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…

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Great Oaks Charter Charging $100 A Seat To Hear Joel Klein Talk About Education

I really had to crack up when I saw this.  For those of you who have never heard of Joel Klein, he is the former New York City Chancellor of Schools and currently sits as the Chief Executive Officer for Amplify.  Amplify has been in the news quite a bit lately as the company tanked in spectacular fashion and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch dropped Amplify like a bad habit.  Klein likes to claim credit for reforming NYC schools, but he was appointed as Chancellor without the credentials necessary for that role and no classroom experience.  His huge offering from Amplify?  A tablet that caught fire and only one state bought it in mass quantities.

This isn’t his first rodeo in Delaware.  He spoke at a Vision 2015 gig back in 2010, also a gotta pay to get in event.  Weeks prior to that, the New York Times reported Klein chickened out from speaking during a protest by parents.  Why were the parents upset?  New York Times wrote:

The upheaval began after Mr. Klein, among others on the stage, said that despite the drop in this year’s scores after the state recalibrated its standardized exams, students citywide were still making substantial progress, based on graduation rates and other data.

Say, didn’t we hear something very similar this month in Delaware when the Smarter Balanced Assessment results were released?  But I digress…

What is Klein’s connections with Greak Oaks?  Because we know there is always a connection in the corporate education reform game.  He knows the Great Oaks founder, Michael Duffy, very well.  Duffy ran the NYC Charter School Office from 2007-2010 when Klein was Chancellor.  And Duffy probably knows Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman pretty well, because they both worked under former Massachusetts Governor William Weld back in the 1990s.  I bring up Herdman because Rodel is really promoting this gig.

Great Oaks is a charter chain with schools in NYC and Newark, NJ.  They opened a charter in Wilmington last month.  What is Great Oaks all about?  Technology in the classroom, personalized learning, and modeling themselves after a failed chain of schools from Sweden.  In an article for The Spectator, Duffy wrote:

On my most recent visit to the UK, I visited a school in Twickenham run by the innovative Swedish network of schools known as Kunskapsskolan (‘knowledge school’). Their approach is to tailor education to each child, with goals set between the student, a tutor and the child’s parents.

I wrote about this huge school voucher privatization failure in Sweden last year.  And take a wild guess which school chain was at the top of the list of these failed schools?  Kunskapsskolan!

Klein is coming to town to promote his book, Lessons of Hope.  It is all about his time as NYC Chancellor.  I wonder who wrote this description of the book on Amazon?

Lessons of Hope is Klein’s inside account of his eight-year mission of improvement: demanding accountability, eliminating political favoritism, and battling a powerful teachers union that seemed determined to protect a status quo that didn’t work for kids. Klein’s initiatives resulted in more school choice, higher graduation rates, and improved test scores. The New York City model is now seen as a national standard for meaningful school reform. But the journey was not easy. Klein faced resistance and conflict at every turn.

And what of Klein’s connections with our very own Delaware Governor Jack Markell?  We know they have met before and even though Klein and Markell never email each other, at least through official state channels, it’s obvious they have the same ideals.  As Markell publicly stated during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “I have no problem with business executives running for office, after all, I am one.”  And apparently running the schools for one of the largest cities in the country thrives on that same business executive mentality.  But Klein left his role (it was rumored then Mayor Bloomberg was about to boot him out), and went to start up Amplify.  And even though Amplify is in the midst of financial controversy, the Delaware Department of Education seems to have no problem handing them money.  Between Amplify and their former name of Wireless Generation, Delaware taxpayers through the DOE have given this company $11,530,850.00 since Fiscal Year 2011 and it doesn’t look like that is going to stop anytime soon since many schools are currently using Amplify’s latest testing products.

Back to Great Oaks, this new charter school in the Community Education Building in Wilmington, is run by Kia Childs who was a leader at Mastery Charter Schools and Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School.  Touting the school as bringing kids to success by using tutors, Duffy talks about the school here:

In a very odd coincidence, both Great Oaks and Freire opened up shop in Wilmington this year.  They are both charter chains.  They are both backed by some serious cash.  And neither of them show up as schools on Delaware Online Checkbook.  Is it because they are new schools?  Nope.  Delaware Design Lab High School is listed.  So how can you find out how much money these schools are paying out?  To do that, you have to actually go to “Dept of Education continued” to find Great Oaks Charter School and Freire.  I guess that answer’s this question concerning Delaware Online Checkbook, DOE, and Great Oaks.  How convenient…

But in the case of Klein’s not-so-cheap visit to Great Oaks, interested attendees have to pay the piper to hear him talk about a book about himself.  But don’t worry educators, it’s only $25 for you!  Should a public school be able to charge outrageous prices to hear a guy stroke his ego?  And where are the proceeds going? In Klein’s pocket or into the classroom to help the children of the school?  This event is to “celebrate the launch of our school”, but it sounds like what should be a free and public event is for the Richy Rich crowd.

Fellow blogger Kilroy was not happy about Klein’s first visit to Delaware back in 2010 during another Rodel sponsored event when the tickets were only $50.00.  How will he react now that the price has doubled in five years?  You don’t have to pay $100 to hear Klein pimp his book though.  You can watch it here, if you have the stomach for it:

Hey, did you see that sign behind him?  Is that the Aspen Institute?  The same corporate education reform “fellowship” “think-tank” Markell, Herdman and soon to be former Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy all belong to?  Yes, they all pal around together, our little destroyers of public education!