Guest Post By John Young: Christina Breaks Out!

Former Transparent Christina blogger and current Christina Board of Education member John Young wrote the following guest post based on an event held yesterday at the Chase Riverfront in Wilmington.  All Christina School District administrators, teachers, and staff members attended the event.

On Tuesday, August 22nd I had the distinct pleasure of attending our district-wide kickoff event. As most people who follow education know, Christina has faced many challenges in the last decade, many of which continue today: poverty, leadership, choice laws that do not put children first, policy, and politics to name a few of the big ones. We meet these challenges every day, across a 2000+ employee base that is dedicated, professional, and truly amazing!

I was struck by the enormity of having the entire district in the same place at the same time. We had done a similar event in the past broken into two sessions at Glasgow High School due to capacity issues, but our new Superintendent, Richard Gregg, was able to negotiate a single venue with capacity because he wanted to set our district upon this year with a distinct theme and direction: One District, One Vision, One Voice.  After 8+ years on the Board, it was so refreshing to have a message that resonated in a single setting, one that could be heard by all.  For me, one of the KEY takeaways is that each of those three prongs of the message will be uniquely and specifically fueled by a calculus with children at the center.

I know that’s what school districts claim to do, and pledge to do, but we in Christina have been led very erratically for such a long time (well over a decade now), we lost our way somewhere in there. I know each district leader before Mr. Gregg did their level best, but sometimes there was a lack of relation between intent and execution of the vision and direction which has fueled divisiveness at every level of the district, including our board.

I felt like so much of that began to thaw, even melt, in 4 short hours yesterday. I’ve been involved in countless issues over my tenure on the board many of which are not always about the students: contracts, consultants, ideology around destructive policies put for by the state, etc. etc.  Yesterday, it became clear to me that some of those things don’t deserve another moment of my time. They are worthless endeavors that do not serve children. We have new leadership and a new focus for our service model which requires the removal of “awfulizers” from our midst, and replace them with “awesomeizers”.

Christina planted a flag in the ground yesterday. I feel like it was our own metaphorical Gadsden Flag. Our referendum rally cry of a “New Christina”, an amorphous, unclear, and frankly controversial concept for some was jettisoned yesterday, not because it was bad, but because it took life. It’s beating in our core, and breathing on its own…

…and it had 2000+ parents and guardians present for the delivery. Quite a welcome sight to behold and an honor to witness.

School Board Election 2017: Many Filings Already!

On May 9th, Delawareans across the state will vote for school district board members.  It happens every year!  This year will be no exception.  Below are the list of districts with open seats for the election and who has already filed.

Appoquinimink, at-large, expires 2022, no filings

Brandywine, District D, expires 2022, no filings

Caesar Rodney, at-large, expires 2022, Alan Claycomb (filed 2/3/17)

Cape Henlopen, Area D, expires 2022, no filings

Capital, at-large, expires 2022, Andres Ortiz (filed 2/2/17)

Christina, District G, expires 2022, Shirley Sutton-Saffer (filed 1/5/17) and Jeffrey Day (filed 1/31/17)

Delmar, at-large, expires 2022, no filings

Lake Forest, at-large, expires 2022, Austin Auen (filed 1/6/17)

Laurel, at-large, expires 2022, Linda Wintjen (filed 12/30/16)

Milford, Area D, expires 2022, no filings

Milford, at-large, expires 2022, no filings

Red Clay, District C, expires 2022, no filings

Seaford, at-large, expires 2022, Michael Kraft (filed 1/4/17)

Smyrna, at-large, expires 2022, Vetra Evans-Gunter (filed 1/23/17)

Woodbridge, at-large, expires 2022, no filings

So it looks like we have one contested seat up in Christina, but no others… yet.  That will change.  The filing deadline is the first Friday in March.  And no, I will not be running for Capital again this year.  But I do see one of my opponents is taking another shot at it.  Good luck Mr. Ortiz!  Indian River does not have any open board seats this year.  All I can say about school board elections is get the word out.  The number of votes in these things compared to the number of students in the district is very small.  People shouldn’t complain about school board members if they don’t vote in these elections!  Come April, you will start seeing school board election signs all over the place across Delaware.  Don’t steal them though, it is still against the law!

