State Board of Education Unanimously Votes To Put Odyssey Charter School On Probation

In a unanimous vote, the Delaware State Board of Education placed Odyssey Charter School on probation until June 30th, 2020.  The main takeaway of their probation conditions is removing AHEPA control of their Board of Directors.  This includes all organizations associated with AHEPA as outlined in the below Delaware Department of Education press release based on Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting’s recommendations.

State Board of Education Vice-President Dr. Audrey Noble gave an impassioned speech prior to the vote urging the entire Odyssey Community, including AHEPA, to come together and become unified for the benefit of the school.  She also said she read every single public comment and urged those who supported AHEPAn control of the board to realize their voice was heard but wants the community to come together whether AHEPA has control or not.

Head of School Denise Parks and Board President Josiah Wolcott gave public comment after the vote expressing their thoughts on what a fantastic school Odyssey is.  Wolcott said their board will put together a committee to review the probation clauses.  But the public comment by board member Tami Soltow expressed immense gratitude to the State Board for their decision.  She thanked the board for holding the board accountable and said the students of Odyssey are the most important.

Secretary of Education Susan Bunting today placed Odyssey Charter School on probation until June 30, 2020, allowing the school to remain open only if the school’s board makes changes and recovers funds spent inappropriately, among other changes.

Last month the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) recommended placing Odyssey Charter School on probation, requiring conditions be met for the school to retain its charter. Bunting reviewed the committee’s reports, the school’s responses, transcripts of two public hearings and the submitted public comments before making her decision. The State Board of Education assented to her decision in a unanimous vote.

The school has until December to make substantial progress on the conditions, a timeline that is in line with the school’s charter renewal application that begins this fall. Conditions may be included as part of a charter renewal.

Odyssey Charter School was placed on formal review this spring due to governance issues. Tonight, Bunting placed the school’s charter on probation with the following conditions:

-Odyssey’s board revise its bylaws such that

o The majority of members are not members of the AHEPA Family organizations.

o A nominating committee consisting of only the non-AHEPA Family board members nominates potential future non-AHEPA Family board members for the non-AHEPA Family board member vacancies and appoints them through a fair and transparent nomination/selection process.

o AHEPA Family may select its members in its own process that may or may not be open to the public and may or may not include individuals who are not members of AHEPA Family organizations, but AHEPA Family members must be appointed by the AHEPA Family in a manner that provides gender balance among AHEPA Family members.

o Odyssey board officer positions will be annually nominated from the floor; any Odyssey board member will be eligible to be an officer, and each board member has the equal right to nominate and vote for officers unless recused due to conflict of interest.

o A process will be established to nominate and elect from the board each year a vice-president/president-elect who serves one year and serves automatically as president the next.

o The office of president will annually rotate between AHEPA Family and non-AHEPA Family.

o Committee members and committee chairs will be selected and approved by the board in a fair and transparent process, and members/chairs will be reconfirmed at least annually by the board.

o Any authority previously granted under current Article V (Contracts, Checks, Deposits and Funds) Section 1 (Contracts) will be revoked/nullified, and the reconstituted board may grant new authorization if needed.

o The procedure to amend the bylaws will contain a provision to introduce the amendment and vote on the amendment in two separate meetings of the board on different days at least 14 calendar days apart.

o Proposed amendments will be publicized among the Odyssey board, staff and families in writing at least seven days prior to introduction or voting.

o Out-of-state travel funded fully or partially using Odyssey funds, whether directly paid by Odyssey or reimbursed with funds under Odyssey control, will be approved by the board prior to travel.

o As a result of the conflict of interest provisions, AHEPA Family members will be explicitly required to recuse themselves from matters directly impacting AHEPA Family organizations.

