A Mentor At Delaware Met Speaks Out About The School Closing & The Impact On Students

Tamara Varella worked at The Delaware Met as part of A.J. English’s mentoring team.  She reached out to me and asked me to share a post she wrote on Facebook about her time at the school.  She offered some insight into what went on at the school from a very different perspective.  I think most people are in agreement that Delaware Met was cursed from the onset, but could it have been saved at some point?

This post is to all of my family, friends, followers, current/past/future clients. Thank you to everyone that has checked on me, prayed for me and even slightly noticed my drastic pull back from social media the last 4 months. I more than appreciate you! The DE MET School closed last week, literally 5 months after opening its doors. Back in September I was asked by my client, AJ English to help him transition his after school mentoring program to a full-day in-school program at the Delaware MET Charter School. When I went to the school and saw how great the need was I knew I could not walk away and turn my back on “Our Kids”. I made a conscious decision to put my business and whatever plans I made for my future on complete hold because I personally felt it was warranted and would require that level of dedication. For the last 4 months AJ, Cheris Monique and I have been literally pouring out our heart, tears and soul every day ministering to the students at the MET. It just so happens that the majority of students at the MET were the At-Risk, troubled youth no one wanted to deal with let alone play a role in shifting their lives. Regardless of what you read in the paper or heard in the streets, the students at the MET were not animals or just numbers tied to funding! They were our babies that needed direction and more importantly someone to care enough to show them love and correction. The way God used our team, English Lessons, during this time was miraculous. We have countless testimonies of students changing, improving grades, being respectful to adults, restoring relationships w family members and most importantly getting to the root causes so students could be made whole. Our in-school fight prevention rate was insanely high as we were able to resolve issues, restore respect among peers and instill a level of respect for each person involved in a disagreement that was brought to our attention prior to an altercation. School administrators had never seen this done before. The work we did transcends school walls and was felt in the streets of Wilmington as our interventions involved predominantly “street issues”. Students come to school with issues and problems that the average adult would not be able to handle AND go to school and learn!!! From being hungry to almost getting shot the night before, to fear of getting jumped when they get home, to getting kicked out the house and I could go on and on. If you have not viewed Monique Taylor-Gibbs testimonial of the state of our children in DE Schools I beg you to click the link below or look at my last post.
 
I’m sharing all this not to gloat but to put a call out to everyone taking the time to read this….. Our kids need US!! Not a new system, not a new program, not a bunch of hype and empty promises. Our kids need YOU!! We won’t see a change in our community, the city of Wilmington or even our state until YOU show up!!! YOU have what our kids need. Your story of overcoming, your story of a shady past and bad decisions, your story of being told u would be nothing but proved them wrong, your story …. which comes with the ANOINTING TO BREAK THE YOLK. This generation is a different breed. They only want to hear and receive from those who can relate. I could go on and on abt the system and how they failed our kids but that would be a waste of time.

Please come back to the HOOD, ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES AND GET INVOLVED!! Thank you to both AJ and Cheris for allowing me to be part of the team. Thank you to all my clients that were patient and understanding. For those of you who were upset about my not doing my workshops, I promise I’ll make it up to everyone! Please keep praying for me as the closing of the school and worrying about the students has me hurt and saddened. This whole experience has caused me to shift internally …. Not clear yet on what that means… But it is definitely time to get back to business. See you all soon!

PLEASE VIEW: Link to Monique’s testimony abt the state of DE Schools
https://www.facebook.com/tamara.varella/posts/10205432459713008
Or you can access it on my last Facebook post.

Chaos Unleashed At Delaware Met Yesterday

Delaware-Met-2

Instead of students being somber about their charter revocation January 22nd, they decided to do something else yesterday.  This week, the Delaware Met received a new leader in the form of Denise Barnes, a former middle school assistant principal from Appoquinimink.  Yesterday, the students took full advantage of the recent decision by the State Board of Education to shut down the school by misbehaving and “jumping”, a slang term for causing fights.  The school had no clue how to handle the unruly students, so they shut down at noon.  This was not a planned and scheduled day.  They just said “School’s over, time to go home.”

Why would the charter, with a model that  focuses on personal relationships called “Big Picture Learning”, allow this behavior to continue.  And with all the problems, why would they hire a person from Appo to lead the school?  Appo and Delaware Met are two completely different worlds.  I’ve heard that even though the students had issues with former school Leader Tricia Hunter Crafton, she at least had their respect.  She knew how to connect with the students.  But as the school has gone through a few “leaders”, the students are running the school.

