Is There A Conflict Of Interest With A High-Ranking DE PTA Member Involving Christina School District?

Yvonne Johnson serves as the Vice-President of Advocacy for the Delaware PTA, sits on the board of the National PTA, and in news that most people don’t know is also employed with the Christina School District as the Parent Engagement Coordinator.  The issue with this surrounds transparency.  Nothing has ever been officially announced with Johnson’s hiring in this role.  There is no official name on the Delaware Division of Corporations for Yvonne Johnson as a business.  According to her National PTA profile, Johnson is a self-employed education consultant:

YvonneNationalPTAProfile

She has also been very involved in several current initiatives with the Christina School District, including their upcoming referendum and the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.  The Christina referendum is on March 23rd.  As for the elementary school, Johnson is listed as the Christina Parent Engagement Coordinator in an announcement for a meeting at the school on March 1st:

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I looked on the Christina School District website, and it seems Christina already has someone else listed as their Family & Community Engagement Supervisor, Whitney Williams.  What is even more interesting is this idea for Thurgood Marshall in turning it into a Kindergarten to 8th grade school.  Quite simply, this is not in the district’s official plans for their upcoming referendum.  The current building for the school would not even be able to house a K-8 program.

As for Johnson’s role in this idea, is it proper for someone to be paid to have parents lobby the school board?  As the next three pictures show, taken from notes and a presentation on the “Marshall Plan”, Johnson has very specific ideas about this idea and the referendum.  Johnson also served as the head of the Referendum Committee for the Red Clay Consolidated School District last year.  Red Clay’s referendum was subject to a lawsuit that has not been decided on as of this date.

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We don’t see a Christina School District email address for Johnson, but that makes sense if she is self-employed and has some type of contract with the district.  However, no such contract exists on their website.

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This is where we see Yvonne Johnson actively soliciting parents to advocate for the “Marshall Plan” by essentially lobbying the Christina Board of Education.  But the next picture paints an even bigger picture:

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We see the line “Get out and vote for the referendum for planning $$”.  Should a paid consultant to the district be advocating for parents to “get out and vote” for increased money for the school district in which she is paid to consult for?  Is this plan even a part of the board-approved referendum?

The referendum does call for planning funds for potential grade reconfiguration in the amount of $100,000.00.  However, the “Marshall Plan” is looking at getting this going in the 2017-2018 school year.  That would require extensive capital costs to reconfigure an existing school that does not have the capacity.  If they shrunk the class sizes, the district does not have the ability to pay for that either.  The upcoming referendum is strictly for operating costs and not capital costs, which would be needed to move the school if necessary.  So my big question would be what in the name of Thurgood Marshall is going on with all of this?  While there is nothing in writing on the district website or in board documents indicating Johnson has a contract, several sources who wished to have their name withheld for this article have indicated Johnson has openly told them she is being paid for her services to the Christina School District.

In my opinion, Johnson’s capacity as serving on several different groups as well as her self-employed advocacy job, the Delaware PTA, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, several different Red Clay initiatives, and now her job with Christina, has far too many potential conflicts of interest for her to be issuing fair and impartial judgment on the Wilmington education scene.  As well, her position as a National PTA board member forbids her from advocating for opt-out of standardized testing but she is a consultant with a school district that had their board pass a policy honoring a parent’s right to opt out.

Don’t get me wrong here, I very much want Christina’s referendum to be successful.  I was not happy when their referenda did not pass last year.  But I also believe in full transparency, especially when a school district is asking for trust from their voters.  Trust is a two-way street.  Which means all aspects of school finances, contracts, and vendors need to be visibly apparent for all to see.

On a personal note, Yvonne Johnson is a great advocate.  There aren’t too many people in Delaware who have advocated for students as long as she has.  But the lines get blurry at times when people in Delaware jump on too many trains.  Yes, Delaware is a small state and if we had more parents taking on these kinds of roles, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But for those who do, they must recognize any potential conflicts of interest and act accordingly for the betterment of students.

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Hodges & Johnson

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Hodges & Johnson is not the latest detective show hitting television.  But it is an appropriate name for the powerhouse behind the Delaware PTA.  They really stepped up this year for parent rights.  President Dr. Terri Hodges and Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson started the year off with a bang by announcing two town halls for those interested in opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I will fully admit to being blown away when I heard this but I quickly got in touch with Dr. H and let her know I was in full support of this.

In March, the duo held the first opt out town hall in New Castle County.  To say the first town hall on opt-out was controversial would be an understatement.  Confession time again: I truly thought I was advocating on my own for opt-out.  I knew others in the state who supported it and a couple school boards were behind it, but in terms of rallying the troops I thought it was going to be a solo act.  With that first town hall I knew there was massive support for the rising movement in Delaware.  Around the same time, the very controversial House Bill 50 was introduced in the General Assembly, State Rep. Earl Jaques was blasting opt-out parents, and Governor Markell was taking steps in his failed effort to squash the movement.

By the time the second opt-out town hall in Kent County happened a couple weeks later in early March, Brian Touchette from the DOE and Donna Johnson with the State Board of Education were forced to admit there was no law preventing parents from opting out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This was a major breakthrough in the opt-out movement and cleared the path for everything that went down at Legislative Hall over the next four months.

Johnson & Hodges, or at least one of their carefully chosen representatives, were present for every single opt-out meeting or vote at Legislative Hall.  By the time the Delaware Senate finally passed the bill on June 25th, summer was here and everyone who supported the bill needed a well-earned break.  But not even a month later, Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed House Bill 50 and spit on parental rights everywhere.  Immediately the talk went towards overriding the Governor’s veto, but the General Assembly went out of legislative session for six months.  Since then, Hodges & Johnson, with the PTA membership, have been gearing up for next month when the legislators return.

In the past few months, the Delaware PTA again stepped up to help prevent the harsh opt-out penalties as part of Delaware’s new state accountability system.  Unfortunately, Secretary Godowsky caved in to pressure and recommended the opt-out multiplier penalty as opposed to districts and schools having to come up with a plan to prevent opt-out.  The State Board of Education approved the final part of their ESEA Flexibility Waiver last month and they are awaiting word from the US DOE on final approval.

I have no doubt that will happen, especially given the stab in the back from the US DOE announced today about definitive funding cuts for states who dip below the 95% participation rate two years in a row.  But the Delaware PTA is on it, and the recently announced House Bill Veto Override Parent Rally at Legislative Hall on January 14th will show the legislators parents should not be underestimated.  In the thick of it will be Yvonne and Terri, Delaware’s own Hodges & Johnson!

Both of them truly believe parents have a voice in education, and they have proved it time and time again.  While I don’t agree with 100% of everything the PTA endorses, I respect their ability to draw consensus from a large group of parents for whatever they decide as a group.  That is how it should be in education, but we have too many Markells and Rodels in our country.

DE PTA’s Yvonne Johnson Responds To Mark Murphy On The Delaware Way! Must-Watch Video!

About a month ago, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy appeared on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte. On this controversial episode, Murphy told Mendte flat-out parents are not allowed to opt their children out of tests. Yvonne Johnson with the Delaware PTA appeared last weekend on the show to tackle Murphy’s comments. Watch the full segment!