Smyrna School Board Welcomes J Back Into The Smyrna School District

Every once in a while, stories do get a happy ending. Continue reading “Smyrna School Board Welcomes J Back Into The Smyrna School District”

So Glad I Caught Your Attention!

It looks like the Smyrna School District Board of Education has been reading my series on the story of J and their harsh zero tolerance discipline tactics.  It turns out they are having a “special” board meeting dedicated solely to student discipline issues.  This comes right on the heels of my series about J.  Hey, Patrik Williams, you should give Dr. Mark Holodick up in Brandywine a call about this kind of stuff.  He is VERY familiar with these kind of issues.  So much so his district is taking a very good look at their own zero tolerance policies.

I haven’t heard from Patrik Williams since he emailed me a couple of weeks ago and I responded to him.  I am still working on the series about J.  To be honest, I’m trying to get a transcription of the hearing with the State Board of Education.  Going back and forth with that office on that issue.  And with a holiday coming up…  But if I don’t get it, I will come out with the next part with what information I do have.

If I were a parent in the Smyrna School District who has dealt with what you feel may be harsh discipline tactics, I would definitely attend this meeting.  The meeting notice doesn’t specify if they will have public comment or not.  Who knows, maybe I will show up!

New Christina Superintendent To Start In Mid-April While Board Passes First Read Of Safety Zone Policy

The Christina School District Board of Education had a big night last night!  They approved new Superintendent Richard Gregg’s contract which means he will begin his leadership of the district beginning April 18th.  Meanwhile, the board unanimously approved the first read of their safety zone policy which failed to get enough votes last month as a resolution.

The district put out a press release today with more information about Gregg:

The Christina School District Board of Education voted to approve the superintendent contract for Richard L. Gregg during its regular March Board meeting. Gregg’s effective start date will be April 18, 2017.

Richard L. Gregg most recently served as Assistant Superintendent for the Penn-Delco School District in Aston, Pennsylvania, a position he has held since 2015. In that position, he was responsible for district-wide curriculum and instruction, assessment, special education, professional development, and technology integration. He also oversaw the district budget and supervised administrative staff. His experience also includes serving as principal of Penncrest High School in Media, Pennsylvania, and as Director of Instruction for New Castle County Vocational Technical School District in Delaware. He has served as principal of Brandywine High School, and principal and assistant principal of Concord High School in the Brandywine School District. In the Christina School District, he served as assistant principal at Christiana High School.

His teaching experience includes a total of nine years’ experience as a high school social studies teacher. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Delaware, and a master’s degree in school leadership and instruction from Wilmington University. He is a graduate of Glasgow High School.

Gregg received the Pennsylvania School Principal of the Year Award in 2010, and was named Delaware Secondary Principal of the Year in 2000. He has held leadership roles with the Delaware Principals Academy, the Delaware Academy for School Leadership, and the Delaware Association of School Administrators. At the national level, he has served on the National Honor Society National Council, the National Association of State Student Councils and on the National Association of Secondary School Principals Leadership Award Selection Committee.

The safety zone policy drew a decent crowd, with members of the Delaware Green Party in attendance in support of board member John Young’s policy.  To read the full policy as approved in a first-read status by the Board last evening, please read below.  I do not view this as a “sanctuary” policy as that has an altogether different meaning than what this policy actually states.  The News Journal referred to the policy as a “sanctuary policy” in their article last night.  The board will vote on a 2nd read of the policy at their next meeting on April 11th, at the Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington.

Under this policy, the Christina School District reaffirms our commitment to a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for every student without regard to their race, religion, national origin or immigration status to provide enrolled, undocumented students their legal right to a public education.

 

Capital School District’s VERY BOLD Long-Term Plans

The Capital School District has mighty plans for the district!  As part of their ongoing strategic plan, the district will discuss potential building and grade configurations at their board meeting this evening, beginning at 7pm.

While these plans are not set in stone, there is serious discussion about what the district will physically look like in the long run.  Referendum haters may want to relax because the plans I am about to discuss are long-term and could take twenty years to reach the finale.  But current plans call for sweeping building changes, grade configurations, and a new way of looking at middle school.  The district began earnestly looking at these changes last fall and held staff and community forums earlier this month after a facility master plan was presented to the board.

With the proposed changes, two current elementary schools would disappear and another would be renovated. Fairview and Town Pointe Elementary Schools would be demolished and Dover East would get a new building.  Both plans call for a potential expansion at Dover North.  Where things get very interesting are the plans for the existing middle schools, William Henry and Central Middle.  Central Middle would become an elementary school.  Since William Henry is connected to Kent County Community School, the plan is to use room in William Henry to house a growing high-needs special needs population.  This does not mean all special education students in the district would be going to this potential facility!

For the middle schools, they would be two separate schools but joined by a common area.  Potential plans would called for shared resources between the two such as a cafeteria and large gym.  But it would also allow the district to have Career-Technical education programs in one school and arts programs in another.  But since the schools would be in the same location, it would be difficult for diversity issues to come up since they are both there.  The district is looking at potential magnet programs in the future.  The proposed site for the new middle schools would be on the property of the old Dover High School.

Those are the major changes.  Other options call for an early childhood center attached to Dover East and potentially one next to Booker T. Washington Elementary School.  Both of the potential options would call for what is known as a “Main Campus” which would house the expanded Kent County Community School, Booker T. Washington (which holds the district Delaware Autism Program inclusion program) and the proposed early childhood center.  As well, other space in William Henry could house the Transition program for students with high needs between the ages of 18-21.  The district now leases space in a building across from the Department of Education in Dover.

