State Board of Education Approved Modifications For DAPSS, DE Design-Lab, First State Montessori, & Prestige Academy

The Delaware State Board of Education approved all the major modifications that came across their table last Thursday. The charter schools involved either raised or lowered their enrollment numbers with their modification applications.

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security got rid of 8th grade and lowered their enrollment numbers to 330 for the 2016-2017 school year with increased enrollment of 375 by the 2020-2021 school year to keep them as a 9th to 12th grade school.

Delaware Design-Lab High School also lowered their enrollment, but they will be adding 11th grade next year as per their original charter application. Their growth is a bit more aggressive with 350 students in 9th-11th grade for 2016-2017, 475 for 2017-2018 when they add 12th grade, and up to 600 by 2019-2020.

First State Montessori Academy, who will be taking over the former Delaware Met building next door to them, was approved to add a middle school with students in 6th to 8th grade. Their enrollment for 2016-2017 must be 430 students in Kindergarten to 6th grade and by 2021-2022 they must have 654 students in K-8.

Prestige Academy is now a 6th to 8th grade school instead of a 5th to 8th middle school, and their enrollment has been lowered to 240 from the 2016-2017 school year and every year proceeding that.

Odyssey Charter School had a modification approved without the consent of the State Board of Education since it was considered a minor modifications. Their modification surrounded enrollment with increases less than 15%. Odyssey’s approved enrollment includes their high school which will make them a K-12 school by the 2019-2020 year. Both Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Charter School had similar minor modifications approved in February by Secretary Godowsky with no grade level changes.

With the charter moratorium for Wilmington still in effect from House Bill 56, no new charter schools can apply for a Wilmington location. But that doesn’t seem to stop the existing schools from tweaking their numbers. Many First State Montessori parents wanted the change, but some folks submitted public comment around their enrollment preferences and were worried this could create more bias in the school. Prestige and Delaware Design-Lab were both on probation due to low enrollment figures last year. Their will still be many charter school enrollment changes next school year based on these approvals. More students in flux around Wilmington is not, in my opinion, a way to stabilize the situation with constant student movement in the city. If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan is approved by the 148 General Assembly, it will create even more flux with students as Christina’s Wilmington schools become a part of the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Charter Modification Update: DAPSS, DE Design-Lab & First State Montessori Get Thumbs Up From DOE

Grand_Central_Station_Inside

Three of the five charters that submitted major modification requests to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education got the green light today.  The Charter School Accountability Committee held their final meetings with the three schools today.  All three received a recommendation of approval from the committee.  The State Board of Education will make the final decision at their March meeting.

Two other schools that submitted major mods have meetings tomorrow with the CSAC.  Prestige Academy has their last meeting and Academia Antonia Alonso has their first.  Another school, Odyssey Charter School, submitted a minor modification for enrollment changes but Secretary of Education Godowsky exercised his authority to give them the CSAC treatment.  They also meet with the CSAC tomorrow.

Should the State Board approve all these modifications, many students will be in flux next year.  First State Montessori will increase their enrollment significantly.  Two other charters submitted minor modifications for up to 15% increases: Great Oaks and Kuumba Academy.  They only need Secretary approval and not the State Board.  Prestige, Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, and Delaware Design-Lab will decrease their enrollment.  Academia Antonia Alonso will actually move their location from the Community Education Building.  This is on top of Delaware Met closing in January and Delaware College Prep closing at the end of this school year.  In December, Red Clay’s board approved a modification for Delaware Military Academy to start increasing their enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year.  Who needs a freeze on new charter applications when the Delaware DOE becomes Grand Central Station for Wilmington charter school students?

First State Montessori Academy Enrollment Preference Arguments Heat Up

 

fsma-icons

On Saturday, I published an article concerning First State Montessori Academy’s major modification request to increase their enrollment and add middle school grades.  To say this has been controversial would be an understatement.  Public Comment, whether it was on this blog or through the official public comment channel on the DOE Charter School Office website.  Last night, the Public Hearing for First State Montessori’s major modification request was held.  When the transcript from the hearing becomes available I will put it up here.

At their December 2nd board meeting, First State Montessori talked about forming a committee to explore the option of increasing their enrollment and adding extra grades.  The board passed a motion to increase their enrollment by 5-15%.  School leader Courtney Fox said they would have to get a major modification request to the DOE by 12/31/15.  What is very interesting here is the school leader’s mention of the Delaware Met building next to them, at 920 N. French St.  While she doesn’t come out and say it, it is obvious the school is assuming Delaware Met would be closed.  The board doesn’t even mention the possibility of adding middle school grades at this point in time either, only adding more Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms.  As well, Fox, who is NOT a member of the board, announces a future meeting to discuss the possibility of the modification request and increasing their enrollment.  Why did the board not vote on this?  Does Fox run the board as well as the school?