Capital School District Strategic Plan White Paper Shows Strengths & Weaknesses Of District

At the Capital School District Board of Education meeting tonight, the vendor for their Strategic Plan, Demosophia, presented a white paper on the plan.  Their findings were based on forums held with the public as well as a series of one-on-one interviews and small group discussions with different stakeholders in the district: teachers, administrators, board members, students, parents, and citizens.  The next part of the Strategic Plan is co-labs.  With these, a diverse set of stakeholders will convene for all-day sessions on 4/28 and 4/29 to formulate a definitive plan for the district which will be presented to the Board of Education next month.

Below is the white paper.  One thing to keep in mind is the data the Delaware Department of Education put together from the IDEA Parent Surveys sent out last year.  Recently, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn encouraged all parents of students with an IEP to participate in the survey rather than the random number sent out by the DOE.

Answers On Delaware Met Reveal More Questions

Today, on Town Square Delaware, members of The Delaware Met Board of Directors broke the public veil of silence and spoke out on the issues surrounding the school.  Based on this information and other information that has been sent my way, I have put a picture together of the events that happened last week at the embattled charter school

On Monday, a squirrel got into a transformer causing the power to go out at the school.  As a result, there was no school on 9/21.  On Tuesday, the students returned to school.  Where it gets a bit hazy is what happened next.  But what is certain there was no school from 9/23 to 9/25 due to emergency professional development for the teachers:

With the blessing of the Department of Education, we chose to give our teachers professional development time last week to assess these needs and make adjustment.

I believe the school, based on discussion from their Monday night board meeting, did attempt to reach out to parents to let them know about these unforeseen days off which were not on their website calendar.  On Wednesday 9/23, based on their agenda for their 9/28 meeting, the Board met in a Special Board meeting.  There was no agenda on their website, so it is difficult to surmise what was discussed at this board meeting.  On Friday, shortly before noon, I received two emails indicating the school was closing the next week due to violence, gang activity, fighting and Innovative Schools, the school’s management organization, severing ties.  I emailed the DOE and the school immediately for any type of confirmation.  To date, no one responded to any of my emails.  The school has this information, and chose to ignore me completely.

At the same time, we began to be made aware of whispers in our community and beyond that the school had already chosen to close. To answer these rumors, it was important for the Board to hold a special meeting.

This would have been the second special board meeting, so what was the reason for the first?  I knew of Delaware Met, but up until Friday I had never heard a peep about this school aside from an occasional article here and there.  The only time I wrote about them on here was for their performance award application and their award of $175,000.00.  The school had and still has every opportunity to contact me, and they know how to.  Back to Friday, a few other sources confirmed the earlier email I received.  To be honest, I thought the email was a joke, or someone trying to give me false information, which happens more than you think as a blogger.  I’m sure mainstream reporters can attest to this as well.  Other sources confirmed this information, except for one part: the part about Innovative Schools cutting ties with the school.  For someone to send that to me, it would have to be someone with inside information.  Since other sources were already vetting all the other information, I knew this story had legs so I published it.  While the DOE and I are battling on several issues, I sincerely reached out to them and the school.

Over the weekend, I did an extensive amount of research on the school, their student population, their application with the DOE, their finances, how they acquired the property at 920 N. French St, and other material on the property kept popping up as I was looking.  As I collected the information, it provided a wealth of articles.  In the meantime, the school put up their notice of the second special board meeting at some point over the weekend which I saw Sunday night.  As well, they put an announcement up on their Facebook page about an important announcement the next day and they hoped everyone would be there.  I’m not sure what their announcement was, but I responded to their post and addressed what I heard point blank.  To date, no one responded to my public plea for information.

On Monday, I focused on the history of the property.  Meanwhile, the school was giving information to the News Journal and alleging that the “rumors” were causing more harm than help.  Rumors which they knew came from this blog, they had my email address, they could have responded on Facebook, or even commented on the many articles that went up over four days.  Meanwhile, thousands of Delawareans were reading what I wrote with complete silence from the school aside from cryptic Facebook messages and even more cryptic board agenda announcements where they announced they were going to vote if they should keep their charter.  Without a charter, there is no school. No school would ever put up a notice like that over “rumors”.

On Monday evening, the board voted to keep the school open.  There was a great deal of discussion concerning enrollment, best practices for the teachers, financial viability, and school culture.  Many members of the community attended this board meeting that would not have normally if the “rumors” had not surfaced.  Serious questions arose out of this board meeting and deep concerns about the school’s ability to service and educate a very high population of special needs students.  Many of the teachers are not seasoned, and the school had (at that point) two special education teachers with a population of 60 IEPs, and more projected.  Legislators, reporters, and citizens attended this board meeting, and the bulk of them left feeling very perplexed at the administration of this school.

