.  One thing is for sure: the words “blogs”, “blogger”, or “bloggers” were mentioned 8 times in the transcript.  I was glad to see two members of the Delaware State Board of Education attended this event.  Instead of writing about the public hearing, I’m going to let the people speak.

I feel like three months of my son’s education has been wasted because he hasn’t done much work, not many projects

I’ve tried to contact teachers with no response

…when we hear some of the horror stories that are going on with these kids, a lot of times, schoolwork might be the last thing on their mind, because a sibling was just killed three months ago, or they’re dealing with being displaced, you know, homeless.

For whatever reason, they opened the doors up and let a lot of kids in that probably didn’t fit the model and didn’t really understand what the model was.

Whatever bugs you all didn’t iron out first, go back to the drawing board, fix it.  As they say, you got a hole, plug it.

But we don’t get the connection from the people who are in charge, the charter school or whoever is in charge of the charter school, and the parents, there’s no connection.

…the biggest question is who is this management organization, Innovative Schools, and why does it seem that they have been an impediment to this process?  We know that starting something new often is a rocky start, but it seems like the people who are supposed to know about education in this case don’t know anything about education.

It is disturbing that some of the things that should have been in place from the first day still aren’t in place, and we’re still struggling to try to get some open communication.  I think it’s interesting that a lot of parents are here, but I don’t see too many of the administrators.

So I think we need to look into it further versus basing it upon opinions of bloggers and individuals who have not been to the school to visit firsthand to see exactly what’s going on versus reading the emails that are being sent.

I don’t know who blogs.  It has to be somebody in the school.  It has to be somebody in the schools that’s giving out certain information that, you know, that I know some of the students is not giving out, I’m thinking it’s probably one of the teachers that don’t like and are trying to sabotage the whole school.

And whoever the blogger is, they need to mind their own business.  We already know there’s an issue.

Do you all understand how bad that sounds to a kid when they go to school, the teacher says we don’t have to learn because they’re closing the school next year.

Help us out.  Give the school some funding.  You all keep talking about you don’t have money, or whoever, they don’t have money to put this in, put that in.

When you open something up, if you put a different animals in one cage, you’re going to have problems until you get somebody in there that knows how to train everybody.

And again, the story writers, the bloggers, whoever is doing this, saying what they want to say to make it, solidify what you’re trying to do, if you’re trying to close the school down, I mean, of course.

What kind of school around here has a mentoring program?

And I went to Mr. A.J. and he told me that, you know, I can guarantee you the school is not going to shut down and everything like that.

I got at least three trays in one day for lunch, and all the meat was bleeding, but I couldn’t get nothing brown bag.  I don’t understand.  These teachers going out, buying McDonald’s and all that, but we can’t do that because of other stuff.

And we have some teachers that don’t even come to school, and I don’t even know how my report card going to look.  I’m not a bad kid.  I know my report card going to look okay in other schools, but this school, I don’t know.

Okay, what is up with the “blame the blogger” game for a school going on formal review?  Trust me, the Delaware Department of Education is not going to put a school on formal review because of information I write about.  By the time I’m writing stuff, they most likely already know a great deal of the information.  The things I’ve heard coming from this brand new school, that had two years to work out all the kinks, disturb me on many levels.  This is a school that stated their budget for food is going to be over-budget.  If they aren’t cooking the meat correctly and students keep going back for non-carcinogenic food that is actually cooked all the way through, I can see why that would be.  If teachers aren’t showing up or they don’t know how to teach the curriculum, that is troubling.  What kind of school lets other students show up to the school without any type of security system to prevent that?  This school has already received plenty of funding, from the state and from the Longwood Foundation.  Throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve anything.  They will find some way to squander those funds.  Plenty of schools have mentoring programs, and A.J. English knows that.  I am always suspicious of anyone that may have a financial motive to keep a school open.  The school may know about the issues, but parents and the public may not.  That is why I blog.  Do you want to know the words I was looking for the most in this transcript and I didn’t see mentioned anywhere? Special Education, IEP, and disability.  How can you defend a school and not even talk about their biggest problem?  Innovative Schools is in way over their head across the entire state.  Other new charter schools that relied on them are having issues as well.  I don’t want any school to shut down unless it is bad for students in the short-term and the long-term.  I believe Delaware Met fits in both of those categories.

I know some people think I just write whatever I want and call it a day.  That is not the case.  There are things I could write about this school but haven’t yet.  The assumption that I haven’t been in the school must mean I don’t know anything about it.  Wrong.  I know plenty.  I went to their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.  I heard the many questions Delaware Met and Innovative Schools couldn’t answer.  These are key and essential questions that need to be answered AND fixed, or they should close.  But let’s get one thing straight, unless the school is posing an immediate health risk or students are in danger, the DOE and State Board of Education don’t just shut a school down.  They go through the process, and the likely options are: probation, revocation of their charter at the end of the year, or they rule the school is doing just fine.  I’ve taken other steps as well in light of things I’ve heard about this school.  It is obvious Delaware Met has sent information out saying “Don’t believe the blogger.”  That is their prerogative.  I just ask folks to keep an open mind and ask the questions.

To read the entire transcript, please read below.

Delaware Met Teacher Defends…I Don’t Know What, Trying To Wrap My Head Around This One…

Sometimes a comment just screams “I want my own post on this”!  This one definitely deserves a focus.  I posted last night about student comments at Delaware Met’s formal review public hearing.  Never in a million years did I expect an actual response from someone at the school.

DelMetComment

Delaware Met Moms, Dads, Students, & Teachers: Make Your Voice Heard!

Monday night is the Formal Review Public Hearing for the Delaware Met.  It starts at 5pm at the Carvel State Building, on the 2nd floor.  It should be easy to get to because it is right next to the school, across the street to the right of the school.  This is the time to let the Delaware Department of Education and the world know what is really happening there.  If you have been bullied, or your kid is not getting the special education they rightfully deserve, or you have not been given due process, or you just have some thoughts to get out, THIS IS THE TIME!!!!  Do not let this opportunity go to waste!

Secretary Godowsky Gives Lame Response To Shutting Down Delaware Met

This morning, after hearing even more things going on at Delaware Met, I took a drastic step and emailed Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and pleaded with him to close Delaware Met down for good.  I also cc:ed Governor Markell, his education policy advisor Lindsay O’Mara, Attorney General Matt Denn, other leaders at the DOE, and every single legislator in the 148th General Assembly.  His response was very shocking given the nature of the email.  The responses I got from legislators had more meat than what Godowsky had.