-Odyssey Charter School shall recover the following sums spent in a manner inconsistent with the charter:

o $1,597.59 for the AHEPA Conference in Atlantic City, NJ paid out of Odyssey funds

o $91,487.69 used to establish and operate the Ithaka corporation from Odyssey funds

-Odyssey will undergo an investigatory audit with scope of work approved by the Delaware Department of Education and the Auditor of Accounts Office at Odyssey’s expense with any findings to be repaid as recommended by the Auditor of Accounts. The firm must be independent of the auditing firm that does the annual audit of the school and the audit must be complete by January 1, 2020.

-Odyssey will develop a plan for how to improve communication and trust between the board and the Odyssey community, including staff and families.

– Odyssey will develop a plan to strengthen the capacity of its Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee and increase its access to information.

-Odyssey board representatives and DOE representatives will meet at least once a month to discuss
and evaluate progress toward meeting these conditions with jointly written reports sent to the Secretary and State Board.

Odyssey Charter School is a 1,800-student school that serves students in elementary through high school. It is located on Lancaster Pike in Wilmington.

Find more information, including all related documents, on Odyssey’s formal review here.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006
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Poll: What Will Happen With Odyssey Charter School Tonight?

AHEPA Member Harasses Odyssey Whistle Blower Over Formal Review, Today Last Day For Public Comment

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At the final Public Hearing for Odyssey Charter School’s formal review, public comment was given by Jennifer Ballas indicating a prominent member of the AHEPA organization publicly harassed her at Odyssey’s last public board meeting after she spoke out against AHEPA.

After I spoke at the last public board meeting, I was attacked by AHEPA member who threatened and tried to intimidate me, and things that Mr. Manny Kanas, who used to be AHEPA Board President, said, I was a loud mouth, disrespectful, rude piece of useless flesh that is a total puppet to Dr. Nick.  He told me I was stupid.  And he wanted me to go away.  And that the cat had my tongue, even though I did not have the time to quickly respond to him.  And that scorned women are the worst.

It can be tough to be a whistle blower.  You put yourself in the direct path of those who don’t like change.  Who don’t like the truth coming out.  This Manny Kanas person who used his bully pulpit in an attempt to humiliate and intimidate a woman who is devoted to the success of children at Odyssey, is a coward.  A pathetic man who is clearly all about control and holding onto a relic of the past that is not welcome in the 21st Century.  I have nothing against the concept of AHEPA.  I don’t have any issue with any group or culture formed to promote education.  What I do take issue is what the Wilmington chapter of this organization has become.  And their treatment of women is deplorable.

Even former DSEA President Mike Matthews gave public comment at the public hearing.

And the fact that so many have gotten up here tonight and said without the AHEPA majority, the school will fail, you just told those hundreds of teachers at that school they are failing.  And I reject that on its face.  This is arrogance and hubris that has led us to the point where we are today.

Today is the final day to submit public comment for Odyssey Charter School.  All comments must be received by the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education before 4pm est today.  Public comment can be emailed to infocso@doe.k12.de.us and MUST be done today.  If you are against the practices of an outside AND private organization controlling a tax-payer paid public school, please let your voice be heard urging Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting and the State Board of Education to reject outside control of a public school board.  I’ll be submitting mine!

In the meantime, all the public comments from the meeting Monday night are below.  It is very easy to see who is cheer-leading for AHEPA and who is speaking out for the truth.

The final decision regarding the formal review for Odyssey Charter School will be at the July 18th State Board of Education meeting at the Townsend Building in Dover at 5pm.  It will be a very interesting decision!

As Odyssey Gets Ready For 2nd Public Hearing, AHEPA Emails Sound Like The Handmaid’s Tale…Blessed Be The Fruit!!!

As the clock ticks for a decision on Odyssey Charter School’s formal review, the final public hearing will be tonight.  Meanwhile, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), which is the primary reason the school went under formal review in the first place, is begging their membership to come out in support of AHEPAn control of the school’s Board of Directors.  So much so they are beginning to sound very desperate.  I would urge the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education to use a grain of salt when they read the public comments submitted to them.


