Delaware’s First State Military Academy did a 180 degree turn on their special education services for students with disabilities. For those who believe I hate all charter schools, this is not the case. What I am against is bad decisions by some in the charter community as well as traditional school districts. I have seen some charters who did very bad things manage to do an awesome turnaround. I’ve also seen charters do really great and then see them fall apart. And then there are those charters who are bad and manage to continue their downward spiral. There are some I don’t write anything bad about because there is nothing bad about them.
First State Military Academy just opened last August. Located in Smyrna, the new charter had some special education issues in the beginning of the year. After an initial special education director resigned, and a replacement didn’t work out as planned, the school had to get it together. The school already had a higher than normal special education population. Getting IEPs together for a large influx of students with disabilities, along with opening a new school, has to be a harrowing effort. To that effect, the school hired a former special education teacher from the John Charlton School in the Caesar Rodney School District.
Since then, I’ve heard from multiple sources the school is offering top-notch special education services. One of their biggest challenges was the handling of student accommodations with a technology-based curriculum. For example, IEPs or 504 plans could have an accommodation where a student is only expected to do half of an assignment. In Math, instead of doing 20 problems, they only do 10. When you have a computer doing the scoring, it would take a massive amount of computer code to change existing programs. The school found a way to work around this and make sure students with accommodations are taken into account with the scoring. This allows the students to receive a more accurate grade based on their special education needs.
I’ve also heard IEP meetings are excellent at First State Military Academy. The difference between when they first opened last year and today are night and day. The meetings are organized, the teachers are on board, and parents are much happier.
I’ve heard from many folks about how great Commandant Patrick Galluci and School Instructional Leader Dr. John Epstein are. It looks like they are living up to this reputation. I’m happy the school not only identified their prior special education issues but also acted on them. Doing the right thing is what most of us want. If I am constantly bashing on certain charter schools in Delaware, there are valid reasons for that. Special education is near and dear to me and good news deserves a shout-out!
Because of the very nature of charter schools in Delaware, information about them is much easier to find through the Delaware Department of Education website and other sources. I have written about traditional school districts quite a bit as well on this blog. Most of my issues with Delaware charters surround their enrollment preferences and financial transparency. If I can find something out from their website or through Google, that’s an issue. But the biggest source of information, when it comes to good news, comes from the parents. I am always happy to publish the good stuff as well as the bad. If you know something great going on, let me know. I won’t bite! Unless it is to spread any type of love about standardized testing. You won’t find any support from me on that one!
Looks like Delaware Met isn’t the only brand new charter school to open this year that is having problems. Turns out First State Military Academy in Kent County is feeling major opening pains as well. First State Military Academy (FSMA) picked the Innovative Schools inspired “New Tech Network” for their model. You would think with a technology-based program the school would have computers for all the kids. Nope, they are thirty short. Oops! Innovative Schools website describes this “New Tech Network as:
New Tech Network (NTN) is a non-profit school development organization that works with districts to build and sustain innovative K-12 public schools. NTN works to create a rigourous and engaging school experience that features the intense use of Project-Based Learning and technology to establish a positive and engaging school culture. In the seventeen years since its founding, the network has grown to 133 K-12 schools in twenty-three states and Australia. Innovative Schools has established partnerships with schools like Delaware New Tech Academy in Seaford and First State Military Academy in Clayton, to help bring the first New Tech Network model schools to Delaware. Learn More About New Tech
But the bigger problem has to do with special education. When FSMA opened they received forty students with disabilities. As a new school and students that transferred, the school has to redo all those IEPs. They have one dual-certified teacher to handle all forty of these students on top of being the one to handle all these IEPs. And here is the kicker- they have to be completed by October 30th. In five days! What is it with these charter schools that don’t anticipate large populations of special needs students? The state average is 13% and rising. Like Delaware Met, they didn’t count on this at all. It comes with the package, and the State Board of Education, the Charter School Office and the Exceptional Children Resources Group should be making sure all new charters have their ducks in a row with this kind of thing.
With this revelation coming out, I feel obligated to reveal a story I wrote about FSMA in the summer, but I never named the school. Yes, this was the school that had a special education coordinator that pretended to be on the IEP Task Force last year. This coordinator quit before school started. I wonder why?
As well, I’m hearing several students are having a VERY difficult time with the curriculum at this school. Some are failing. While these issues aren’t at the level Delaware Met is having, I would say they are very serious. Time to add another one to the pile Delaware DOE?
The other day I wrote on article on First State Military Academy’s application for a Charter School Performance Fund. In this article, whoever wrote the application referred to the school’s location being in Camden, DE. This WAS A TECHNICAL ERROR. The school is located in Clayton, DE, as it was always scheduled to be. My apologies for my comments associated with this in the article, but many new charters have switched locations prior to opening, so it didn’t seem like a stretch for this to occur again. I have updated the article to take out this part.
Another school that hasn’t even opened yet applying for more money! Based on performance! Yay! Another school promoting this New Tech Network system. The other one was Delaware STEM Academy. Okay, they are on my radar now.. And we have more salaries as part of this application…
So if they want to enroll in this network their curriculum is essentially based on, but this would only cover the first year, what happens next year? Cause you can’t get this award two years in a row…
I would think a military-based school would have already bought a $2000 sound system to bark orders at kids, but no, that’s included in here as well…
UPDATED, 7/1/15, 1:19pm: I took out the part in my write-up concerning the change in location of this school to Camden, Delaware. This was a technical error on the applicant’s part, and the school is in Clayton, at the same location it has always been. My apologies for any concerns about this!