From: Kevin Ohlandt [mailto:kevino3670@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 10:39 AM
To: Godowsky Steven <Steven.Godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>
Cc: Blowman David <david.blowman@DOE.K12.DE.US>; Nagourney Jennifer <Jennifer.Nagourney@doe.k12.de.us>; Haberstroh Susan Keene <susan.haberstroh@doe.k12.de.us>; May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>; Markell Jack <jack.markell@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew <matthew.denn@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Kowalko John <john.kowalko@state.de.us>; Matthews Sean <sean.matthews@state.de.us>; Lynn Sean M <sean.lynn@state.de.us>; Baumbach Paul <paul.baumbach@state.de.us>; Bennett Andria <andria.bennett@state.de.us>; Schwartzkopf Peter <peter.schwartzkopf@state.de.us>; Jaques, Jr Earl <earl.jaques@state.de.us>; Potter, Jr Charles <charles.potter@state.de.us>; Bolden StephanieT <stephaniet.bolden@state.de.us>; Paradee Trey <trey.paradee@state.de.us>; Keeley Helene <helene.keeley@state.de.us>; Brady Gerald <gerald.brady@state.de.us>; Smith Melanie G <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Short Bryon <bryon.short@state.de.us>; Short Daniel <daniel.short@state.de.us>; Johnson Quinton <quinton.johnson@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Hensley Kevin S <kevin.hensley@state.de.us>; jeff.spiegelman@state.de.us; Hudson Deborah <deborah.hudson@state.de.us>; Mitchell John L <john.l.mitchell@state.de.us>; Longhurst Valerie <valerie.longhurst@state.de.us>; Bentz David <david.bentz@state.de.us>; Mulrooney Michael <michael.mulrooney@state.de.us>; Smyk Steve <steve.smyk@state.de.us>; Ramone Michael <michael.ramone@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Osienski Edward <edward.osienski@state.de.us>; Viola John <john.viola@state.de.us>; Carson William <william.carson@state.de.us>; Outten Bobby <bobby.outten@state.de.us>; Peterman Jack <harold.peterman@state.de.us>; Sokola David <david.sokola@state.de.us>; Townsend Bryan <bryan.townsend@state.de.us>; Yearick Lyndon D <lyndon.yearick@state.de.us>; Wilson David L <david.l.wilson@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; BriggsKing Ruth <ruth.briggsking@state.de.us>; Gray Ronald <ronald.gray@state.de.us>; Dukes Timothy <timothy.dukes@state.de.us>; Collins Richard G <richard.g.collins@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Henry Margaret Rose <margaretrose.henry@state.de.us>; Marshall Robert <robert.marshall@state.de.us>; Lavelle Greg <greg.lavelle@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lopez Ernesto B <ernesto.lopez@state.de.us>; Blevins Patricia <patricia.blevins@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Hall-Long Bethany <bethany.hall-long@state.de.us>; Poore Nicole <nicole.poore@state.de.us>; Pettyjohn Brian <brian.pettyjohn@state.de.us>; McBride David <david.mcbride@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Colin J. Bonini <senator-colin@prodigy.net>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Simpson Gary <gary.simpson@state.de.us>; Hocker Gerald <gerald.hocker@state.de.us>; Richardson Bryant L <bryant.richardson@state.de.us>; O’Mara Lindsay <lindsay.omara@state.de.us>
Subject: Delaware Met

Dr. Godowsky,

I know we have been at odds over the whole Delaware School Success Framework, but I implore the Department to act immediately with regards to The Delaware Met.  This place is an obvious danger to students and staff, and the DOE needs to shut it down immediately.  The issues there are getting worse, and the DOE needs to act now.  Not in December at a State Board of Education meeting, and not at the end of the year should their charter be revoked.  I completely understand this is a very delicate situation, but student and staff safety need to come first.  With all the information I have heard, I believe there to be a clear and present danger in that school.

I am calling for others to reach out to you on this as well.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt


Here I am, reaching out in good faith to them, and they know I know what is going on over there.  I would think the words “clear and present danger” would warrant something other than the response I got from Dr. Godowsky.  But no, the typical Delaware response which says “I read your email.  I’m not going to do anything about it Chicken Little, but you should feel lucky I bothered to respond.  That’s more than Mark Murphy ever did.”  Okay, it didn’t really say that, but that’s how it felt.  No, this is what I got:


From: Godowsky Steven <Steven.Godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>
To:
Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent:
Tuesday, November 10, 2015 1:38 PM
Subject:
RE: Delaware Met

Kevin,

I appreciate the notice. Thank you.

Steve

Steven H. Godowsky

Delaware Department of Education

Steven.Godowsky@doe.k12.de.us


Gee, thanks Steve.  No action plan, or even a “We will look into it” or any questions.  Nothing.  And they wonder why I blog about the DOE so much.  Are these people that arrogant and condescending to think they are above the rest of us and aren’t accountable for their actions?  They want to lord it over teachers and schools all the time, but when the time comes for them to answer for themselves they hide behind Governor Markell.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some good people working over there, but when the leadership responds like this, it doesn’t show a concerted effort to communicate better with the public.  It shows a “We are better than you” attitude.  Does he have to wait for Markell’s permission to respond effectively?  Cause we all know Jack was gallivanting around today giving a speech about teacher quality on the taxpayer’s dime without putting it on his public schedule.

Meanwhile, this school needs action taken on it now.  What is going to be the DOE’s spin when things come out?  Something like “we were aware of the situation and took every step necessary to deal with these matters.”  I’m telling everyone right now, when things are revealed about this school, don’t look to the DOE for answers.  Because you will get a response akin to the one I got from Secretary Godowsky today.  You’re going 0-2 on me here Steve.  That is not a good start.  While I appreciate you helping to put Delaware Met on formal review to begin with, that doesn’t solve the immediate problems going on there.  And your betrayal last week with the opt-out penalties is not endearing you to Delaware at all!

If no one will take quick action on this school than something bad is going to happen.  We all know it.  And I’m sure the last thing the DOE wants to do is prove me right.  I am hereby declaring the DOE a Priority State Education Agency.

*I did edit one name in the email.  Poor State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman.  I can never remember the i before e except after c rule with his name.  Both default when I start to put his name in my email address field.  My profuse apologies Rep. Speigelman!

DOE: Stop Being An Ostrich And Do The Right Thing! Shut Delaware Met Down!

This is a short and simple message for the Delaware DOE: The Delaware Met is a dangerous place for students and staff.  Events there are out of control, much more than the public knows.  You need to shut this place down immediately!  Would you rather go through a week of having a black eye and getting negative press or do you think it is okay to leave an unsafe school open and run the risk of someone getting seriously hurt?  This is not your normal formal review charter school and you know it.  You need to do something NOW!  We both know much more is going to come out regarding this school.  You may even be hailed as heroes for doing the right thing in the long run.  But the longer you wait, the higher the risk.  How is that going to look when something really bad happens there (bigger than all the bad stuff that is going on there) and YOUR Department failed to act?  You will be a national embarrassment.

The Official Delaware Met Formal Review Meeting Report

The Delaware DOE Charter School Accountability Committee released the initial report of their formal review.  This meeting took place last Wednesday, 11/4/15.  It is a long read but chock full of information.  I do see areas where I was not able to get everything when I wrote my article based on the meeting.  As well, there are some items I may need to clarify a bit from my article, but I’m tired and I’m going to bed!

With All The Police Action At Delaware Met, How Does First State Montessori Academy Feel About That?

Sometimes something just doesn’t click until it hits you.  This was the case today when I realized Delaware Met’s direct neighbor is First State Montessori Academy.  Can you imagine picking up your child at an elementary school to see students led out at the school next door in handcuffs?  Or you look out your window and see kids fighting?

french st

In the above picture, Delaware Met is at 920 N. French St. in Wilmington.  Right next to it with nothing but a street dividing them, sits First State Montessori Academy.  Even more ironic, their other neighbor to the side of them is the Carvel State Building, where the Delaware Department of Justice has their offices.  In fact, I would guess that Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn can see the school from his office window.  Only in Delaware!

First State Montessori services kids from Kindergarten to 6th grade.  Delaware Met has teenagers in 9th and 10th grade.  I’m sorry, but who plans this stuff?  I have some of the same concerns with the Community Education Building housing all the different schools and different grades.  This isn’t Little House on the Prairie!  I don’t think young students should be in any way exposed to whatever is going on over at Delaware Met.  There is a specific reason traditional school districts have middle schools and high schools strategically placed away from elementary schools.  I firmly believe the Delaware charters up in Wilmington should coordinate with each other so potential problems don’t occur.  It was announced last week that the Wilmington Police would have an officer outside the school in the afternoon when school got out.