From: AHEPA Wilmington Chapter 95 Office of the President <ahepawilm@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 11:10 PM
Subject: CALL TO ACTION/PLEASE READ CAREFULLY/AND EMAIL IMMEDIATELY!
To:

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Good evening Brothers,

We need to FLOOD the DOE with emails regarding the AHEPA Family’s involvement with the Odyssey Charter School.  We MUST retain control for the school to continue to grow with the mission and vision of its pioneering creators!  Below, please find instructions on what should be done IMMEDIATELY.  In addition to yourself, share with family members and friends so that we inundate the DOE email box with supporting emails.

Click on this link:   https://delaware.gov/help/degov-contact.shtml
Enter your name, email, etc.
In the drop down for Category, enter Education
Subject: I support the AHEPA Family majority on the Odyssey Board…..or pick your own subject.  But make it stand out that you support the AHEPA Family
Enter your information in the body information
Submit

Share this with your friends and relatives.  Have your spouse do it too!  We need to impact their inbox!

And don’t forget!  We need you AND your VOICE and the Carvel State Office Building in downtown Wilmington next Monday, July 8th at 5pm.  You must sign up to speak, so please be there before 5!!!

Fraternally,
Michael Klezaras III

President


That was solicitation for the public comment.  Notice the use of the word “brothers” in the above email.  I guess “sisters” don’t get this email.  But I digress…

The following email was sent out yesterday to AHEPANs for public comment at the public hearing tonight at 5pm.


From: Michael Kirifides < mkirifides@gmail.com>
Date: July 7, 2019 at 1:44:14 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: Fwd: CALL TO ACTION/PLEASE READ CAREFULLY/AND EMAIL IMMEDIATELY!

Dear Friend of AHEPA,
I would like to extend this invitation with urgency to support the local Chapter #95 of AHEPA in governing the Odyssey Charter School. There have been unsubstantiated allegations from a few individuals whose complaints have triggered the Delaware Department of Education to request that AHEPA cede its governing authority over the Odyssey Charter School. Without question, in time, the allegations will be disproved, yet the DoE has been pressuring the local AHEPA to relinquishing its governing majority to the few who are in hostile opposition to AHEPA. As a community, we are coordinating a grass roots response to the Charter School Accountability Committee during the public hearing on Monday July 8th at 5 pm being held at the Carvel State Office Building, 820 N. French Street, Wilmington, DE 19801.
Thank you in advance,
Michael Kirifides

 

From a “few individuals”.  Those “few individuals” sure put the spotlight on a lot of individuals, didn’t they Mr. Kirifides!  Is that spotlight “hostile” or just making sure the school board follows the laws of the state?  Didn’t know it was hostile to point out financial fraud!  I hope this formal review puts the AHEPA brotherhood in their place!  “May the Lord be!”

***Editor’s note: If you haven’t read or watched “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the references to the religious quotes will be lost on you. For those who do, doesn’t AHEPA sound very much like Gilead?

Delaware DOE Releases Final Odyssey Formal Review Report

Today, the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education released the final report for the formal review of Odyssey Charter School.  While Delaware media covered a good deal of this, there is some new information.  In addition, the Odyssey Board of Directors sent out two letters to the Odyssey Community from the Wilmington Chapter of the AHEPA organization regarding their role with the Ithaka Learning Center that has been the center of a lot of allegations of financial shenanigans at Odyssey. Continue reading

New Odyssey Financial Abuse Uncovered While Two Brave Women Give Powerful Testimony

The funny thing about facts, my friends, is that despite the attempts of the board, they cannot be interpreted.  They cannot be changed, and they cannot be maligned for they are facts.  And the facts are that this Board violated state laws, DOE rules and regulations and maybe even criminal code laws.

 

So yes, our books are pristine.  Every dollar is accounted for.  The problem is the dollars and where they went.  Where they buried those invoices under what budget lines.  Because it’s there.  And if the State Auditor would do her job we could actually find that out.

