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.
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.
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…