Is Delaware Met And Innovative Schools Offering Hazard Pay For It’s Executive Director Job?

Delaware Met, the story that never stops.  The latest?  Turns out Innovative Schools is recruiting for an executive director.  And the starting salary?  $100,000.00 for the job.  That’s a lot of money for a brand new charter.  Is this in addition to the principal position, held by the returning Tricia Hunter-Crafton?  Because in their budget submitted for their formal review, it only shows $100,000 for school leadership and that is under the title of principal.

Some highlights for the listing, with my thoughts below each line in red, include:

Demonstrated ability to build school culture that will enhance student achievement

You might want to have an architect background for this one because you would essentially be rebuilding a school from the bottom up.

•Demonstrated ability to build effective school systems that support safety, and establishes coherence of policies amongst staff, students, and parents

Being that this school is NOT safe at all and there is no coherence of policies at all at this school, I would also suggest you hire two full-time State Resource Officers at this school as well.

Oversees daily operation of school, ensuing a safe and positive school culture

If you have the ability to clone yourself as well, this will be a must.

Keeps the Board informed of all aspects of school operations

Because the board has vast amounts of experience with this kind of school, culture and population…

Manage day-to-day activities of all staff

I would make sure an adult is present anywhere students are present and install security cameras there.

Successful leadership experience in a public or non-public school serving diverse and low- income student populations, with significant results in closing student achievement gaps

Before worrying about the student achievement gaps, I would work on closing the calls to the Wilmington Police Department.  And I would reach out to the local businesses in the area who are making the vast majority of the phone calls to the police.  Over 30 calls in two and a half months…

Ability to lift up to 50 pounds

I would go beyond this and perhaps suggest an ability to lift a few tons because that will be the weight on your shoulders when you take this job.

Ability to hear within normal range, with or without amplification

I sincerely hope you are from the planet Krypton and have super-hearing cause you are going to need it!

Ability to sustain a calm, reasonable approach, and communicate effectively in stressful or problematic situations

I would enroll in a daily 3 hour yoga class right away and practice meditation techniques now.

Salary Range:
Baseline of $100,000 — Negotiable and commensurate with education and experience

I would ask for double based on the hazardous working conditions…

I did want to add a few other qualifications the executive director of Delaware Met will probably need…

Ability to become best friends with the Wilmington Police Department

Forensic auditing experience

Crowd Control techniques

Have a Bat-phone installed in your office

Were The Initial Stories Concerning Delaware Met True Or False?

On September 25th, I wrote the first Delaware Met article concerning the problems at the school. Many doubted the veracity of the article at first. I thought now would be a good time to give it the “separate fact from fiction” test.

Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week. 

The school did not close the last week of September, but their board considered it at their 9/28 board meeting.  The board voted to keep trying.

I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school…

This is definitely true.  The Wilmington police were called to the school numerous times.

…a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day…

We learned at their formal review meeting yesterday a student brought a “weapon” to the school.  It was not named as a gun, but it was not named as anything more than a “weapon”.

…students leaving the school in mass quantities…

Their opening enrollment on August 24th was 260, and by September 30th they were down to 215, and more have left.

I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking…

This has not happened, although many are questioning their role in all of this.  Their board president talked yesterday about the great partnership Delaware Met has with Innovative Schools but not all board members are on the same page…

I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues.

This is definitely the case.  Many of the students came from Moyer.  As indicated by Innovative Schools CSO Teresa Gerchman yesterday, many of the students are “comfortable” with the chaotic environment at the school.

I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities.

We know there are 62 “official” counts of IEPs for students with disabilities at the school.

…how prepared was the school to handle these issues?  If the allegations are true, not prepared at all. 

This school did not prepare for this at all.  According to their board president Nash Childs, they were more concerned about the facility and their enrollment and they did not dig in to the school curriculum and the school climate.  Innovative Schools missed the boat on fulfilling the promises made in their application and didn’t do anything about potential issues with culture and discipline.

Delaware Met And Their Train Wreck Of A Formal Review Meeting At The DOE Today

The Delaware Met is drowning.  I don’t know any other way to put it.  If this school is open for the 2016-2017 school year, I will be completely shocked.  The Delaware charter school had their first Formal Review meeting today at the Delaware Department of Education, where they faced nearly two hours of questions from the Charter School Accountability Committee.  The answers, when they provided them, caused great concern with the members of the committee, members of the audience, and myself.

To start, let me name all the players in today’s meeting, because there were many.

Charter School Accountability Committee: Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman, Exceptional Children Resources Group DOE Employee Barbara Mazza, Associate Secretary of Adult Education & School Supports Karen Field-Rogers, Educator Effectiveness & Talent Management Atnre Alleyne, Community Representative & Former DOE Employee Paul Harrell, Education Associate at DOE for Science Assessment and STEM April McRae

Staff To The Committee: Charter School Office Director Jennifer Nagourney, Deputy Attorney General & Consul to the Committee Catherine Hickey, Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson, from the Charter School Office: John Carwell, Michelle Whalen, & Sheila Kay Lawrence, from the DOE Finance Office: Brook Hughes

Delaware Met Representation: Innovative Schools Chief School Officer Teresa Gerchman, Delaware Met Board President Nash Childs, & Innovative Schools Financial Services School Support employee Karen Thorpe

The meeting began at 1:30pm with a roll call of the participants.  While the exact wording may not be exact in all conversation, I did my best to type notes as fast as I could.  If there is a specific quote, I will highlight that.

Blowman: purpose of meeting is to discuss and review relevant material to see if remedial measures against the school need to be taken, there will be no specific recommendations coming out of this meeting.  This is a preliminary discussion.  The initial report will be out by November 9th and Delaware Met has 15 days to review and comment on the report.  The grounds for formal review were outlined in the letter sent to the school, including potential violations of the school’s charter in respect to the school’s educational program, school culture, board and leadership capabilities, and financial viability.  On November 1st, the Delaware Met submitted documents to the DOE and the committee will consider any documents and discussion at the meeting to determine if charter holder is compliant in these areas and the committee will let the school know if they need additional information.

There was some initial confusion right off the bat as Blowman wanted to discuss the educational program, and Gerchman mentioned something about the Code of Conduct being included in the formal review, to which Blowman responded he was more concerned if the procedures were followed with fidelity.

The first conversation surrounded the technology and computers at the school:

Teresa Gerchman: In addressing computers at the school, she said the school has a firmer grip on what is needed and the school is having meetings with parents so students and parent can understand the computer policy.  The school is working with Positive Outcomes which has the similar Go Guardian software which tracks the computers students have, websites students visit, and any connections for safety of students.  They will be handing out computers on 11/12, will be used starting in the 2nd quarter.

Jennifer Nagourney: At the 10/12 Del Met board meeting, it was discussed there was damage to the computer lab.

Gerchman: The school had a brownout but it was not the one-on-one technology the students will be using

David Blowman: Was the plan for computers to hand them out in mid-November or was that reflective of enrollment?

Gerchman: It was planned for 1st quarter but discipline issues came up and wanted to make sure parents understood the computer policies.

Donna Johnson: How can students check out computers each morning in a personalized learning environment?

Gerchman: Advisors help with that.

Johnson: (Asks same question again, Gerchman interrupts Johnson as she is asking her question)

Gerchman: We will be using the computers to set up internships and to do blended learning in the classroom.

Johnson: How will the computers be used outside of the school?

Gerchman: Students will be using other materials for outside work and by the 3rd quarter students will be able to take computers outside of school.

Johnson: What about teacher training for the technology (for some reason it was difficult to hear this part)

Gerchman: Training was done last summer.

Johnson: Is there after school or extended day to use computers?