In terms of grade configurations, the plan is to have the following: early childhood centers would hold Pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary schools would hold 1st-5th grade, middle schools would have 6th-8th, and high school would be 9th-12th grades.

So how much is all of this going to cost?  Probably millions and millions of dollars.  But not all at once.  The goal is to look at the projected growth of the district based on a capacity of 600 students in each elementary school, 750 in the middle schools, and 1,800 for the high school.  Keep in mind, this is a twenty year plan.  Things could very well change during the next two decades.  Projections are good but you never know when a huge business could come to Dover or Kent County which could change all the numbers.  But I like this plan.  I like the idea of sharing resources at the middle school level.  Having the “Main Campus” could also allow for that which could save the district tons of money.  Of course, any new construction or renovation costs tons of money but everything old must one day become new!

OPTION A

option-a

OPTION B

option-b

As the above diagrams show, Hartly Elementary School, Dover South Elementary School and Dover North Elementary School would have the least amount of changes.  The revamped district would actually have one less elementary school than present, but the populations in each school would change based on removing Kindergarten and adding 5th grade.  As a citizen of Dover, this will definitely be one to watch!  When the strategic plan process began last year I strongly advocated for changing the middle school grade configuration to what they are now proposing.  To hear the plans in more detail, come on out to the board meeting at the district office!

Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week

The Christina Board of Education voted last week to accept the settlement concerning the lawsuit filed by 15 charters against them and the Delaware DOE.  Next week, an action item submitted by a board member could cause a tsunami of controversy.  As well, there is another action item that will certainly cause another ordeal just by being there. Continue reading “Christina Board Meeting Agenda Has A Nuclear Action Item For Consideration Next Week”

Newark Charter School’s 16 Minute Board Meeting

I’ve listened to a few of the charter audio links.  But nothing was shorter than Newark Charter School’s 16 minute audio recording.  Their meeting, held on September 20th, didn’t discuss any aspect of the district-charter funding scuffle that monopolized Delaware education social media the first ten days of the month.  They didn’t really talk about much of anything, which is surprising given the school year started.  Their meeting minutes usually give an impression their meetings are longer than 16 minutes.  I hope we don’t run into a case where some charters go into executive session to discuss the big stuff.  Their audio gives no sign of how long they went into executive session to discuss “potential litigation”.  Unless they do have potential litigation.  It wasn’t on their agenda they put up September 9th but it was on September 16th.  When they came out of executive session, they did unanimously vote to move forward on the potential litigation.

You can listen to the very short meeting here.

 

2016 Delaware Charter School Inspection Shows Severe Lack Of Transparency

MOTCharterSchool

Many Delaware charter schools failed a recent inspection on financial, organizational, and governance transparency.  No charter school received a perfect score on this inspection.  The ones who failed did so miserably.

Delaware law is very clear about what charter schools are required to do.  Other public meeting laws in Delaware, which have been supported through legal opinions on FOIA complaints, are very clear as well.  Last night, I went through every single charter school website to look for eight things: Their monthly financial information was up to date (July 2016), they posted their last annual audit (2015), they posted their IRS 990 Tax Form (as a non-profit), they posted their board agenda for their most recent meeting, they posted their board minutes (based on when they had their last meeting and were able to approve those minutes), they put an agenda up for their Citizens Budget Oversight Committee, they put up the minutes for their CBOC meetings, and a Delaware Department of Education representative was present at those CBOC meetings.

Most of the Delaware charter schools failed this inspection.  One of them (considered to be a very successful charter school) didn’t pass any category.  Some charter schools feel as though they don’t have to meet during the summer and prepare for the new school year.  There was no charter school that received a perfect score.  I understand things slow down in the summer, but not meeting is inexcusable in my book.  Some charters need to do a lot of work on their websites.  Hunting and pecking to find information is not in the vein of transparency.

The most disturbing aspect is the apparent lack of oversight coming from the Delaware Department of Education.  More specifically, the Charter School Office.  They may monitor the charters, and I’m glad a DOE representative is attending most of their CBOC meetings, but where is the public transparency of that monitoring?  Jennifer Nagourney worked very hard to get this aspect turned around with charters.  I would hate to see her hard work disappear.

The way CBOC laws are written, quarterly meetings are okay.  But some charters meet monthly.  I’m not going to dink you if you don’t meet every single month.  I think districts and charters should have monthly CBOC meetings.  A quick note about IRS 990 tax filings: these can vary on the tax year.  If a school had their 2014 return on there, I counted them as being in compliance.  If it was older or they didn’t have any tax filings on their website, they got hit.  This is required by law.  Only one charter school in Delaware is not required to file a 990: Newark Charter School.  I don’t agree with it.

*This article has been updated to include Great Oaks Wilmington which was inadvertently left out of the original article.