I’m not sure if Delaware charter schools have received a “don’t respond to the blogger” email.  But more often than not, no one from the charters respond after an inquiry before I publish or after I publish based on information that is already in the public domain.  I am open to communication.  If you disagree with something or find my information is not factual, please reach out to me.  I have fixed information based on a different perception or not being able to find information many times.  Most reporters have.  I don’t consider myself a “journalist” per se, but I do devote quite a bit of free time looking for answers and I write based on what I found.  I also offer my opinion which sets me apart from the typical newspaper or television reporter.

Yes, I had a bad response with a charter once upon a time.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of unelected boards.  No, I don’t hate charters.  I hate what many of the adults do at charters.  I get charter parents going ballistic on me cause I dare to write about “their” school.  If they want to give me facts, I am up for that.  But one commenter seemed offended that I dared to question what she wrote.  It’s a free world.  And while I respect anonymity, understand that I have no idea who you are.  I don’t know if you are the school, the DOE, or a parent.  I was taught by a college professor that they key to life is not in the answers, but in the questions.  I will always ask the questions based on the facts that are presented to me or that I find.

With that being said, these are my biggest questions concerning The Delaware Met AND the property:

  1. When did the school know they had a large population of special needs students coming and what did they do to prepare for it?
  2. Who is their special education coordinator?
  3. Why do they have no financial information on their website?
  4. What does Innovative Schools do for $380,000 in two plus years?
  5. Why did Innovative Schools pay $1 million to the Charter School Development Corporation who in turn bought 920 N. French St from the State of Delaware for an undisclosed and not in the public domain amount?
  6. Why does The Delaware Met need Innovative Schools?
  7. Why does one of their board members allow the school to pay the company he is a chair of?
  8. Why does another board member work for the same company that handles the school’s finances?
  9. Did the school reach out to other charters or districts for help with their student population?
  10. Did a student bring a gun to the school on the very first day?
  11. What was the purpose of the board’s special board meeting on 9/23?
  12. What was the big announcement revealed to students on Monday 9/28?
  13. How is a student with an IEP accommodated while at an internship?
  14. Does any member of the board benefit in any way from an internship by a student?
  15. Has the school considered hiring a School Resource Officer?
  16. Where is their student handbook?
  17. What is their enrollment as of 11:59pm this evening, including basic, moderate, complex and intensive subgroups for their large special education population?
  18. Are their teachers adequately trained to determine what is behavior and what may be a manifestation of a student’s disability?
  19. Do they have the staff to complete IEP meetings since so many of the IEPs may need to be relooked at based on their curriculum?
  20. How much did the State of Delaware sell 920 N. French St. to Charter School Development Corporation and why is this not on any public website?
  21. Where did the State of Delaware put this revenue?
  22. Is there any immediate danger to staff or students at the school due to its Brownfield Site designation?
  23. What was the nature of the work Duffield Associates did for the school last year?
  24. What is the DOE’s duty to ensure new charter schools are ready from day one to run a school?
  25. What are the DOE’s next steps in terms of this school?

While I understand the school can’t answer all these questions, I welcome Innovative Schools or the State of Delaware to answer them as well if it applies to them.  You may not feel like you have to answer them, but I’m like a dog without a bone sometimes…

Big Changes At Family Foundations Academy: Moore & Brewington Terminated With Cause, Board Members Resign

At the Family Foundations Academy Board meeting last night, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, previously suspended with leave, were terminated by the board.  This ends their long tenure with the school amidst allegations of financial impropriety and mismanagement.

Two other board members, Byron Brooks and Gregory Smith resigned.  Out of the original board, only Monnica May and Rayne Fletcher remain.  There were five new additions to the board: Jocelyn Stewart, Faculty member Jason Casper, and three Eastside Charter Board members are coming over to the FFA board- Charlie McDowell, Thomas Humphrey and Charles Tolliver.  Sadly, I was not given any consideration in my bid for a board seat.  I think I’ll be okay.

With the new board, there is much more diversity.  Previously, the board had been all mostly all male African-Americans, but now there are four Caucasian and three African-American members with two of them being female and five male.  Dr. Lamont Browne from Eastside Charter will be supervising the situation at Family Foundations for the foreseeable future.

The big question will be if these changes are enough for the Delaware Department of Education, who will decide on the embattled school’s charter renewal this Thursday, January 15th, at the State Board of Education meeting.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board will determine if the school will remain open after the end of this school year.