On December 19th, an agenda for a 12/28/15 board meeting was put up on their website.  It indicated their would be an update on the Exploring Expansion Committee.  One would assume the board voted at that meeting on their major modification request and to add middle school grades.  By this time, the announcement by the State Board of Education over Del Met’s closure was old news.  Three days after Christmas is a very odd time to have a board meeting.  While the board did do the right thing in putting up the agenda at least a week prior to the meeting, how much ability was there for members of the public to know about this meeting and potentially weigh in on the topic?  On the flip side, the State Board voted on the charter revocation for Del Met on 12/16 so the school had to see what would happen with that decision before moving forward.  But I still find it ironic there is no definitive plan set in motion earlier in December to add middle school grades to the school and all of a sudden it materializes in their major modification request submitted on 12/30/15.

This is merely conjecture on my part, but we already know the DOE suggested DAPSS submit a major modification request instead of a minor modification request.  How much input should the DOE have in suggesting modification requests to Delaware charter schools?  And what of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network who seems to be a intermediary between charter schools and the Delaware DOE?  I will be very upfront and say something really doesn’t smell right here.  And with all these modification requests coming from charter schools how can we be sure this could not somehow influence the State Board of Education’s vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan?

In the meantime, check out what folks had to say about this hot topic:

“J” said:

Kevin, the interest in Montessori thing is as easy as taking a tour or even talking for a moment to someone from the school in the community. They are at the expo and other events. Have held info sessions at local libraries, etc. It’s easy. The Montessori model is very different. There are mixed grade classrooms, no traditional desks, no traditional homework packets. Very different and something that families and students should be aware of. “Interest” in this case is awareness of the differences, that’s all.
Ask about it – learn about it. Heck, e mail me. This doesn’t cherry pick anything.

Eve Buckley said:

The questions raised in the final comment have been asked since FSMA opened. According to DOE’s “school profiles” for this school year, FSMA students are 65% white and 8% low-income. The two districts surrounding it are 44% white, 35% low-income (Red Clay) and 32% white, 41% low-income (Christina); those figures include suburban regions with less poverty than the city. So FSMA could clearly be doing more to attract and retain a student population more reflective of its surrounding communities (or even of the countywide student population). No pressure in that direction from its authorizer?
Note that Cab and Newark Charter, also very popular “choice” options, also have low-income % around 8. That seems to be the sweet spot for appealing to middle class public school consumers in the area (if you can’t achieve the 2% attained via testing by CSW).

Mike O said:

For families who “choose not to apply” to charters such as NCS or Montessori, I am sure many don’t even realize those are public schools their child is eligible for. Which is how you get to 8% low income without testing

jane s said:

it’s especially sad to see this happening at an elementary school. the goal should be to give children the best start possible regardless of their background. this could be a place that helps children enter middle school and high school on equal ground, but instead it’s just adding to the divide. nothing will change if people don’t speak out.

Eve Buckley said:

I agree! It is really sad–waste of an opportunity.

jenn said:

hi. i think the practices of fsma are fair and comprehensive. interest becomes a priority only because the montessori method is not of interest to everyone, much like a dual-language school like aspira is not of high-priority to many families. if you are to apply to fsma, because it’s a school in your neighborhood, without carrying any interest in montessori principles, then how detrimental will that student be in the classroom? (in terms of congruence, not as a human!) i do not know why the five-mile radius is not ‘more of a priority’, but i believe the admissions process does indeed actively reach out to all areas throughout delaware. it just depends on who researches montessori/has experience with it, and who thinks it is an important addition to the learning process. shown by the small number of montessori schools across the country, and the small classroom size within those schools, one can only surmise that is it not a hot topic among majority of families in delaware or beyond, regardleses of SES, ethnicity or neighborhood. we are ultimately creatures of comfort, and stick to the path most traveled. a school like this, or any other magnet, charter, votech, etc has enrollment because of interest and the desire to trek the brambly, gravel path. please see the good nature of such schools. i know it doesn’t sell like trash-talking does, but in a society deprived of an identity, the journey to recreating one for delaware schools could stand to be a lot less hotheaded. thank you.

John Young said:

No idea who Jenn is, but maybe she should join that sorry CSAC team which appears to olnly authorize losing propositions in DE Charterland. Bet it would be a great fit for a truly dysfunctional organization.

Natalie Ganc said:

I think that a stipulation should be put on all of these charter schools claiming that their school panders to their geographical radius: They should have to go pound-the-pavement (pamphlet in hand) to educate their neighbors to inform them of all of the benefits their child will receive if they choose to enroll. I say this, because I am quite certain that the folks living in the high-poverty areas have no idea what some charter schools are all about.

And from the official public comment section on the DOE website:

 

The Marcia Brady Charter Leader & Her Swell School

The first time I experienced the Marcia Brady of Delaware was at the House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50 last spring.  She spoke in opposition to the bill to the ire of many parents and teachers across Delaware.  Courtney Fox is the Head of School at First State Montessori Academy.  As the below Charter School Accountability Committee report shows, this school can do no wrong.  Marcia Brady, the oldest sister on the Brady Bunch, could also do no wrong.  This caused her younger sisters to envy and disdain her.  Such is the way of Delaware education at times.  There is always a bright star in the crowd.  And the comments from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wanted to make me heave!  But is all it appears to be at the groovy school?  Below is CSAC’s initial report, followed by a very interesting letter from a company I’ve written about before on here, and finally the public comments received for this modification request to increase their enrollment and to take over the Del Met building.  The last public comment raises some serious eyebrows, including my own…

Downtown First State Montessori & Great Oaks Look To Expand While DAPSS & Prestige Academy Look To Shrink

Four charter schools in New Castle County submitted requests for modifications last month.  Two are looking to get bigger while two want to get smaller.  The two that want to expand are in the heart of downtown Wilmington while the two that want to shrink do not have the benefit of having the key downtown locations.