Academia Antonia Alonso

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2012

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: June 2016

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Academy of Dover

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: 8/25/16

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Campus Community School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None (searched, said “access denied”)

Board Agenda: 8/30/16

Board Minutes: June 2016

CBOC Agenda: 8/30/2016

CBOC Minutes: 5/5/2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Charter School of Wilmington

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: June 2016 (no meeting in July)

CBOC Agenda: 5/18/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/18/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: none (has standard agenda)

Board Minutes: June 2016 (no meetings in July or August)

CBOC Agenda: May 2016

CBOC Minutes: April 2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Design-Lab High School

Financials: May 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/22/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: None

CBOC Meeting: 4/25/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Delaware Military Academy

Financials: 6/30/16

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None (no search button on website)

Board Agenda: 6/27/16

Board Minutes: 5/23/16 (states no meetings in July or August)

CBOC Agenda: None (has standing agenda)

CBOC Minutes: June 2016

DOE Rep: No

 

Early College High School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: 4/28/16      

CBOC Agenda: 7/21/16

CBOC Minutes: 4/28/16 (states no quorum at May & June Mtgs)

DOE Rep: Yes

 

EastSide Charter School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/26/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Family Foundations Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2012

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/25/16

CBOC Minutes: 4/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

First State Military Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/23/16

Board Minutes: 7/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 6/24/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/24/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

First State Montessori Academy

Financials: 2/29/16

Yearly Audit: None

990: None

Board Agenda: 9/1/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: None (Standard Agenda)

CBOC Minutes: 5/19/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Freire Charter School of Wilmington

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/16/16

CBOC Agenda: 6/20/16 (noted August mtg canceled)

CBOC Minutes: 6/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Gateway Lab School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2014

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 5/24/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/19/16

CBOC Minutes: 2/16/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Great Oaks Wilmington

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: n/a

990: n/a

Board Agenda: 7/27/16 (schedule shows 8/22 board meeting, no agenda)

Board Minutes: 7/27/16

CBOC Agenda: None (shows area for this but none listed)

CBOC Minutes: None (shows area for this but no minutes listed)

DOE Rep: None

 

Kuumba Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2014

990: None

Board Agenda: 5/12/16

Board Minutes: 5/12/16 (states no meeting held in June)

CBOC Agenda: 7/12/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/12/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Las Americas Aspiras Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 8/25/16

Board Minutes: 5/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/22/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

MOT Charter School

Financials: None

Yearly Audit: None

990: None

Board Agenda: 6/14/16

Board Minutes: 5/25/16 (June Mtg. Canceled)

CBOC Agenda: None

CBOC Minutes: None

DOE Rep: None

*website states for further information to call the business office

 

Newark Charter School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: not required

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 7/19/16

CBOC Agenda: 5/17/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/17/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Odyssey Charter School

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2011

Board Agenda: 8/17/16

Board Minutes: 6/21/16

CBOC Agenda: 7/20/16

CBOC Minutes: 6/26/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Positive Outcomes

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 7/20/16

Board Minutes: 5/18/16 (no meeting in June)

CBOC Agenda: 7/20/16

CBOC Minutes: 7/20/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Prestige Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/16/16

Board Minutes: 7/19/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/16/16

CBOC Minutes: 2/16/16

DOE Rep: None

 

Providence Creek Academy

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/23/16

Board Minutes: 7/26/16

CBOC Agenda: 8/18/2016

CBOC Minutes: 8/18/2016

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Sussex Academy

Financials: June 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: FY2014

Board Agenda: 7/27/16

Board Minutes: 6/15/16 (no August meeting)

CBOC Agenda: 5/17/16

CBOC Minutes: 5/17/16 (says next meeting won’t be until October)

DOE Rep: None

 

Thomas Edison Charter School

Financials: July 2016

Yearly Audit: FY2015

990: None

Board Agenda: 8/15/16

Board Minutes: 7/18/16

CBOC Agenda: 9/14/16

CBOC Minutes: 3/2/16

DOE Rep: Yes

 

Charter schools are public schools.  You set some autonomy based on how the laws are written.  But you still have to adhere to the law.  You don’t live in a separate bubble in Delaware.  On one hand, charters beg to be treated the same, and on the other, they beg to be treated different because of that “autonomy”.  I don’t buy the excuse that any single charter school in this state doesn’t know about these requirements.  If you open a bank, you better believe that bank looks into all of the operating laws they have to adhere to.

These inspections didn’t even get into the meat of your board minutes.  A lot of you feel you don’t really have to give any detail.  Some of your CBOC meetings don’t list which members are community representatives.  I gave many of you bad scores if you haven’t had a CBOC meeting in over three months.  Even if you don’t have a quorum, you still have to post minutes.  And MOT… really?  Call the business office to get more information?  Just because you do great on Smarter Balanced doesn’t mean you are immune from transparency.  Last year, the Charter School Accountability Committee found nothing wrong in MOT’s charter renewal process.  They were approved unanimously for renewal without this subject EVER coming up.

I could file a ton of FOIA complaints today.  I’m not going to.  I’m going to give you until September 30th to correct these things.  If I don’t see any improvement or very little, I start filing.

There were five charter schools who I felt, even though they got hit on one thing, have made a sincere effort to be transparent: Academy of Dover, Campus Community School, First State Military Academy, Las Americas Aspiras, and Providence Creek Academy.  Honorary mentions go to Newark Charter School, Positive Outcomes, Sussex Academy, and Thomas Edison.  But the rest of you need  a lot of work.  Sadly, some of you haven’t come far when I did this two years ago and a Valentines Day blitz inspection in 2015 and then another inspection in July 2015.  Some actually did worse.  Out of all the charters that did well on these inspections, they included most of the Kent and Sussex County charters but only two New Castle County charters.  That I don’t get.  I beat up on charters a lot.  But I am getting around to beating up on districts more as well.  I will give all of you a very fair warning: record your meetings and put the recordings up in seven business days.  Kilroy may be quiet now, but he didn’t fight for the “all boards must record” legislation for kicks.  He will monitor if you are doing this, and if you aren’t… watch out!