Gerchman: Not now but the school will be able to do that.  Basketball starts soon so students involved will have 4-5pm study hall but right now there is no afterschool transportation.

Atnre Allyne: What determines readiness (for computers)?

Gerchman: It is intership readiness.

Johnson: What type of digital citizenship are students taking?

Gerchman: Not sure.  That is with Big Picture (model for school).

Johnson: How long is advisory each day?

Gerchman: 90 minutes.  Charly Adler with Big Picture Learning is involved.  He is providing training and hands on coaching for teachers and for advisory curriculum.

April McRae: What is the ratio of advisors to students?

Gerchman: 17:1

McRae: If advisors are also teachers, liaisons, and internship counselors how does that work?

Gerchman: They work with students during advisory period to go over personalized learning.

McRae: How long was training over the summer?

Gerchman: One month.  Charly was there to help there to help trouble shoot.

Blowman: Was there an awareness teachers weren’t ready?

Gerchman: No, teachers felt like they were prepared.  What they were not prepared for was what it took to engage students in advisory.  They thought the kids would be ready to jump in and they were not prepared for what happened.  Many kids were not engaged in the Big Picture Model.

Karen Field-Rogers: Was there something else that could have helped?

Gerchman: The Summer Institute was not required but going forward they will make it required.  Less than 50% of the students participated.

Blowman: Is there a difference in retention performance for students that went through the Summer Institute?

Gerchman: Yes.  The advisors are determining which students are internship ready but they do not have a percentage calculation.

Blowman: The model was always Big Picture.  The school had four years from the beginning of the application process.  I’m wondering how much planning and implementation was done by the ??? (couldn’t understand)

Gerchman: No.  We clearly stated what it was.  The majority of students who applied or went to open house knew it was clearly defined.  I don’t know if application fully embraced the model when students applied.  Big Picture was not (created?) for an urban setting.  We did not have right connection with the right school models (named schools from California)

McRae: That surprises me because the whole model is based on an urban setting.  I would have assumed Charly and his trainers would have based it on that.  This is a big disconnect.

Gerchman: The Providence schools were the foundation for this.

McRae: I have great concern.

Gerchman: We never heard this till after they opened.

At this point, DOE employees were passing out Halloween candy in Carmike Cinemas popcorn bucket

Gerchman: We are about to start matching potential careers in advisory.  We are having parent meetings and both parents and students will sign off on those.

Blowman: When does the internship program start?

Gerchman: It will vary by student.  Every student will be in one by the 3rd quarter.  The plan was never for 9th graders to start on 9/1.

Blowman: There is a big gap between 9/1 and the 3rd quarter.

Gerchman: It was always the plan to have 10th graders start within 10 weeks.  Not all students are ready.  We will be doing internal internships instead of external for kids with a disciplinary record.  They will stay at school to learn expectations for the workplace.

Alleyne: How do you know they are all going to be ready?

Gerchman: When we say internship ready we mean external.  We have a lot of resources coming into the school to help out, and the internal students can do IT at school.

Barbara Mazza: What training have you given teachers for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)?

Gerchman: We are having meetings with parents for one hour instead of a half hour.  All teachers have been given student goals and have a spreadsheet with all the goals.  Sue Ogden, the head of Special Education, is driving those meetings and she has worked w/teachers.

Mazza: Is she working with teachers on professional development for instruction?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden was not there during the summer.

Blowman: Do all eligible students have approved IEPs?

Gerchman: I can’t answer that.  I don’t know.  We are having meetings and they all have to do with transitional (not sure of next word after that)

Mazza: It has to be done within 60 calendar days of the schools opening date.  When did the school open?

German: 8/24.  Sue Ogden has a chart she is following closely.

Blowman: How many are handling special education?

Gerchman: 62.

Blowman: No, teachers.

Gerchman: We have Sue Ogden and two paraprofessionals and outside services for counseling, occupational therapy.

Blowman: That is equivalent to 4 units.

Mazza: How many unit counts did you estimate based on 9/30 student counts?

Karen Thorpe: 4 complex, 39 basic, 17 intensive.

Mazza: That is more than 4 units.  We want assurances every student had an IEP meeting before the 60 day mark.

Editor’s note: It got very quiet at this point.

Gerchman: Do you want a breakdown of service related hours?

Mazza: Not just that.  Also any behavioral needs being met.

Gerchman: We have social workers.

Mazza: You have 8 students identified with a disability?

Gerchman: That is where the mentoring team comes in.  We have a social worker, a psychologist to do the functional behavioral analysis and create the BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan).  Sue is involved in deciding if the behavior was a manifestation of the disability.  When a student brought a weapon to the school, we did a full manifestation determination hearing with the psychologist.

Blowman: Are you pushing inclusion?

Gerchman: Yes, and pull-out groups.  Classes are co-taught with special education teachers and there is time allotted  for pull-out services.

Blowman: How are you implementing RTI (Response to Intervention)?

Gerchman: We are utilizing intervention blocks of times. Students will be pulled for 45 minute times based on tier 1 or tier 2 services.  We are using pevious years of DCAS and Smarter Balanced scores and looking for kids that were consistently low.  Sue did additional testing to get to current levels.  Students get those additional services in addition to special education.

Johnson: Funds generated for special education students must be used for those students. I want a follow-up on how much money is being spent on special education currently and how much is for unit counts and staffing.

April: Science & Social Studies.  I have questions.  The school provided a curriculum outline, but I have concerns.  You also provided 1st quarter objectives and they not in compliance with the science coalition that was provided.  It is not compliant, and it almost feels like you will join the social studies and science coalitions but the application stated the school would be members of that coalition before the school opened and the school year started.

Gerchman: In my role now I can’t explain what happened.  When we saw we were put on formal review we reached out to those coalitions.

Nagourney: Is there anyone in this room that can explain this? Any board members?

Gerchman: I can’t explain it.

Nagourney: Is there anyone here that can answer this?

NO ONE IN ROOM THAT CAN ANSWER!!!

Johnson: Delaware Met had an additional year of planning to get ready.  The charter was approved by the Secretary and the Board (State Board) did not go through the exact science and social studies curriculum because they were joining that coalition.  I see them joining now because they are on formal review. I don’t see this matching to state standards and don’t see teachers have already gone through training to understand current state standards.

Nagourney: Who was responsible for overseeing this process?

Johnson: I don’t care who was responsible.  I want to know what happened and why because they had an additional year.  Those are basics and that’s very concerning.

McRae: Kind of what Donna (Johnson) said but since you are not currently members of the coalition we would like to see lessons aligned to state standard to see students are getting that curriculum.

Blowman: How long into the school year before that impacts students?  A lot of what should have been done over the past two years is being done once the school opened.  It is sacrificing instruction.  You had two years. (Blowman goes over everything discussed up to this point)

Johnson: I have a question about the 1st week of school plan.  Was that week considered an on-ramp to high school or are those hours including instructional hours for the school year?

Gerchman: It was considered on-ramp for Big Picture Learning.  It was also an on-ramp to high school but more Big Picture.

Johnson: That does not count towards instructional hours.

Gerchman: We will subtract them out.

McRae: What does it mean to be intern ready?

Gerchman: Charly has worked with advisors to understand this.  It means the student is ready to go external: they will be ready with how to dress, language, behavior and expectations.  For students we feel are not ready to go external we will give internal (internships).

Paul Harrell: How often does the school psychologist visit the school?  3, 4 days a week?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.  I don’t have that information.

Harrell: The mentoring program, who does it?

Gerchman: It is run by AJ English, it is called English Lessons.  He has two other people for three total.

Harell: Are they local?

Gerchman: It is a local mentoring business, one is a licensed social worker.