FIRST STATE MONTESSORI ACADEMY

First State Montessori Academy wants to become a K-8 school in 2016-2017.  The shocking news in all this?  They wrote about their intention to use the building Delaware Met resides in until January 22nd.  The location is actually perfect if their modification request is approved.  Aside from boiler issues, the building is already conducive to older students.  The school is currently K-8, but they found they were losing a lot of 5th grade students so they could acclimate to the middle school environment.  By going through 8th grade, this would eliminate that problem.

GREAT OAKS CHARTER SCHOOL

Great Oaks submitted a minor modification request to increase their enrollment by 25 students for the 2016-2017 school year.  Their request shows that interim Smarter Balanced Assessments given to students are showing modest gains for students.  The school is reporting NO violent incidents at the school whatsoever.  In their application, Great Oaks indicated they are only using half of their designated space in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.

DELAWARE ACADEMY OF PUBLIC SAFETY & SECURITY (DAPSS)

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security submitted a major modification request to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office on December 10th.  They want to decrease their enrollment from their charter approved 480 students to 375 students, a reduction of 22%.  What makes this very interesting is the fact other charter schools in Delaware have been placed on formal review for not having 80% of their approved enrollment in their charter. DAPSS has not met their approved enrollment figures for the past two years.  The DOE looks at formal review status for charters if they fall below 80% of their approved enrollment based on the financial viability of the school.

According to the information submitted by DAPSS to the Charter School Office, their enrollment last year was 363, which put them at 76% of their approved enrollment.  This year, the school lost 60 students and currently stand at 303 students.  This is less than 64% of their approved enrollment.  My biggest question would be why they were not put on formal review last year or this year based on this information.

For their performance framework, the school was labeled as “Does Not Meet Standard” for their organizational framework three out of the last four academic years, in 11-12, 12-13, and 14-15.  For their financial framework, they were labeled as “Falls Far Below Standard” in 11-12, 13-14, and 14-15 and “Does Not Meet Standard” in 12-13.  Once again, they have not been placed on formal review for their very negative ratings on the State Board of Education approved Charter School Performance Framework.

PRESTIGE ACADEMY

Like DAPSS, Prestige Academy wants to lower their enrollment, but they were put on formal review for this last spring along with academic concerns.  As the only all-boys charter school in Delaware, Prestige Academy appears to be have been held under the microscope by the DOE quite a bit compared to DAPSS.  The charter school is looking to drop 5th grade and would be middle school only, serving students in 6th-8th grade.

IMPACTS

All of this charter shuffling, if approved by Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and the State Board of Education at their March meeting, comes at a curious time.  With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Wilmington students (aside from Colonial) into Red Clay, this is a lot of movement for one city’s students.  While House Bill 56 put a freeze on new charter applications in Wilmington for a few years or until the state can come up with a plan for all the charters in Wilmington, the existing ones look to capitalize on this and change their enrollment numbers to maximize the benefits for their growth (or shrinkage in two of these situations).  It is actually very strategic on their part.

The downside to this would be the effect it has on the surrounding school districts, especially in the case of First State Montessori Academy.  As a school that gets the bulk of their students from Christina School District, this could have a very debilitating effect on the already struggling school district.  It is my contention House Bill 56 should have put a freeze on modifications like this as well, but at the same time preventing any charter school from going on formal review for low enrollment due to so many changes going on in Wilmington education.

The 920 N. French Street building is certainly up for grabs.  I wrote a post last month that Las Americas ASPIRA Academy was looking at the location last month as well.  First State Montessori would be using part of the building next year.  Innovative Schools would be in some deep financial straits if they didn’t line up a tenant for this property right away.  I have to wonder how that works with rent for Delaware Met.  I assume they signed their sub-lease with Innovative Schools for a designated time period.  Will that contract cease as of January 22nd or in the weeks afterwards as the school closes down operations or are they on the hook until June 30th?

Only one new approved charter school will open up in the 2016-2017 school year, Delaware STEM Academy.  They will begin with 150 9th grade students, hoping to reach 600 students a few years after that.  I am not aware of their current enrollment figures for their first year.  The school choice window closes tomorrow.  As required by state law, the school will need to be at 80% of their enrollment by April 1st to prevent a formal review for financial viability.  While they escaped from formal review status last Spring, Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School had major issues with their enrollment figures.  They eventually met the 80% figures but not without some major angst along the way.  Wilmington is a hot mess with far too many schools, in my humble opinion.  I would have to think this was not State Rep. Charles Potter’s intention when he submitted the legislation for the charter school application freeze…

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.