Perhaps Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network will agree or not agree with me on these transparency issues.  But I believe, as a non-profit that supports charter schools, this should be their fight as well.  Charter schools are at a crossroads right now.  Many states are issuing moratoriums on charter schools.  Delaware did this a year and a half ago.  They can either operate as public schools or face the wrath of public perception.  I don’t believe ALL charters are like the ones depicted on the John Oliver Show last weekend.  But we all know Delaware could have easily been portrayed on that episode with some things that have happened here.  Some of the charter schools in this inspection: don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of this article.  Know that I know things and you are on my radar.

Academy On The Cliffs Of Dover Money Woes… Again…

I’m pretty sure a lot of readers won’t get my tongue in cheek title to this article unless you happen to like the Righteous Brothers. And not just the song from “Ghost”. What is going on at Academy of Dover now? In their most recent board minutes, from 6/23/16, there were several items that raised red flags.  To a casual observer, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal.  But knowing their history, it spoke volumes.

There are financial issues going on. There was discussion about the settlement with Mosaica, their former management company.  Last year, the school was ordered to pay on a judgment by the Superior Court for an amount over a million dollars.  Along with some academic issues, this caused them to go under formal review with the Delaware Department of Education.  The eventual outcome was probation until 6/30/16.

Academy of Dover reached a $650,000 settlement with Mosaica, of which $500,000 has been verified as paid. The remaining $150,000 due to Mosaica was broken up in three payments of $50,000 due by the end of July for the next three years.  A payment of $50,000, based on the original settlement, was due to Mosaica by 7/31/16.  At their June board meeting though, there was discussion about settling again with Mosaica.  There was talk about “the monetary issues dealing with the Mosaica issue”. The board voted on a motion regarding this “monetary issue” with a bizarre footnote that one of their board members, Dr. Charles Fletcher, had voted no on the Mosaica settlement.

Further adding to the financial mystery, the board announced they had a silent auction for “items sitting in the shed for two years” on June 16th.  They didn’t reveal how much revenue they received from this endeavor nor why it was held.  There was talk during a board meeting some months ago about trying to sell items former Principal Noel Rodriguez purchased illegally with school funds.  Rodriguez returned many of the items to the school.

While not completely verified, the school is having some staffing issues.  Rumor has it they got rid of their entire special education staff and will have about nine new teachers this year.  While they showed increases in their Smarter Balanced scores across the board, that doesn’t always translate into more students.  They appear to be down in enrollment but not to the level where their charter would be affected.  But they are up for charter renewal this fall, so expect to hear a lot more about this.

Back to their finances, what is interesting is their final FY2016 budget.  It appears the school overestimated on a lot of their expenditures.  As a result, they will have to base their FY2017 budget on those final expenditure amounts based on Delaware state law.  This could be causing some of their financial issues as well.

I got the above part wrong folks!  Sorry about that!

And then there is always the looming shadow about Noel Rodriguez.  Will Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn ever press charges against him?  As always, we wait… and wait… and wait…

 

Vaya Con Dios Vo-Tech Vicki?

At last month’s New Castle County V0-Tech’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Vicki Gehrt wanted to get the ball rolling early on her contract renewal.  Her contract isn’t up for another six months, but apparently she felt the need to bring it up now.  The board wasn’t too keen on that.  Details are scarce, but it wound up with the non-elected board going in and out of executive session throughout the night.  As Gehrt and friends stayed in one room with Gehrt visibly upset.  Scuttlebutt has it that the board is not too enamored with Gehrt, especially after the Amy Joyner-Francis death at Howard High School of Technology as well as other issues.

Ultimately, the board decided to table any talk of Gehrt’s Superintendent renewal until it is actually up for renewal.  But they do have a board meeting tomorrow night.  Will Vo-Tech Vicki bring it up again?  Will there be more drama with unannounced adventures in executive session?  And will the board meeting be heard for all to hear?  Last month, the board was prepping for the House Bill 61 all school boards must record bill which goes into effect in a couple of months.  But no recording was put up on the website.  This is definitely a to be continued story…

Parents Told They Can’t Record Board Meeting Tonight At Academia Antonia Alonso

NoAudioOrVideoRecordingAllowed

Tonight, a Delaware charter school refused parents the ability to record their board meeting.  A group of parents attended the Academia Antonia Alonso Board of Directors meeting to give public comment about what they felt was unfair termination of many teachers at the school.  They wanted to record the meeting but were told they could not.  Even though charter schools are technically corporations, they still have to abide by public meeting laws in Delaware.  And in Delaware, all you have to do is advise someone you are recording a meeting.  You do not need their consent.

Charter schools in Delaware are not unionized, therefore they can hire and fire at will without any protection whatsoever for the teachers.  While one would hope charter administrators use a common sense approach in making these decisions, some charters have been known for running their schools like a dictatorship.  Some charters have fired a teacher over something as small as questioning a policy.  When this happens as often as it has at Academia Antonia Alonso this school year, sooner or later parents will begin to notice and question it themselves.  What charter boards fail to understand is they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a parent’s ability to make a choice.  What kind of message does that send when a parent is denied the simple freedom of recording a meeting when they don’t even need their consent?

Censored

House Bill 61, the school board recording bill, is awaiting a full vote by the Delaware Senate.  It passed the Delaware House last year.  Since then, many reports have come out about charter school fraud.  The bill is a no-brainer!  This is just another reason why this bill needs to pass.  Denying a parent of a choice is never a smart thing to do, especially when it comes to education.  For a parent to even attend a board meeting is a feat in itself.  They should be happy they have parent engagement.  I can only think of one reason a board wouldn’t want a public meeting to be heard.  And it isn’t because they don’t want parents to hear a great meeting.  They don’t want something getting out.  While the school did allow the parents to give public comment at two minutes each, will their concerns be put in the board minutes for the meeting?