Odyssey Charter School is in trouble.  Big trouble.  On the dawn of their final Charter School Accountability Committee meeting for their formal review this Monday, an article by Delaware Public Media came out showing even more financial abuse going on at the Greek-themed charter school.  Meanwhile, the CSAS initial report came out along with the transcript for their public hearing and they are explosive!  The transcript reveals what has been going on with teachers at the school and what led to the eventual decision to unionize. Continue reading

Exclusive: Public Integrity Commission Slams Odyssey’s Board; Potential McGuiness Ties To AHEPA Creates Huge Conflicts of Interest

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On April 2nd, the Delaware Public Integrity Commission wrote a letter to the Odyssey Charter School Board of Directors which showcased a plethora of financial improprieties, conflicts of interest, and co-mingled interests involving their board and the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA).  The Odyssey Board of Directors has nine members, five of which belong to AHEPA.  Currently, Odyssey is beginning a formal review by the Delaware Department of Education after the State Board of Education voted to place the charter school under review last week.

The letter concludes with the following: Continue reading

Odyssey Charter School Responds To Their Formal Review With Letters To Parents, Students and Teachers

After the State Board of Education put Odyssey Charter School under formal review last night, school leaders wrote a letter to the Odyssey community with a response.  In addition, I got my hands on the school’s response to Leroy Travers, the leader of the Charter School Office over at the Department of Education!

Odyssey Goes Under Formal Review For Financial & Governance Reasons

Yesterday, the Delaware State Board of Education voted in the majority to put Odyssey Charter School under formal review for six violations of Delaware state code. Continue reading

State Board of Education To Decide If Odyssey Will Get A Formal Review

While it doesn’t appear on the agenda for their meeting this Thursday, it is expected the Delaware State Board of Education will vote if Odyssey Charter School will get a formal review.  This gained a lot more traction based on an email that went out from school leadership to interested parties last Thursday. Continue reading

Odyssey Charter Board Gets Stern Warning From Delaware DOE As Wagons Circle Around AHEPA & Their He-Man Woman Haters Club

The ongoing saga with Odyssey Charter School continues!  As the AHEPA members of the Board continue to do whatever the heck they want, attention is being drawn to their stunts by more than just Odyssey staff and parents.  The spotlight on the school is not good as members of the General Assembly and the State Board of Education are giving complaints to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  But the DOE isn’t the only state agency looking into the many conflicts of interest from the Odyssey Board of Directors as evidenced by the below email from Charter School Office leader Leroy Travers: Continue reading

Mutiny At Odyssey As Teachers Union Votes For No Confidence In Board of Directors

The Odyssey Charter School Education Association declared a vote of no confidence in the school’s Board of Directors.  As well, they asked four members of the board to resign. Continue reading

Odyssey Charter School Becomes 2nd Delaware Charter This Year To Join DSEA

Odyssey Charter School teachers and staff voted and an overwhelming majority decided to join the Delaware State Education Association.  This is the second charter school in Delaware to do so in 2018.  Last Spring, the Charter School of Wilmington also voted to join DSEA.  In 1997, Positive Outcomes joined DSEA but opted out in 2000.  Delaware College Prep joined in 2012 but closed a few years later due to low enrollment.

With 131 for and 16 against, over 89% of the educators in the school decided a teachers union was the best option for them.  Prior to 2018, it was virtually unheard of for Delaware charters to unionize.  What turned the tide?

For Odyssey, the decision was clear- they did not like decisions the board was making and felt their voices were not being heard.  When former leader Nick Manolakos did not have his contract renewed, the school hired two to take his place.  But the tipping point was when their former Board President, who had just resigned, became a leading contender for a third highly paid administrator.

Over the summer this led to those teachers and parents questioning the board about decisions that would affect the school.  Parents saw fundraiser after fundraiser to get more money for the school but didn’t feel the money was going towards what the school promised.  But they had money for all these administrators.