Harrell: Does anyone else in Delaware use AJ English?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.

Nagourney: We would like a list of external internship partners.

Gerchman: We don’t have that because no one is in an internship yet but we do have have interested parties.

At this point, the CSAC dove into what everyone wanted to hear: School Culture!

Gerchman: My assessment on the school culture is it is not what is was supposed to be.  This is not a surprise to anyone walking through the door.  AJ English was supposed to be an after school program but we saw the need for additional support for students, a need to understand what is triggering behavior and not just punishing behavior.  They have a rubric.  Some mentors know students.  We added a school climate officer who was hired before the start of the school year.  I was not part of the process for hiring him.  I’m not sure why he wasn’t there the first week of school.  He was given additional support and we brought people in: An In-School suspension person with experience at that to make it more effective- consequences when they are there, doing school work.  He worked in the Philadelphia school system (Note to self: but is he credentialed in Delaware?).  We brought in Rob Moore who works in the community and runs a basketball program and knows students and families.  He is a climate monitor and he can remove students from class with a goal of getting them back into class.  Mr. Wilson has enough people on his team, a one-person team can not handle it.

Blowman: How is the current climate?

Gerchman: Not where it needs to be.  Teachers need to do a better job of fully engaging all the students with instruction and professional development, and using the Teaching for Excellence framework.  I just got to the school on 10/27.  That was always the plan and teachers trained on this in August.  With Tricia Hunter (the official Head of School, out on maternity leave until mid-November) going out on maternity leave those were not fully taking place but since she came on they are.  When my kids are better engaged they are learning.  When we determined the 4-5% of students causing problems, we do check-in and check-out with their advisor or mentor, we are using behavior intervention plans, and we are trying to stop what is going on outside of school from coming into school.  The school is implementing Teaching for Excellence and teachers got training over the summer.

Johnson: That was a minor modification and that didn’t happen until after school year started.

Gerchman: I was mistaken.

Mazza: How is ISS (In-School Suspension) handled?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden administers that.

Nagourney: When was the last time a police officer was called to the school?

Gerchman: The Mayor (of Wilmington, Dennis Williams) came last week.  We have a police officer there every day for 2 hours at dismissal.  Kids come from other high schools to meet friends or for other reasons.  Yesterday we had a student that was suspended come back to school to start a fight with another student.

Blowman: How many times have the police been called in?

Gerchman: I don’t know.

Nagourney: Are those incidents being recorded?

Gerchman: Yes.

Harrell: When was the code of conduct issued?

Gerchman: The beginning of school.

Harrell: Wouldn’t it have been better to send during summer given the population at the school?

Gerchman: We wanted to review it with the students instead of just giving them a document.

Blowman: What plans do faculty have in place to engage students? Are teachers fully able to get engaged with students?

Gerchman: They have lessons plans and they are giving feedback on lesson plans.  We are making sure teachers know who to put out and we are working with those teachers first.  This is not a kid issue, it’s an adult issue.  We need to help teachers get stronger with that, have better relationships with the students.

Harrell: How is the morale of the teachers?

Gerchman: Not great.

McRae: It sounds like you are having an issue with fighting.  A student came back to finish fighting…

Gerchman: We suspended the student for a vocal altercation.

McRae: Have adults been trained to handle physical altercations?

Gerchman: No, not all

McRae: You have 62 IEP students, THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST,  AN ABSOLUTE IMPERATIVE

Gerchman: I just found out AJ English has programs in two other schools.

Johnson: Can you provide an outline of how school board and staff used the additional year to plan?

Nash Childs: It was difficult since we didn’t have a building.  We acquired the MBNA building bought by the state.  It took a long time.  We didn’t know we had the building until before the school year started (Innovative Schools officially purchased the building in November 2014).  We had to get a certificate of occupancy for the building.  The board was so focused on facilities and student recruitment that they lost valuable time working on the educational program and the code of conduct.  We had a school leader acquired but didn’t have the  money to pay her.  We had all these financial issues come together.

Johnson: What was relegated to the CMO (Charter Management Organization, in this case Innovative Schools)?  It seems to me they should have been working on those aspects.

Childs: As far as facilities that was the board.

Johnson: That makes sense.  How did the board hold the CMO accountable?

Editor’s note: No one answered this question.  I am guessing here, but I believe at least two board members were sitting in front of me but they were not a part of the response team. There was quite a bit of whispering between the two women at this point.

Childs: We work as a team.  I’m not an educator, but we have a lot of passionate volunteers on the board that love this model.  We thought this was perfect for downtown Wilmington but it is obvious we could have spent more time on the education program and climate.  The board didn’t know they were going to be faced with these issues.

Johnson: What are the current responsibilities the board is putting on Innovative Schools?

Childs: They have been a great partnership and the board is not throwing blame.

Johnson: What role is the board having on Innovative Schools?

Childs: We gave them a list in September 2015.  Our contractual agreement was not 100% implemented until after May of 2015.  They were doing work and not getting paid a dime for a while.

Gerchman: We are currently in the school and not charging the school for that.  Hodges (another Innovative Schools employee) is in the school and we are not charging for that.  We are working on filling gaps with no additional charge.

Blowman: Is that a deferral, cause we had that situation last year…. (I would love to hear more about that one!)

Gershman: It is not a deferral, when we looked at the numbers we rearranged their plan and how we could support them.

Johnson: In response towards the school leader, it says Innovative Schools additional roles would incur greater expense. Is the school having additional costs to cover your (Teresa Gerchman’s) primary duties?

Gerchman: I am working nights and weekends, no.

Johnson: Are you still CSO of Innovative Schools?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: I am concerned about the capacity to serve all these schools.

Johnson: You are serving more schools now.  That was a concern last year and it is now.  I have questions around board governance training, due process training, and financial training.

Childs: We had training that started over a year ago. I can’t say who got what but I can get that list.

Johnson: How many board members have been on the board since you started the training process?

Childs: The majority.

Johnson: For new board members training?

Childs: Yes.

Gerchman: The entire board received DANA training and repeated this in September.

Kendall Massett: I was there and everyone did.

Gerchman: Not everyone got budget training.

Blowman: Financial Viability…

Thorpe: The current student count is 215. We have contractors in place for services, transportation, staffing in budget, our financial goals were not to draw any outside credit, to be able to reserve summer pay as required, as well as instructional goals to provide one on one technology.  The budget you received  was for 218 enrollment.

Nagourney: They submitted a new budget two hours ago.

Thorpe: We submitted a budget before the 9/30 count, but since we have had additional special education and what services are needed, and trying to get all the right people together for the budget.

Field Rogers: The budget submitted did not show funding streams.

Thorpe: It does now.

Gerchman: I was on leave when the letter came out so that is why we didn’t submit a budget.

Field-Rogers: The summer pay is part of a budget.

Thorpe: Those are in-school expenses

Field-Rogers: It shows a surplus of $10,000. Is this through 6/30?

Thorpe: It is a 12 month budget. This is before encumbrances, expenses from encumbrances are in current year budget.

Field-Rogers: This says there was a $65,000 line of credit was drawn in June.

Thorpe: Some bills did not get paid until July.

Field-Rogers: Are there any outside bank accounts?

Thorpe: None.

Field-Rogers: There were 215 students by 9/30. Have any students left since then?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: How many students left since 9/30?

Gerchman: I am not sure. We sent four students back to Red Clay. (Discussion around working plan out with Red Clay to send the funding for those students to Red Clay)

Blowman: Were they special education?

Gerchman: No.

Nagourney: We received complaints as of this morning that students were not released for good cause.