Delaware Met closes for Christmas break on December 22nd.  When they come back in January, they will have a few weeks before they close for good.  Who is monitoring what goes on there between now and then?  Is anyone?  It is painfully obvious that whoever the authority figures are now do not know what they are doing.  Are these students even learning anything these days?  And what about all their internships?  Is that even happening (which was the whole purpose of the school)?  The school bragged about their hiring of A.J. English and his mentoring team with English Mentoring.  What is going on with that?  What is their much vaunted “school climate team” even doing there?  The school has bragged about how things have turned around, but just this week alone there was an emergency room visit for a student who got stitches after a chair was thrown at his head, and then the mini-riot yesterday that forced the school to send everyone home without parental notification.  Apparently, the DOE was unaware of the stitches incident until well into the State Board of Education meeting the next day.  As if not telling the DOE about the stitches thing would have stopped the State Board from shutting them down!

As the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office investigates the school’s finances, many are wondering about what they will find.  I would assume they are looking at how funds were allocated, especially special education dollars.  Their budget submissions to the DOE during their formal review showed a lot of funds moving around.  And if there was any misappropriation of federal dollars, that’s big time!  I would also guess they are looking at Innovative Schools role in this unprecedented disaster.  How was money spent during the two-year planning period?  Did Innovative take advantage of the apparent inexperience of their board of directors?  And will we ever find out the mystery of the bleeding meat served at lunch to students?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the State Board of Education made the right decision in shutting them down.  But with that decision also comes the responsibility of making sure things run right until that closure.  By shutting them down, the State Board is saying they don’t trust the school to make the right decisions for their students.  So if they didn’t trust them before their decision, why would they trust them now to do the right thing?  With everything going on there, someone needs to look out for these kids.

 

Delaware Met’s Final Public Hearing Brings Out The Defenders

I received an email from someone who went to the Delaware Met public hearing tonight.  They wished to remain anonymous.  They sent me a very good indication of what the crowd was saying: Save our school!

I went to the MET school public hearing tonight.

All reports I’ve heard: from the News Journal and a student there, were horrible: one kid setting another’s hair on fire; one kid’s head banged into a wall and left a hole in the dry wall; frequent police calls; etc.  In response, the Head of School quit; the Board recommended closing, and then changed their minds;  and the DOE is recommending closing the school on 1-21-16.

But tonight was a love fest.  Only one person from the school’s board spoke; though the guy from the big conglomerate was in the audience.

I was at the hearing from 5:00 – 6:30 and they were still going strong when I left. I didn’t count the number of speakers — probably at least 20.  They were mostly students and  parents.  A couple of teachers spoke, one of whom started work 6 days ago.  Several of the girls were crying; the parents were praising the school, and angry with the State Board.  All thought the school was the best thing ever!  

Most commanding was Councilmember Hanifa Shabazz, who eloquently and angrily “demanded” that the DOE let them know where these 225 students were going to school in January. She and another parent asked to at least extend the closing till the end of the school year. 

A common theme was that the kids had grades of F till they came to this school, and now got Bs. There was also talk about good relationships between students and teachers at the school.  Some students said if they had to go back to a public school, they would probably fail or drop out, or get into trouble again.

None of this addressed the “crime in the school” issue, or the fact that there have already been so many transfers out that the head count is way down, and that could affect financial viability.

If the DOE can’t close a seriously struggling school like this – they can’t close anything.  

But those opposed to the closing have an excellent point – how could the school be approved and accept so many students, without the assurance from the State that it could function effectively?  Can remedial support solve these problems?  That is one of many  questions.

Thank you for sending this to me “anonymous”!  What frightens me the most about all this: no one is talking about special education and how students with disabilities are not having their Free Appropriate Public Education.  For those who don’t know, it’s called FAPE.  It means when you receive special education, you also get FAPE.  But if your IEP isn’t even done, or the school isn’t accommodating your IEP, you are not getting FAPE.  It’s very easy for a crowd to slam the DOE and State Board over “where is my child going to go now” and “this school is so much better”.  I encourage all these parents and community members to read about Delaware Met’s final meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Seriously.  Read it.  These are some key things that make a school work, and Delaware Met isn’t even doing that.  I get the whole community thing and helping each other out.  But this school is dangerous to leave open.  We don’t even know who is running things there now.  Is it A.J. English and his mentoring company? Pritchett and Associates?  Innovative Schools?  Teachers are leaving, and there aren’t many certified teachers left in the building.  It also doesn’t make fiscal sense to send all that money to the school in February when the bulk of the staff aren’t even there anymore.

I completely understand parents being worried about what happens with their child.  I’ve been there, a few times.  And it sucks.  Bad.  But I would rather move my child than keep him in a school that is falling apart.  No matter how much he may love it, I know at the end of the day I have to look out for his best interests.  Delaware Met parents, I have written about MANY schools on this blog.  Many charters.  And trust me when I say that NONE have been anywhere close to the level this school is at.  This is a tragedy beyond measurement.  I blame the DOE and the State Board for many things that I feel are wrong in public education.  But this is one time where they actually got it right.