What makes this more interesting is the amount of parent input they had for their recent major modification that passed the Delaware State Board of Education last week.  They had to solicit parents to comment on that publicly.  But when the parent’s want to talk about something the school doesn’t want out there, they don’t want the public to hear that.

Academia Antonia Alonso currently resides in the Community Education Building in Wilmington.  The State Board of Education approved their major modification request to move to one of the buildings owned by Odyssey Charter School at Barley Mill Plaza.  The charter school has gone through three heads of school since they opened in August of 2014, in less than two years.  They were placed on formal review before they even opened based on low enrollment.  They got out of formal review with a probation and got their enrollment up to what their charter was approved for.  In the 2014-2015 Charter School Performance Framework, the school met the standard for their financial framework but was labeled as does not meet standard for their organizational framework.

When our schools going to learn that if you try to silence parents in any way, sooner or later they will organize.  Teachers in traditional school districts already have the capability to organize through their unions.  Perhaps charter school teachers should as well to avoid these administrators who seem to think ruling with an iron fist is the right thing to do.

Public Information Officer For Howard High School Of Technology Clears The Air On Board Meeting & Town Halls

I updated my last post yesterday with information from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District concerning the change of time and venue for their board meeting this month.  During my communication with the district, I asked them if they just wanted me to make the change or post their information verbatim.  I didn’t hear back from them until late last night but I already made the change earlier.  This was their communication to me:

From: Demarest Kathy <kathy.demarest@nccvt.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 3:49 PM
Subject: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi, Kevin-

I am writing this email to you instead of using your blog as a forum.

On behalf of the NCC Vo-Tech school district, it is disappointing that you presumed that we decided to change the school board meeting time and location in order to prevent access to the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you can imagine, or perhaps you cannot, the first two days were spent doing everything that could be done to support Amy’s family, to provide supports for our Howard students and staff, and to communicate with students, parents, and the greater community the details as we knew them,  while this horrible tragedy was evolving.

We scheduled a Saturday morning conference call so we could schedule and plan Howard parent meetings as soon as possible. We knew we already had a regular monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday evening, and were already considering changing it so that Monday could be a parent meeting option.

We were informed late Friday by an elected city official that a Town Hall meeting for Howard parents and community had been scheduled for Monday night at Stubbs Elementary School. As we were unaware of that plan, and in order to accommodate that meeting, our Board of Education determined to move up their meeting Monday from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to hold it at District Office.

We have scheduled to hold the Howard parent meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, both meetings beginning at 7 p.m., and both in the Howard auditorium.  We had to schedule two meetings in order to accommodate as many parents who may wish to attend. Howard has a student body of over 900.
The Tuesday meeting is for parents of 10th and 11th grade students; Wednesday is for parents of students in grades 9 and 12.

It was certainly disheartening to see your post, when all are trying to make the best decisions possible during this unspeakable and evolving personal crisis for the Joyner-Francis family, and a school-wide crisis for the Howard community.  Perhaps you should have asked before you presumed the worst.

Please keep Amy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.  This will be a most difficult week for all. 

Kathy K. Demarest
Public Information Officer
NCC Vo-Tech School District

I responded with the following:

From: Kevin Ohlandt
Reply-To: Kevin Ohlandt
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 6:47 PM
To: Demarest Kathy
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Kathy,

I do appreciate you reaching out to me. I apologize about not reaching out. I used to reach out, many times, and I am usually ignored. So I stopped doing so a while ago. I get information from a lot of people, and while you were disheartened with my article, that was the impression many folks had prior to my writing it. As well, many people, including staff in the district, were extremely upset that Dr. Gehrt referred to Howard as a safe school when an innocent girl was killed there. There was a whole other part to that article you didn’t address. I understand this is a very tough situation, but parents and community members are counting on all of you to change the environment there. The bottom line is Howard is not safe. It hasn’t been, and I know many of our schools aren’t either. Sadly, we learned what happens when things are sugar-coated and we hyper obsess over student outcomes.

I write what I do, not to be heartless, but to draw attention to what is really going on out there. I know that underneath the shiny veneer so many of our schools coat themselves with, that there are children suffering. I also know a lot of that suffering is due to events from outside our schools, but a lot of it does take place in schools. Let me be the first to tell you: I hate writing so much about our schools and DOE in Delaware. I truly do. There is no benefit to myself, and it takes a huge amount of time.

I will happily change the article with the information you provided to me. I can do so verbatim or just paraphrase. I will leave that up to you.

I know this is a horrifying time for the district, but as a parent myself, I would want to attend this board meeting if I were a Howard parent. Town Halls in this situation are absolutely necessary, but board meetings are too. I know many people don’t take advantage of them, but that is where things happen with our districts. I do apologize the way I wrote the article, and like I said, I am more than happy to change it.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I received the following response late last night:

From: Demarest Kathy
To: Kevin Ohlandt
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:27 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your apology and for the offer to post. I’d prefer you post my email in its entirety.