Blowman: How is the school providing related arts: phys ed, fine arts, drivers ed, health? Cause you have a budget of that for $35,000.

Gerchman: We have a person doing phys ed and health, and some drivers ed.

Field Rogers: I’m confused cause revenues received doesn’t match the budget recieved, as well as transportation eligible students.

Thorpe: The local revenue matches what is on the DOE website. The state revenue is a little bit higher because we  have some teachers that will be credentialed.

Blowman: Page 3 says Academia. Is that correct?

Thorpe: That is correct. I will be more careful of that in the future.

Field-Rogers: Cafeteria funds of $189,000 seems really high…

Thorpe: That is correct, but that is what we are trending at.

Field-Rogers: Special Education is nine units and I see two teachers (paras) and one coordinator.

Mazza: Is Sue Ogden the Educational Diagnostician?

Gerchman: She is the Special Education Coordinator. (believe this to be the title that was said)

Nagourney: Are you planning for next year yet?

Gerchman: I don’t think my being the actual leader is effective. We are waiting on the school leader (Tricia) to come back on 11/19.

Massett: I want to point out this isn’t required.

Nagourney: We are looking at long-term financial viability.

McRae: I’m concerned with students leaving the school because of bullying, seven students left with good cause, police reports… do you feel students are safe on your campus?

Gerchman: More students feel safe now. Four bullied students left but one parent has expressed interest in returning.  The parents are concerned about retaliation for coming forward about bullying.  We have lots of students where that level of chaos is comfortable for them but for students not from those environments it is very hard.

Blowman: Do you believe students are safe in the school (looked directly at Gerchman)?

Gerchman: Yes. (long pause) We are reviewing applications for special education staff and having interviews tomorrow.  Sue is the specialist and we want to make sure she is comfortable.

Johnson: Can we get detail around engagement of parents and students with addressing culture, when the application was in process and when the school opened, with other Met schools, and the steps taken to engage parents and plans to move forward?

Nobody answered.

Blowman went around the committee asking members and staff to state what information was needed from Delaware Met.

McRae: Calendar of instructional hours and social studies and science lesson plans, units, and alignment to standards.

Mazza: We need confirmation they have reached out to John Sadowsky (Climate and Discipline Director at DOE, who did attend the meeting but left early, was not announced) for physical restraint training.  We want a list of IEPs and the 60 days, we aren’t seeing it in the system.

Gerchman: We got some expired IEPs, and we had problems with IEP Plus since 10/1.

Michelle Whalen: Please make sure all private information is redacted.

Mazza: If we find services were not being met what is the plan for making up time so services are met? And for the internships, we want to make sure these don’t provide barriers for students with disabilities.

Gerchman: We are using Positive Outcomes as a resource.

Harell: I want to know what other schools AJ English has a mentoring relationship with. Two teachers have left, I want to know of any other teachers leaving.

Johnson: I’ve asked for a lot. I’m asking for Schoology training, prior training, current use, additional follow-up on training for teachers, the training teachers got for social studies and science, the units are aligned to state standards, specific financial information about how much money receied for special education and how funds are being used and special education units staffed with  those funds, documentation on board docs to CMO, board training, detailed information on how board and staff utilized the additional planning year, and board engagements with parents and family members for school culture before school opened and after.  How many times have police been called?  Are there costs for Wilmington police to provide services?

Gerchman :Yes, $100 for two hours. This just started yesterday.

Field-Rogers: This isn’t budgeted.

Gerchman: We gave all the discipline information to John Sadowsky and the charter school office.

Johnson: (directed to DOE). I would like that information provided to our office (State Board of Education).

Blowman: The goal today is to assess where the school is today with concerns and to determine if there are still areas of concern. Meeting adjourned.

Delaware Met To Face Delaware DOE Tomorrow…A Sneak Peak At Their Response

At 1:30pm tomorrow, the Delaware Met will appear before the Charter School Accountability Committee to answer questions surrounding their Formal Review.  At the October Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously agreed to placing the brand new charter school on formal review two months after they opened.  The school wrote a response to the allegations surrounding the Formal Review.

The school has also submitted many documents, which can be found here.  But I thought a peak at the financial information they submitted to the DOE is warranted for this article.  These documents confirm their current enrollment at 218 students.

DelMetFinancial2016

DelMetFinancial2016_2

DelMetFinancial2016_3

DelMetFinancial2016_4

Also in these documents are charts showing which traditional school districts their students are coming from along with their estimated unit counts for funding from Delaware:

DelMetEnrollment1

DelMetEnrollment2

DelMetEnrollment3

Last week, Wilmington Mayor Williams and the police went to the school to address matters as well.  An advocate well known in Wilmington by the name of CEO Hope attended as well.  This will be a very interesting meeting tomorrow as a formal review this early in a charter school’s history is unprecedented.  Note to attendees: there is no public comment at these meetings.  That will occur on November 16th, and this is listed on this blog’s Education Meetings and Events page:

11/16: Delaware Met Formal Review Public Hearing, 5pm, Carvel State Office Bldg., Auditorium, 820 N. French St., 2nd Floor, Wilmington

The final recommendation by the Charter School Accountability Committee will not happen until their 11/30 meeting.  After that, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will submit his final decision to the State Board of Education at their December 17th meeting where the board will vote for final action.

Anani Maas Returns And Looks At The Big Picture At Delaware Met

This is the second guest article by Anani Maas in a week, and I have to say I am very impressed! Thank you Anani!

By Anani Maas
Delaware Educator
In response to the discussion on the Delaware MET and the interest in their model, here are some things that I know about Big Picture Learning:
1. It is a charter chain with over 60 schools nationwide.  The first school was opened in Rhode Island in 1995.  They are non-profit, but that doesn’t mean the founders aren’t bringing in big bucks.  If I were a teacher there and I was making peanuts while the leaders are pulling big $$, I’d be pretty mad.
2. It sounds good. From their website: “In the schools that Big Picture Learning envisioned, students would take responsibility for their own education. They would spend considerable time doing real work in the community under the tutelage of volunteer mentors and they would not be evaluated solely on the basis of standardized tests. Instead, students would be assessed on their performance, on exhibitions and demonstrations of achievement, on motivation, and on the habits of mind, hand, heart, and behavior that they display – reflecting the real world evaluations and assessments that all of us face in our everyday lives.” – See more at: http://www.bigpicture.org/big-picture-history/#sthash.ecQGJHsw.dpuf
The problem with good theories is that they are hard to replicate, and hard to meld with DE state requirements.   Delaware requires charter school students to take standardized tests and those tests determine their funding and charter renewal, no matter what their model describes. So, the charter will have to decide to trust their model and risk reduction in funding and difficulty in renewal, OR, teach to the test anyway and attempt to do both.  This almost always means that the model cannot be followed with fidelity.
I personally agree with the model IN THEORY, but as an educator, I know that educational theories and educational realities are usually not the same thing!  For example, their model says students SHOULD take responsibility for their learning.  So, what is their plan if a student doesn’t?  They also say that students will be assessed on their habits of mind, hands, heart, etc.  Again, I ask, what is the plan if students come with horrible attitudes, bad habits, poor motivation, low skill levels, and etc.  What if they won’t or can’t find mentors?  What if the students use their freedom to do nothing at all, or worse, to harm and take advantage of others?
We don’t live in utopia, we live in a real city with students with real problems.  Having good intentions and great ideas isn’t enough to help students who are at-risk!  They need resources, wrap-around services, guidance counseling, qualified educators, etc.  If the school isn’t providing these things, then all the theories and research in the world won’t help them.  In fact, removing them from a school that has those services could actually be hurting them.  Why would you choose to put children who need the MOST resources in a school with the LEAST?
3. They exist through grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as others.  Because Big Picture Learning is promoting “individual” learning, each student needs a computer, and Gates supports those kinds of charter schools.
4. Their website does not offer any independent research that has been done on the model outside of that performed by the founders themselves.  This sounds like more radical changes to education not based on research.