There is a serious conversation that needs to happen in regards to what oversight the DOE has over charter schools from the time they approve them and when the doors open.  But at the end of the day, the Delaware Met’s board and staff are the ones that failed this school.  Not the DOE, not the State Board, and not the students.  They had a job to do, and unfortunately, they didn’t do it.  You can’t put band aids on a gaping flesh wound.  It may stop the bleeding temporarily, but it doesn’t heal the wound.  Your children deserve much better than this.

Delaware Met’s Appalling Response To The DOE Raises Even More Questions

In spite of a very intensive hiring process, we were unable to find many teachers with urban experience or a familiarity with the local community and those that we did hire were from charter schools that had closed such as Moyer Academy. Those teachers brought with them the “alternative school” mentality, along with lingering conflicts from the past years, which perpetuated the punitive, authoritarian mindset, which is the antithesis of the BPL design. We had hoped that the past relationships with the students would have a positive effect on their relationships with students, though this was not the case.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse with Delaware Met, I ran across many updated documents on the Delaware Department of Education Charter School website regarding their formal review.  The number one issue at this point seems to be their enrollment.  If they were approved for 260 students, and they must maintain 80% of that as required by Delaware law, that would be 208 students.  As of their September 30th count, they had 215 students.  In these documents, they announced four more students have withdrawn since 9/30, and six more will withdraw from the school very soon.  This puts their enrollment at 205.  They are now completely out of compliance with their charter.

The letter from the Delaware DOE’s Exceptional Children’s Resources Group is very telling.  59 IEPs were looked at by the DOE, and ALL 59 are out of compliance.  Delaware Met’s Special Education coordinator, Sue Ogden, used to work in the Delaware prison system as a special education coordinator, so she should be well aware of DOE timelines and what is needed in student’s IEPs.  While the below documents give many reasons for the school challenges, I still can’t help but think many of the events at this school could have been avoided.  It is now near the end of November, and NONE of the IEPs are in compliance as of November 25th.  This does not bode well for students with disabilities at this school which now represent over 28% of the school population.  Furthermore, in the narrative in the documents below, there is talk about going through 80 IEPs.  Have 21 students with disabilities who had IEPs left the school?

For their in-school suspension, students are required to write the following:

DelMetBehaviorLesson

And another “behaviour lesson”:

DelMetThinkingAboutBehavior

Now, with a school filled with at a minimum, 59 IEPs, and admitted issues on teacher parts where they treated a school like an “alternative” school, are the in-school suspensions warranted?  I can’t answer that, but I do know in-school suspension does not count towards a manifestation determination hearing.  Only out-of-school suspensions or expulsion.  And is it just me, and I get the whole concept of restorative justice, but isn’t the point of school discipline already a punishment?  What could a student do to “make up to the school” for their behavior?  What if they have a disability and it was a manifestation of their disability and they don’t even realize it was a “behavior”?

This “in-school suspension room”.  I have some big issues with it.  It seems like an easy solution to stop discipline problems.  Student gets in trouble, send them to the ISS room.  The below documents also state their special education coordinator, Sue Ogden, will make sure accommodations are being followed while students are in there.  But is one of their accommodations to be sent to an ISS room if they get in trouble?  There are more questions than answers here.  Sue Ogden, as I stated earlier, used to work in the prison system.  Even with all its issues and students with potential legal issues, the Delaware Met is not a prison.

The Charter School Accountability Committee will meet with Delaware Met for their final formal review meeting next Tuesday, from 8:30-10:00am.  At this point, the committee will determine their recommendation for the school.  The Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education will decide the school’s fate at the December State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.  In the meantime, read the below documents to find out the school’s interpretation of events.  I still have this nagging feeling there is much more going on at this school…

Delaware Met response to Charter School Accountability Committee

Specific Information requested by the Charter School Accountability Committee

Exceptional Children Resources Group monitoring and letter sent to Delaware Met

Teachers Emails regarding Science and Social Studies Curriculum

Board of Directors questions to Innovative Schools with response from them

 

 

The Truth Is Out There With Delaware Met: Public Hearing Transcript Sheds Some Light

The Delaware Met had their public hearing for their formal review on 11/16/15.  Yesterday, the Delaware Department of Education released the transcript.  One thing is for sure: the words “blogs”, “blogger”, or “bloggers” were mentioned 8 times in the transcript.  I was glad to see two members of the Delaware State Board of Education attended this event.  Instead of writing about the public hearing, I’m going to let the people speak.

I feel like three months of my son’s education has been wasted because he hasn’t done much work, not many projects

I’ve tried to contact teachers with no response

…when we hear some of the horror stories that are going on with these kids, a lot of times, schoolwork might be the last thing on their mind, because a sibling was just killed three months ago, or they’re dealing with being displaced, you know, homeless.