Congratulations to Odyssey Charter School for joining DSEA.  With two joining this year, will more Delaware charters follow?  Even with forces joining together to muffle DSEA it has become more apparent than ever that teachers want respect and to have their voice heard.  They are the second most important part of a school after the students.  They have rights and deserve to organize and fight for what is theirs.  They deserve due process and the right to air grievances.

Will Odyssey Become The 2nd Delaware Charter School To Unionize This Year?

Parents of students at Odyssey Charter School received the following email tonight from the Head of School, Denise Parks.  If Odyssey teachers and staff do vote to unionize they would become the second Delaware charter school to do this.  In May, Charter School of Wilmington voted in the majority for joining the Delaware State Education Association.

Good evening, OCS Families–

Our new leadership team continues to work to improve communications and also to promote transparency in school developments. To reinforce these efforts, I want to make you aware that OCS has received notice from the State of Delaware, Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that the Odyssey Charter School Education Association (“OCSEA”) has filed a petition to represent certain academic and facilities employees here at OCS. This process ultimately will lead to an election to determine whether OCSEA, as the union, will represent this group of employees in collective bargaining negotiations. I want you to know that the leadership team strongly believes that remaining union-free is the right thing for both OCS and for the staff involved. I will endeavor to keep you informed of key developments as they occur in this process. Please contact me if you have any questions. Whatever the outcome of this vote, I look forward to a productive year for our school.

Yours in education, Denise Parks Head of School

Exclusive: Odyssey Parent’s Email To Board About Unethical Board Practices & Conflicts Of Interest

No sooner do I post an article about Odyssey than an email comes in from an Odyssey parent who is fed up with their Board!  While this email has been circulating among Odyssey parents on social media today, this is the first time it has been open to the public like this.  The parent gave me full permission to post this and considers it a public document! Continue reading

Teachers & Parents Are NOT Happy With Odyssey’s Lack Of Transparency With New Leadership

Events at Odyssey Charter School have been bubbling for some time now but they are coming to a boil in recent weeks.  When the Odyssey Board of Directors chose not to renew Headmaster Nick Manolakos’ contract, they put forth Riccardo Stoeckicht as their new “Campus Operations Officer” and Denise Parks as their Head of School.  Between these two hirings, the school is looking at over $300,000.00 for these two positions alone.  But the shenanigans don’t stop there. Continue reading

Odyssey Charter “Denies” A Parent’s Opt Out Letter Two Months Later

Last week, a parent of a student at Odyssey Charter School received a response to an opt out letter she sent the school back in February.  The letter said they were unable to offer any discretion in the matter since Delaware doesn’t have any official opt out laws.  The school does have discretion.  It’s called the parent opted their kid out and Odyssey needs to suck it up and take it on the chin.

The parent is concerned about any punitive action the Wilmington charter could take against her child.  I have yet to hear of any punishment issued to a student over a parent opting them out.  So this would be the first to my recollection.  The powers that be know there is nothing they can do to prevent opt out.  They just don’t want any school dipping below that 95% participation rate threshold.  Which (sadly) didn’t happen in any school last year.  I find it frustrating that so many parents think this test is perfectly okay.  It isn’t.

What many parents don’t realize is something schools won’t tell them which is the actual language in federal law.  That states schools must administer the state assessment to students.  It says nothing about the student actually taking the test.  A school is not allowed to deny a student the ability to take the test.  That is a far cry from a parent saying they don’t want their kid taking it.  And there have been enough U.S. Supreme Court cases involving parental rights in education to justify opt out.