Delaware Met Teacher Comes Out Swinging In Defense Of The School

Yesterday, a commenter on a Delaware Met post finally broke the silence coming from the embattled charter school!  She has some very interesting things to say.

Kevin,

I am a teacher at the Delaware Met. I am going to use this comment space, to tell you about myself. After reading and sharing details about my long career in education, I am hoping you will use myself and other dedicated teachers to gather your information. Hopefully after reading my post you will feel more comfortable the staff at the Delaware Met in partnership with Innovative Schools and Big Picture Learning has the resources, talent and passion to create a better alternative for the students who selected the school as an alternative to the current offerings in New Castle County.

Clearly I have led a long career learning how best to serve underserved students.

After graduating from the University of Delaware Number 1 in my class and Student Teacher of the Year , I have worked for A.I Dupont High School; Ursuline Academy as the Swim Coach, Track Coach and Department Chair; been an instructor at the University of Delaware in teaching Social Studies and Science Methods for the Education Department; been the Achievement Director at a school with 90% Free and Reduced Lunch that was a Superior School ( 8 years); won two Super Star in Education Awards; attended a conference for the top 100 Charter Leaders in the Country; been a math instructional coach for several high poverty schools in Hawaii; participated on a team with John Chubb and Benno Schmidt, the former President of Yale, developing a curriculum for 400 principals in Abu Dhabi; paid out of pocket to take all the required courses and earned a degree in School Leadership at Wilmington University; paid extra money to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Education Principal Academy for Urban School Leadership; interviewed 1,000 men under the age of 21 incarcerated at Gander Hill; developed 250-300 IEP’s for students at Gander Hill that had not reached the age of 21; personally delivered services to the most difficult offenders including decoding and basic reading support for students in solitary confinement; served as the Director of a STEM Camp in the remote desert above the Saudi Arabian oasis teaching girls how to fly drones and program semi-conductors; personally travelled to all of the high achieving Charters in New Jersey and above and interviewed all of the staff about best practices- I choose the Delaware Met to finish the last 3-5 years of my career.

Let me know if you still think I am unqualified. I have 1000% confidence in the team, the model and the staff to make significant changes in the opportunities for the students in our town. If you want more information, please contact me directly at susiemurphyogden@yahoo.com.

Let me see if you post this- and then I will follow with additional information.

To which I responded:

Sue, thank you for reaching out. I have to say, since all of this started with Delaware Met, you are the first person from the school to reach out to me. I emailed the President of the Board and the Head of School, both of whom I later found out have other things going on medically related. I applaud you for contacting me and commenting.

 My problem with all of this is this is an experiment. These students have been through the wringer. About 70% of the students at Del Met attended Moyer. While last year was a huge improvement for many of these students, they come from areas where all the expertise in the world do not apply when it comes to truly understanding them. I’m not saying you don’t, and your resume is certainly impressive. Do all the teachers at Del Met have a resume this extensive? Upon looking at your experience, you should probably be running the school! Seriously.

 My deepest concerns are with the leadership at the school and the board. These students don’t have time for the adults to figure it out and get it right. They should have been prepared from day one, not two months into school. I can not for the life of me fathom how they were not aware of the kinds of issues they could have with their student population. The fact there is no State Resource Officer in the school astounds me.

 I will always publish comments. I have never not published a comment unless it is an utter fabrication and lie. I prefer them to be the real person, but I accept anonymous comments as well. But I have outed one commenter who wanted to play some games with me, but that was a very unique circumstance.

 While I have your attention, this is the school’s chance to let us know what is going on there. When a school shuts down all communication, people wonder why there is a veil of silence. I will gladly listen to the story, and I’m sure my readers will want to know as well.

 Obviously there are giant issues there, otherwise the DOE would not have put a brand new charter on formal review. So please, if you are able, be the voice for this school that is so desperately needed right now.

And she came back:

“My problem with all of this is this is an experiment.”..Not true-There is not one program, process or practice that is not grounded in research that I personally have experienced as effective. I would not have voluntarily given up my job in the Prison and walked away from a pretty straight forward path to retirement if I did not believe in my heart that this Charter had assembled the best minds for solving the most difficult problems that are hurting our city and ultimately damaging everyone who is associated with the reputation of our city as Murdertown.

I spent 5 years locked in with the worst offenders under 21 and asked ” what could we have done better to have prevented you from committing your crime. ” Those young men told me their story. They started telling me about school as far back as they could remember and we talked about a way to improve their experience in school. One young man said ” you people are all talk and no action. You are not willing to come into the city and really do anything to help us.”

When he left the prison to go home he was in his cell and he said ” I love you Ms Ogden.” I said ” I love you too, be safe and don’t get shot.” Less than a week later he had 8 bullets in his head and died on the street in a pool of blood. I was pretty shook up.

I got a call from the Delaware Met and saw a connect between the Big Picture Model and everything I learned from the kids in prison. Not all of the kids at the Met are “at risk.” Many come from families with mom’s and dad’s that have great jobs. There is a very diverse population. The paradigm shift meets the needs of both the at risk kids and the kids from homes that are not at risk but want something different. There is great research behind every aspect of the model. Implementation of any new charter takes time and this is not my first rodeo with the first 60 days of a start up. Stay tuned for this Charter to fulfill the mission Charter’s were intended: To show alternatives that work – but not experiments.

This is my third Charter “start-up.”

I look forward to hearing more from Sue Ogden!

Parents Of Delaware Met Students: If You Are Having Issues, The DOE Wants To Hear From You

As most readers of this blog know, the Delaware Met is on formal review.  And the Delaware Department of Education wants to hear from you!  When a charter school in Delaware goes on formal review, there are two opportunities to be heard: a public hearing or leaving public comment on their website.  The public hearings will be November 16th and December 7th, both at 5pm, at the Carvel Building in Wilmington on the 2nd floor auditorium.  As well, you can give public comment here: https://form.jotform.com/52888685884178?

To give your public comment the weight it deserves, I highly recommend using your real name.  This is your chance to tell your story about your child’s experience with this school.  The DOE needs to hear from every single parent who is not happy with the Delaware Met.

Innovative Schools Has Not Been So Innovative With Delaware Met

Innovative Schools does many different things as a charter management organization.  For the Delaware Met, they do Human Resources, Academic, Facilities, Financial, Management Consulting, Operations, and School Models (Big Picture Learning).  For these services, Delaware Met has paid Innovative Schools around $380,000.00 just in FY 2015 alone.  At most charters, this work is handled by 2-3 people: the school leader, a principal, and a business manager.  So what does this say about Innovative Schools and the developments at Delaware Met?

Other schools Innovative Schools has been involved in with in a financial capacity are Academy of Dover, Delaware College Prep, Delaware Military Academy, Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy.  What do all these charters have in common?  Investigations by the State Auditor’s office for financial abuse, usually with procurement cards.  If Innovative Schools is keeping track of the finances at these schools, how is it all five of them have had individuals abusing finances for their own personal use in some way?  Two of the schools they handled finances for where shut down: Moyer and Reach.  I truly believe the DOE and the State Auditor’s office may want to take a very strong look at Innovative Schools and what role they have played in Delaware charter schools.