Regards,

Kathy

UPDATED WITH VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION!!! Parents Concerned About Murder At Howard High School Should Go To District Board Meeting Monday Night

Updated, 8:32am: I have just heard from a few sources that the district has changed their meeting to their district office at 4pm.  And the meeting will be held in a conference room that holds a maximum of 15 people.  Apparently there is a Town Hall at Stubbs Elementary School tomorrow night which is being led by Wilmington Councilman Darius Brown, which precipitated the time change for the board meeting.  The district did reach out to advise me this is the reason for the board meeting change.  Several folks were upset about this, and I did suggest to the district they might want to change the board meeting to another night when parents and members of the community are more easily able to attend.  There is another Town Hall this week for parents to talk about the situation.  I will update that information when I know when and where.  One thing I would remind everyone to do is think of Amy and her family and friends.  And please continue praying for all of them.

Howard High School of Technology belongs to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.  The district has a board meeting Monday night, 4/25, at St. George’s Technical High School in their Media Center at 7pm.  Howard was the high school where Amy died last Thursday.  I believe the district has a lot to answer for.  While I don’t believe the district is directly responsible for what happened to Amy, there were circumstances that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.

NCCVTAgenda42516

Why are students allowed to enter the school at 7:15am in the morning to gather and do what they please.  I’m hearing hall monitors are sparse, when they do come, and when they arrive on time.  I’ve heard many who want to blame the teachers for what happened.  Nope.  They are in district mandated professional development during some of these mornings.  To accommodate this, the district changed the start time for the first classes a couple days a week.  Let’s make one thing clear right off the get-go: teachers hate professional development.  I don’t care how many surveys the Delaware Dept. of Education dredges out.  The abuse of Delaware teachers doesn’t begin and end with their evaluations.

Our school districts have become so enamored with the Delaware Way, that horrible situation where all tables must come to the table and compromise while the more powerful of the parties ends up getting their way (in most cases the state DOE/Rodel Foundation for education).

Could Amy’s death have been prevented?  I would like to think it could have.  One thing is crystal clear.  The discipline and fighting figures we see are not honest.  There may be a few out there, but I think a lot is going unreported.  There are things our schools are trying to hide which is making problems worse, not better.  In many of our schools, students hit teachers all the time.  They curse and roam the halls in some schools.  Some students are expelled or sent to alternative schools in the hopes they will become better students.  But the class sizes in these schools now make it impossible for a teacher there to get anything done.  There is also this absurd culture where students have no authoritative role models anymore.  Some of them don’t get it at home or school.  A school should not be the Band-Aid to cure what ails so many of our students.  But this seems to be what our state and the corporate education reform companies want.

Don’t get me wrong: students should not encourage fighting, nor should they build a blockade so teachers or other adults can’t stop what is going on.  The students involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  In my opinion, those who stood and watched while filming the tragedy should be held accountable as well.  They are just as guilty.  But the schools, districts and administrators who stand back and let these things happen time and time again need to realize how serious these things can get.  A student died in one of our schools in Delaware.  She was murdered.  We can’t forget that and it would dishonor Amy’s life to think otherwise.

The parents of students at Howard High School of Technology have every right to voice their concerns.  I strongly encourage all of them to attend the board meeting Monday night in Middletown.  If they are unable to get there, other parents should offer a ride or perhaps the district should arrange busing for them so they can make their voices heard.  This meeting could get very real and the district may be forced to hear things they would rather not hear.  But I’m sure Amy’s parents heard something they never wanted to hear the day she died.

Family Foundation’s Board Pays An Invoice With A HUGE Conflict Of Interest

In the January minutes for the Family Foundations Academy Board of Directors, a notation was made about Chairman Charles McDowell having the board approve an invoice by for a report that was done.  The invoice was provided by the Executive Director for both Family Foundations Academy and EastSide Charter School.  The invoice, for $10,500.00, was for a report on an Early Learning Academy study.  The board approved the payment.  The minutes went on to talk about the feasibility of having an Early Learning Academy in New Castle, DE.  Continue reading “Family Foundation’s Board Pays An Invoice With A HUGE Conflict Of Interest”

Does Delaware Met Have The Audacity To Try And Fight Their Closure?

Very interesting!  The Delaware Met is having a “special” board meeting tonight.  Oddly enough, their initial agenda had an action item entitled “Discussion on Halting the Closure of the School”.  Now that action item is gone from the agenda.  For a board that meets so often in “special” board meetings, they sure don’t take the time to update their board minutes!  And having NO board meeting in November, in the middle of their formal review, has to be the stupidest idea I have ever seen in my life!  Unless they were counting their formal review meetings and public hearings with the Charter School Accountability Committee as board meetings…

Here is their updated agenda which does not reflect what was on the original:

Delaware Met Special Board Meeting Tomorrow Night, May Take Action On School’s Charter

Delaware Charter Schools don’t tend to have special board meetings for good reasons.  Yes, the Head of School went out on maternity leave, but I’m sure that was expected to happen as it usually does when someone, you know, has a baby.  But if they may need to take action on their charter and to discuss personnel in executive session…that’s something different.  It’s all in there:

This is following their special board meeting on 9/23 of which they did not post an agenda (violating Delaware Public Meeting laws), nor did they post an agenda for this meeting, but it is a special board meeting.  As well, their Facebook page has the following message this evening:

We’ve had a few days off, but we’re excited to see all of our students at school tomorrow! Make sure you’re there! It’s a super important day!

 What were they off a few days for?  Their school calendar shows no days off last week.  Why would students not be there?  It’s school!  What is super important?  Or maybe I’m just talking to aliens Kilroy….