For whatever reason, they opened the doors up and let a lot of kids in that probably didn’t fit the model and didn’t really understand what the model was.

Whatever bugs you all didn’t iron out first, go back to the drawing board, fix it.  As they say, you got a hole, plug it.

But we don’t get the connection from the people who are in charge, the charter school or whoever is in charge of the charter school, and the parents, there’s no connection.

…the biggest question is who is this management organization, Innovative Schools, and why does it seem that they have been an impediment to this process?  We know that starting something new often is a rocky start, but it seems like the people who are supposed to know about education in this case don’t know anything about education.

It is disturbing that some of the things that should have been in place from the first day still aren’t in place, and we’re still struggling to try to get some open communication.  I think it’s interesting that a lot of parents are here, but I don’t see too many of the administrators.

So I think we need to look into it further versus basing it upon opinions of bloggers and individuals who have not been to the school to visit firsthand to see exactly what’s going on versus reading the emails that are being sent.

I don’t know who blogs.  It has to be somebody in the school.  It has to be somebody in the schools that’s giving out certain information that, you know, that I know some of the students is not giving out, I’m thinking it’s probably one of the teachers that don’t like and are trying to sabotage the whole school.

And whoever the blogger is, they need to mind their own business.  We already know there’s an issue.

Do you all understand how bad that sounds to a kid when they go to school, the teacher says we don’t have to learn because they’re closing the school next year.

Help us out.  Give the school some funding.  You all keep talking about you don’t have money, or whoever, they don’t have money to put this in, put that in.

When you open something up, if you put a different animals in one cage, you’re going to have problems until you get somebody in there that knows how to train everybody.

And again, the story writers, the bloggers, whoever is doing this, saying what they want to say to make it, solidify what you’re trying to do, if you’re trying to close the school down, I mean, of course.

What kind of school around here has a mentoring program?

And I went to Mr. A.J. and he told me that, you know, I can guarantee you the school is not going to shut down and everything like that.

I got at least three trays in one day for lunch, and all the meat was bleeding, but I couldn’t get nothing brown bag.  I don’t understand.  These teachers going out, buying McDonald’s and all that, but we can’t do that because of other stuff.

And we have some teachers that don’t even come to school, and I don’t even know how my report card going to look.  I’m not a bad kid.  I know my report card going to look okay in other schools, but this school, I don’t know.

Okay, what is up with the “blame the blogger” game for a school going on formal review?  Trust me, the Delaware Department of Education is not going to put a school on formal review because of information I write about.  By the time I’m writing stuff, they most likely already know a great deal of the information.  The things I’ve heard coming from this brand new school, that had two years to work out all the kinks, disturb me on many levels.  This is a school that stated their budget for food is going to be over-budget.  If they aren’t cooking the meat correctly and students keep going back for non-carcinogenic food that is actually cooked all the way through, I can see why that would be.  If teachers aren’t showing up or they don’t know how to teach the curriculum, that is troubling.  What kind of school lets other students show up to the school without any type of security system to prevent that?  This school has already received plenty of funding, from the state and from the Longwood Foundation.  Throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve anything.  They will find some way to squander those funds.  Plenty of schools have mentoring programs, and A.J. English knows that.  I am always suspicious of anyone that may have a financial motive to keep a school open.  The school may know about the issues, but parents and the public may not.  That is why I blog.  Do you want to know the words I was looking for the most in this transcript and I didn’t see mentioned anywhere? Special Education, IEP, and disability.  How can you defend a school and not even talk about their biggest problem?  Innovative Schools is in way over their head across the entire state.  Other new charter schools that relied on them are having issues as well.  I don’t want any school to shut down unless it is bad for students in the short-term and the long-term.  I believe Delaware Met fits in both of those categories.

I know some people think I just write whatever I want and call it a day.  That is not the case.  There are things I could write about this school but haven’t yet.  The assumption that I haven’t been in the school must mean I don’t know anything about it.  Wrong.  I know plenty.  I went to their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.  I heard the many questions Delaware Met and Innovative Schools couldn’t answer.  These are key and essential questions that need to be answered AND fixed, or they should close.  But let’s get one thing straight, unless the school is posing an immediate health risk or students are in danger, the DOE and State Board of Education don’t just shut a school down.  They go through the process, and the likely options are: probation, revocation of their charter at the end of the year, or they rule the school is doing just fine.  I’ve taken other steps as well in light of things I’ve heard about this school.  It is obvious Delaware Met has sent information out saying “Don’t believe the blogger.”  That is their prerogative.  I just ask folks to keep an open mind and ask the questions.

To read the entire transcript, please read below.