For Delaware Met, it seems more and more like Innovative Schools is running the board, not the other way around the way it should be.  Don’t be fooled, Innovative Schools is making all of the decisions.  We can’t just blame Delaware Met, Innovative Schools has played an even bigger role in the failure of this charter that just opened two months ago.  Why is there no School Resource Officer in the school even though it is budgeted in to their 2016 budget?  That could solve a lot of the issues there.  What is Innovative Schools doing?  It seems as if they are holding the school hostage and limiting what they can do.  If the school needs them, Innovative Schools makes more money, pure and simple.

Delaware DOE Responds To Current Discipline Issues At Delaware Met

Yesterday, I wrote an article about some very concerning events at Delaware Met.  I emailed the Delaware Department of Education about these concerns, along with legislators, Governor Markell, and Attorney General Matt Denn.  State Rep. Paul Baumbach asked the DOE to look at the amount of in-school suspensions as well to which Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman responded today:


From: Blowman David <david.blowman@DOE.K12.DE.US>
To:
Baumbach Paul <paul.baumbach@state.de.us>; Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Cc:
Nagourney Jennifer <Jennifer.Nagourney@doe.k12.de.us>; Godowsky Steven <Steven.Godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Markell Jack <jack.markell@state.de.us>; O’Mara Lindsay <lindsay.omara@state.de.us>; Denn Matthew <matthew.denn@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Kowalko John <john.kowalko@state.de.us>; Matthews Sean <sean.matthews@state.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>; Haberstroh Susan Keene <susan.haberstroh@doe.k12.de.us>; Young Shana <Shana.Young@doe.k12.de.us>; Carwell John <john.carwell@doe.k12.de.us>; Whalen Michelle <Michelle.Whalen@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Friday, October 23, 2015 2:32 PM
Subject:
RE: Delaware Met

Representative Baumbach,

DOE staff visited Delaware Met yesterday afternoon to investigate the alleged violations of students rights.  Below is a summary of their observations relative to the specific allegations reported by Mr. Ohlandt:

  • Hiring prison guards – The school has hired four new support staff to help address the school’s climate issues.  They began working at the school on Monday. Two of these individuals have backgrounds in juvenile corrections and currently serve a number of Delaware Met students in external community based programs. 
  • Multiple suspensions – It appears that the school is attempting to be more consistent with holding students accountable to the code of conduct which might explain a spike in suspensions. The exact number of suspensions will be verified.
  • Inappropriate student confinements – There was no evidence of inappropriate student confinements. DDOE staff observed the In School Suspension (ISS) room.   There were 2-3 students in the room. 

DOE will continue to monitor the school and investigate potential violations of the school’s charter through the formal review process. 

Many thanks, David



My biggest concern is how special education and IEPs are being implemented with fidelity at Delaware Met.  And as I wrote earlier today, there seems to be confusion with their Code of Conduct, discipline efforts, and their Restorative Justice approach.  In essence, I’m sure there is a lot we aren’t being told about what the exact nature is of the offenses students are committing that warrant suspension.  From what I am hearing from Blowman, the school may be administering a type of zero-tolerance program in an attempt to instill order in the school.  I do not think that is viable solution, nor is it a positive long-term action.  It takes more students out of the classroom and away from education.  I have not seen anything coming from this school to indicate they are making the best decisions or even know how to.  But can parents of suspended students afford to wait until the State Board of Education makes a decision in mid-December?  And even then, if they ultimately wind up deciding to revoke the school’s charter, it would not be until the end of the school year.  How much damage can happen until then?

As well, I have heard numerous references to “gang-related” activity, both from third parties and the DOE’s own Formal Review notification letter.  I don’t believe the DOE is equipped as a state agency to handle that type of thing and it may take the Delaware Attorney General’s office getting involved to gage what is truly going on with that aspect of events.

I also have to wonder how well the staff is at dealing with these types of matters.  From what I am hearing, the bulk of the teachers are new.  Do they have the necessary training and development to be able to deal with defiance from students?  Does the administration?  And for that matter, who is running the school?  Is it Sean Gallagher who already has a full-time role as the Executive Director of Leadership at Innovative Schools for the Delaware Leadership Project?  Or is it his intern who Gallagher stated at their 9/28 board meeting would run the “day-to-day” details of the school?  And why has no one questioned the apparent conflict of interest with being paid by both Innovative Schools and the school that makes payments to Innovative Schools?

This culture of silence emanating from the school and their lack of transparency is highly troubling.  Two board members left (which are not changed on their web site), no staff are listed on their website, and no board minutes have been released since their 9/23 meeting even though they have had three board meetings since then (their “special board meetings” on 9/28 and 10/12 and their regular monthly board meeting on 10/21).  We don’t know what their current student enrollment is or even how many students have been suspended in the two months since the school opened.  I’m sure answers will come at the November 4th meeting of the Charter School Accountability Committee meeting for Delaware Met’s formal review, but that may be little comfort to students and their parents who want answers now.

Delaware Met & Their Code Of Conduct: Circle Time Won’t Solve Some Of The Issues

The Delaware Met’s code of conduct is very confusing.  While it states they are using restorative justice, I am not hearing about it actually being used.  Restorative justice is defined as examining the harm done to an individual or a group and using that in lieu of punishment.  This sounds good in theory, but certain actions will still warrant suspension or other disciplinary measures.

Where it gets very tricky is if the student may not agree to the harm done to others.  If a student believes someone else started something, and they reacted (even if the reaction was stronger than the previous action), they may not see it as completely being their fault.  Where Delaware Met is most likely having issues (if they are even following this philosophy) would be what happens after the student disagrees with the restorative justice discussion.  The student may be suspended for additional days.  Where this becomes a bigger mess is if the student has an IEP.  Federal IDEA law states that if a student is suspended for ten days (whether from one punishment or cumulative punishments), a manifestation determination hearing must occur.  The purpose of this is to determine whether the behavior or actions are a manifestation of the student’s disability.

A parent commented on an article from yesterday about her daughter being out of school for a month.  The shenanigans stemming from this are not surprising given everything I have heard about this school.  Even the Delaware DOE is not seeing restorative justice happening at Delaware Met.  Even more concerning are allegations of “confinement”.  Whether that is an in-school suspension or some other type of disciplinary measure is yet to be determined, but those in authority in the state are looking into this.

To read Delaware Met’s code of conduct, please read the below document:

Delaware Met, The Commitment To Stay One Year, & Good Cause To Pull Your Child Out

As parents have been trying to pull their children out of Delaware Met, some are being told they cannot because they signed an agreement to stay with the school for one year.  What they may not be telling the parents are certain circumstances that override this part of the charter school law.

From Title 14 of the Delaware Code, paragraph 402:

 (2) ”Good cause” shall mean a change in a child’s residence due to a change in family residence, a change in the state in which the family residence is located, a change in a child’s parent’s marital status, a change caused by a guardianship proceeding, placement of a child in foster care, adoption, participation by a child in a foreign exchange program, a reported and recorded instance of “bullying” against their child as defined in § 4112D of this title, or participation by a child in a substance abuse or mental health treatment program, or a set of circumstances consistent with this definition of “good cause.”

I would definitely say with what I am hearing about this school, there would be multiple circumstances that would allow a parent to utilize the “good cause” part of this law.  If any parent feels the school is violating the civil rights of their child, whether it is through discipline or special education treatment, please contact Allison Reardon at the Delaware Department of Justice.  She is in the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust.  Her phone number is 302-577-5400.  The Attorney General’s office can not do anything if information is conveyed to them from a 3rd party.  They need to hear directly from parents or guardians, or even students.  If the school is pressuring parents to keep their children there, they may not be within the legal bounds to do so.

In the meantime, I want to thank the Delaware DOE and the Delaware DOJ for taking these concerns seriously.  Nothing is more paramount than the safety of our children.