Sneak Peak: WEIC Presentation At Red Clay Board Tonight & The Devil Inside

You find all sorts of things looking at a school district’s board meeting agenda. Tonight, Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and Dan Rich from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Delaware will give a presentation to the Red Clay Consolidated School Board on Red Clay’s role in WEIC. This is the presentation they are giving tonight, and it includes a very key section! See if you can figure out before I write it after the obligatory Scribd document…

Okay, if you read through the whole thing and didn’t just scroll down real quick, you know exactly what section I’m talking about, with nine words bolded for emphasis:

Will the implementation plan recommended by WEIC be limited to redrawing boundaries?
•No. Simply redistricting is of no value without a comprehensive plan for school reform.
•The WEIC plan must include funding, parent and community engagement, and wraparound services.
•The WEIC plan will present a comprehensive package and ask the State Board to approve the entire package.

As Tony Allen is fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and that is one hell of a detail.  I wasn’t aware the State Board had the authority to approve the entire package.  I thought they only had authority for the actual redistricting.  Where is the General Assembly’s role in this?  And this commission will go on for six years?  Does this mean they can go to the State Board whenever they want to implement changes without legislative approval?  That is a HUGE mistake.  ENORMOUS! GIGANTIC!  The State Board should not have that much authority.  They are unelected and appointed by the Governor.  They never vote against his wishes.  This is the devil in all of this.  Here is the exact wording from the Governor Markell signed House Bill 148:

(g) The WEIC shall work with and across all governmental agencies, educational entities, and private and nonprofit institutions to promote and support the implementation of all recommended changes from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC). The WEIC will oversee the redistricting of school districts as set forth in this Chapter.   The WEIC also will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations. In addition, the WEIC will develop a transition plan, including a timeline, for the provision of necessary services to schools and students affected by the implementation of the changes recommended by WEAC. WEIC shall also develop a resource plan regarding transitional resources to effectively implement school district realignment. Both the transition plan and resource plan must be submitted first to the State Board of Education and then to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval.   Both are due for submission and related action by December 31, 2015.

This is a very slippery slope to start off on.  If I were the Red Clay board I would clarify this very important omission in their presentation TONIGHT!

What The Hell Is Going On With Christina School District?

In response to my reblog of a post on Kilroy’s Delaware, someone made a comment on my side of things, and it is very damning to Christina School District.  Meanwhile there are multiple accusations flying all over the place regarding a potential mole on Christina’s board.

I don’t understand. Is this meeting called by the school board or Markell? Is Kilroy saying Markell has minions on the Christina school board who will do his bidding to force Dr. Williams out?

As a CSD resident and parent, I don’t think that it is wrong to evaluate Williams’ competency and ability to lead the district. My question would be, why has it taken this long? Under his watch we have seen an increase in unnecessary spending that has created an environment of financial instability.

I know, I know, cost of running the district have gone up and monies coming in have remained flat. I get that, and I accept it, but Dr. Williams and his henchman, Bob Silber, have known this for the last three years! They have seen this coming, yet they chose to give car allowances to top level district employees…..BMW, Mercedes and Lexus vehicles being paid for with MY tax dollars. Cell phones for hundreds of district employees paid for with MY tax dollars. Travel reimbursement for regular job travel, meaning these people knew they’d be driving a lot when they took their positions, amounts that register in the thousands of dollars. The head of HR begin reimbursed for freight costs. What is the head of HR ordering, presumably for district business, that she has to pay the freight cost personally and then be reimbursed? These are the kinds of things that are going on under Dr. Williams’ watch. And this just scratches the surface! And don’t forget the two failed referendum.

So, should Freeman (there is no “d” in his name, Kilroy) be under review? ABSOLUTELY! The board needs to take a long, hard look at how he has run the district for the last three years. And not only him, but his chief staff members. There is shady business afoot in CSD finance and personnel.

Having said all of that, I hope and pray that there are not Markell-influenced members of the board who are trying to help the governor manhandle the future of this district. The last thing we need is this US DOE want-to-be poking his bald head any further into our business. He obviously does not know, nor does he care, about true education in this state. His veto of HB50 sealed his fate, and how he’s in a panic to try to clean up his name, but he needs to find another way to do it. And he needs to keep his ugly mitts off of our children’s future.

Those are some very serious accusations against Freeman Williams and other administrators within the district.  The next couple weeks should be VERY interesting in Christina.  After failing to pass two referendums, declining enrollment due to parents choicing out of district, and the whole redistricting effort in Wilmington to get City of Wilmington schools out of Christina, this district has some large battles ahead.  Is there dissension on the board?  It appears so, and how it shakes out will be anyone’s guess.  Does Governor Markell have a hand in this?  This I do not know at all and I’m kind of doubting he would tell me if I asked him!

In terms of the legality of the whole agenda issue, the question looms based on the recent Attorney General opinion on Appoquinimink’s school board discussing their Superintendent Matt Burrows’ contract in executive session.  Should Freeman Williams’ “accountability” hearing be a matter of private or public session.  Between here and Kilroy’s, comments are swinging more towards executive session, but the issue of legality should be resolved prior to this meeting, not after.

Odyssey Charter School Having Huge Problems, Spent $700,000 Over Budget This Year

It looks like Odyssey Charter School is having some pretty major financial problems in Delaware.   Following many other charters in the past couple years, Odyssey somehow managed to spend $700,000 over their budget this year.