The response from the school to the parent talked about only medical reasons being a valid exemption based on the law.  Which is true, but only for the school not to administer the test and NOT have it count against their participation rate.  But what Odyssey did was quote the federal law and then add their own part about ESEA (now ESSA) not allowing parents to opt their child out of the state assessment.  Which is absolute malarkey because it doesn’t say you can either.  It doesn’t even address opt out.  In fact, ESSA as it is written actually gives states the ability to come up with their own policies and laws on opt out.  But in good old Delaware, we had a chance to honor and codify a parent’s right to opt out but our Governor Markell vetoed the bill when our General Assembly overwhelmingly passed it.  And then too many of our chicken little legislators kissed the Markell ring when there was a shot to override that veto.

Currently, another opt out bill is awaiting consideration in the House Education Committee.  It was heard in committee last year but shenanigans ensued over the vote so it is still in “pending” status where it will most likely remain until the end of this legislative session on June 30th.  I don’t think Governor Carney has ever muttered the words “opt out” since he has been Governor of Delaware.

Nothing helps the opt out movement more than a school giving a parent a rough time or sending the Delaware Department of Education template letter to a parent.  Parents, if you want to opt your kid out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, just do it.  I guarantee you if they give you a rough time or try to punish your kid I will give them holy hell for it.  That is my promise to you!  And if it is in Capital, Red Clay, or Christina, their boards passed resolutions or policies honoring that parental right so none of the schools in those districts should be even addressing it!

 

Charter School Salaries Over $100,000: MOT, Newark Charter, Odyssey, Providence Creek, & Sussex Academy

These five charter schools are very distinctive in one area: they all have low populations of special education students compared to their surrounding districts.  But those aren’t the only comparisons among them.  Two of them have school leaders that received salary bumps over $50,000 and then resigned or are set to retire.  Pension law in Delaware sets your pension based on your three highest years of salary.  Intentional?  You be the judge.

These five charters range from near the top of Delaware in New Castle County all the way to the heart of Sussex County with one right near the middle in Kent.  All of these charters have significant student enrollment and have taken many students from their surrounding school districts.  They are also in very populous, and in some cases, fast growing areas of the state.

Continue reading

Nick Manolakos’ Journey At Odyssey Comes To An End. What Is His Next Move?

Dr. Nick Manolakos, the long-time Headmaster of Odyssey Charter School is no longer serving in that capacity.  What he does next may not be what many folks expected to happen. Continue reading

Odyssey Charter School Is Trying To Poach Students From Districts Before September 30th Count

The Greek-themed Delaware charter school, Odyssey, sent out a letter to parents in their area advising them they are still accepting students.  As most involved in Delaware education know, schools get their funding based on the September 30th student count.  Odyssey is trying to beef up those numbers to get more money.

This is a bad idea in very bad taste.  The window for school choice in Delaware closes in mid-January.  As in eight months ago.  While charters are certainly free to accept students after those dates if they have room, actively

soliciting students after the school year has already started is lousy judgment.  It is poaching, pure and simple.  It is money driven, not student driven.  But what many forget is that some charters tend to kick out high-risk students after September 30th.  And guess what?  Some keep the funding they received.

On DSEA President Mike Matthews Facebook page, he brought this up yesterday.  While he didn’t name the school, State Rep. Kim Williams said she is aware of it and did notify the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Will the charter-friendly DOE actually address the situation or just play along to go along?

As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with actual charter schools and the reason for their existence.  But I do take issue with situations like this, when profit and money result in grown-ups making poor decisions.  There are good charters out there but unfortunately when certain charters keep coming up in events like this it is hard to not view the charter problem as a whole.  Whether it is discrimination, poor special education, cherry-picking students, or using lobbying power to get more money at the expense of districts, the Delaware tends to side with the charters.  Even worse, they tend to turn a blind eye to recurring issues such as the ongoing financial cesspool that is Providence Creek Academy, the enrollment preferences at Charter School of Wilmington, or the discrimination factory we call Newark Charter School.  Odyssey should not be attempting to get students from districts this far into the school year.

Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting put the hammer down on Odyssey or will she allow this poaching journey to continue?  And what is your take on this bad education practice?