Some highlights from the below board meeting minutes from 5/13/15:

-They spelled “Public” wrong…

-This school continues to run their board meetings like a corporate board meeting and very little is discussed about actual academics at the school, in fact the word “student” is never even mentioned…

-Jennifer Nagourney from the Delaware DOE Charter School Office attended the meeting and reminded the board to make sure they are following FOIA regulations, she also asked the board to give her good news about the school so she can report it to the State Board of Education…

-The board told the administration they need to look at cutting all expenses…

What was the deal with Headmaster Nick Manolakos unbudgeted salary change?  It was rumored he was looking to leave last winter and that he applied for the Providence Creek Academy Principal position.

Could Odyssey be one of the four unmentioned Delaware charter schools being investigated at the State Auditor office?

My Conversation With Penny Schwinn Today About Smarter Balanced & SATs

After I wrote about the State Board of Education meeting last night, I thought I would reach out to Penny Schwinn, who publicly stated there is talk about replacing the SAT with Smarter Balanced in 11th grade.  I emailed her this morning, and I wasn’t really expecting a response, but I did make sure to include the Public Information Officer at the DOE, currently Tina Shockley (since Alison May is out on maternity leave).  This is the exchange that happened:

Clarification on State Board of Education SBA Presentation Yesterday 

  • Today at 10:32 AM
To:  penny.schwinn@doe.k12.de.us
CC:  Tina Shockley

Good morning Mrs. Schwinn!

I attended the State Board of Education meeting yesterday in which you gave a presentation on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  At one point, you discussed the possibility of the Smarter Balanced Assessment replacing the SAT in 11th grade.  I wanted to reach out to you to get some more information on this and what the motivation behind it might be.  In my opinion, the SAT is a long-term, proven and effective measurement test, while the Smarter Balanced Assessment is new and unproven.  This will be for an article on my blog, Exceptional Delaware, so any comments you make would be made public.  Thank you very much,

Kevin Ohlandt

I received the following response 24 minutes later!  I bolded one part of her response for effect.

To:  Kevin Ohlandt
CC:  Shockley Tina

Good morning,

As part of the 5-year Assessment Plan, we are currently soliciting stakeholder feedback and welcome any and all comments. Specific to 11th grade testing, we discussed reducing the number of summative tests, which may include students not being required to take two summative assessments at the end of the year. At this point, the SAT is not a test we would consider cutting.

Please let me know if you have other questions.

Best, 

Penny Schwinn

Sent from my iPhone

Of course, this didn’t really answer my question, so I sent another email:

To:  Schwinn Penny

Formal Review for Freire, Prestige Academy, DE Design Lab & Academy of Dover

At the State Board of Education meeting today, four Delaware charters, two of which have not even opened yet, were all put on formal review.  Two were for enrollment, one was for enrollment and academic issues, and the last was for academic and financial issues.

Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School were put on formal review for low enrollment.  As per Delaware state code, an approved charter school must have 80% of it’s fall enrollment by April 1st.  Freire had a major modification approved to reduce their enrollment cap from 336 to 224 at last month’s State Board meeting.  As of April 1st, they were at 78 and today they are at 92.  Delaware Design Lab is going through the same growing pains as well.  Other charters scheduled to open next year have the following enrollment percentages- Great Oaks: 100%, First State Military: 94% and Delaware Met: 81%.  Freire could ask for a one-year extension to open, but they would have to do so by 5/12.  Delaware Design Lab already was granted a one-year extension last year, which can only be done once.

Prestige Academy was placed on Formal Review for low enrollment as well as academic reasons.  Out of their 225 enrollment cap, they were at 59% as of 4/1 with 186 enrollments, and today they are at 190.  Their academic percentage of proficiency also went down 17% between the 2012-2013 year and the 2013-2014 year, from 56% to 39.1%.  What muddies the waters on this formal review is the framework for Smarter Balanced won’t be available until January for all schools.  For all three of the enrollment formal reviews, Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education Jennifer Nagourney said “Funding drives academic programs.”  And the schools funding is based on enrollment figures.

Academy of Dover, also in the hot seat for academic reasons definitely has some major financial issues going on.  Like Family Foundations Academy, they are being audited by State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  This also explains why the financial part of their performance framework has not been updated on the DOE website since last fall.  The school’s auditor noticed some financial irregularities and it was sent to Wagner’s office.  They couldn’t put anything up while the audit investigation was going on.  Nagourney did share there is a litigation matter going on with the school but she was unable to give any details.  I asked her specifically if the litigation had anything to do with former Head of School Noel Rodriguez resigning last fall, and stated she wasn’t sure of that.  She did state the auditing issues began an the same time Rodriguez resigned.  I’m sure there is much more to the story about Academy of Dover than what we are hearing, and I’ve already put some feelers out there.

Academia Antonia Alonso was taken off probation status, Odyssey Charter is complying with their required meeting with the Public Integrity Commission and will meet with them later this month, and Family Foundations Academy submitted their first monthly report to the charter school office as a condition of their probation status given by the State Board of Education last month.

After the meeting, I spoke with Nagourney and David Blowman, the Deputy Secretary of Education, along with Matthew Albright of the News Journal, Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks/WHYY and Larry Nagengast with WDDE for a q and a on these issues.  The big question which the DOE was not able to answer was why these enrollment figures are so low.  The question was asked if the charter market in Wilmington is saturated.  but the fact that two other charters opening next fall makes this a difficult issue.  Blowman explained that a change in enrollment deadlines coupled with a first count of funding based on enrollment figures based on a 5/1 count seems to be causing problems this year.  When asked by Wolfman-Arent about any “ghost” schools, where an approved charter never opened due to low enrollment, Blowman and Nagourney did not know of any.

And yes, I was shocked to be invited to this impromptu media gathering!