Delaware Department Of Justice Weighs In On Charter Schools Keeping Certain Match Tax Funds

The Delaware Department of Education’s Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting requested a legal opinion from the Delaware Department of Justice.  She wanted to know if the Department could legally enforce local school districts to send non-minor capital improvement match tax funds to Delaware charter schools.  What did the DOJ say? Continue reading

Delaware Met And Their Train Wreck Of A Formal Review Meeting At The DOE Today

The Delaware Met is drowning.  I don’t know any other way to put it.  If this school is open for the 2016-2017 school year, I will be completely shocked.  The Delaware charter school had their first Formal Review meeting today at the Delaware Department of Education, where they faced nearly two hours of questions from the Charter School Accountability Committee.  The answers, when they provided them, caused great concern with the members of the committee, members of the audience, and myself.

To start, let me name all the players in today’s meeting, because there were many.

Charter School Accountability Committee: Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman, Exceptional Children Resources Group DOE Employee Barbara Mazza, Associate Secretary of Adult Education & School Supports Karen Field-Rogers, Educator Effectiveness & Talent Management Atnre Alleyne, Community Representative & Former DOE Employee Paul Harrell, Education Associate at DOE for Science Assessment and STEM April McRae

Staff To The Committee: Charter School Office Director Jennifer Nagourney, Deputy Attorney General & Consul to the Committee Catherine Hickey, Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson, from the Charter School Office: John Carwell, Michelle Whalen, & Sheila Kay Lawrence, from the DOE Finance Office: Brook Hughes

Delaware Met Representation: Innovative Schools Chief School Officer Teresa Gerchman, Delaware Met Board President Nash Childs, & Innovative Schools Financial Services School Support employee Karen Thorpe

The meeting began at 1:30pm with a roll call of the participants.  While the exact wording may not be exact in all conversation, I did my best to type notes as fast as I could.  If there is a specific quote, I will highlight that.

Blowman: purpose of meeting is to discuss and review relevant material to see if remedial measures against the school need to be taken, there will be no specific recommendations coming out of this meeting.  This is a preliminary discussion.  The initial report will be out by November 9th and Delaware Met has 15 days to review and comment on the report.  The grounds for formal review were outlined in the letter sent to the school, including potential violations of the school’s charter in respect to the school’s educational program, school culture, board and leadership capabilities, and financial viability.  On November 1st, the Delaware Met submitted documents to the DOE and the committee will consider any documents and discussion at the meeting to determine if charter holder is compliant in these areas and the committee will let the school know if they need additional information.

There was some initial confusion right off the bat as Blowman wanted to discuss the educational program, and Gerchman mentioned something about the Code of Conduct being included in the formal review, to which Blowman responded he was more concerned if the procedures were followed with fidelity.

The first conversation surrounded the technology and computers at the school:

Teresa Gerchman: In addressing computers at the school, she said the school has a firmer grip on what is needed and the school is having meetings with parents so students and parent can understand the computer policy.  The school is working with Positive Outcomes which has the similar Go Guardian software which tracks the computers students have, websites students visit, and any connections for safety of students.  They will be handing out computers on 11/12, will be used starting in the 2nd quarter.

Jennifer Nagourney: At the 10/12 Del Met board meeting, it was discussed there was damage to the computer lab.

Gerchman: The school had a brownout but it was not the one-on-one technology the students will be using

David Blowman: Was the plan for computers to hand them out in mid-November or was that reflective of enrollment?

Gerchman: It was planned for 1st quarter but discipline issues came up and wanted to make sure parents understood the computer policies.

Donna Johnson: How can students check out computers each morning in a personalized learning environment?

Gerchman: Advisors help with that.

Johnson: (Asks same question again, Gerchman interrupts Johnson as she is asking her question)

Gerchman: We will be using the computers to set up internships and to do blended learning in the classroom.

Johnson: How will the computers be used outside of the school?

Gerchman: Students will be using other materials for outside work and by the 3rd quarter students will be able to take computers outside of school.

Johnson: What about teacher training for the technology (for some reason it was difficult to hear this part)

Gerchman: Training was done last summer.

Johnson: Is there after school or extended day to use computers?

Gerchman: Not now but the school will be able to do that.  Basketball starts soon so students involved will have 4-5pm study hall but right now there is no afterschool transportation.

Atnre Allyne: What determines readiness (for computers)?

Gerchman: It is intership readiness.

Johnson: What type of digital citizenship are students taking?

Gerchman: Not sure.  That is with Big Picture (model for school).

Johnson: How long is advisory each day?

Gerchman: 90 minutes.  Charly Adler with Big Picture Learning is involved.  He is providing training and hands on coaching for teachers and for advisory curriculum.

April McRae: What is the ratio of advisors to students?

Gerchman: 17:1

McRae: If advisors are also teachers, liaisons, and internship counselors how does that work?

Gerchman: They work with students during advisory period to go over personalized learning.

McRae: How long was training over the summer?

Gerchman: One month.  Charly was there to help there to help trouble shoot.

Blowman: Was there an awareness teachers weren’t ready?

Gerchman: No, teachers felt like they were prepared.  What they were not prepared for was what it took to engage students in advisory.  They thought the kids would be ready to jump in and they were not prepared for what happened.  Many kids were not engaged in the Big Picture Model.

Karen Field-Rogers: Was there something else that could have helped?

Gerchman: The Summer Institute was not required but going forward they will make it required.  Less than 50% of the students participated.

Blowman: Is there a difference in retention performance for students that went through the Summer Institute?

Gerchman: Yes.  The advisors are determining which students are internship ready but they do not have a percentage calculation.

Blowman: The model was always Big Picture.  The school had four years from the beginning of the application process.  I’m wondering how much planning and implementation was done by the ??? (couldn’t understand)

Gerchman: No.  We clearly stated what it was.  The majority of students who applied or went to open house knew it was clearly defined.  I don’t know if application fully embraced the model when students applied.  Big Picture was not (created?) for an urban setting.  We did not have right connection with the right school models (named schools from California)

McRae: That surprises me because the whole model is based on an urban setting.  I would have assumed Charly and his trainers would have based it on that.  This is a big disconnect.

Gerchman: The Providence schools were the foundation for this.

McRae: I have great concern.

Gerchman: We never heard this till after they opened.

At this point, DOE employees were passing out Halloween candy in Carmike Cinemas popcorn bucket

Gerchman: We are about to start matching potential careers in advisory.  We are having parent meetings and both parents and students will sign off on those.

Blowman: When does the internship program start?

Gerchman: It will vary by student.  Every student will be in one by the 3rd quarter.  The plan was never for 9th graders to start on 9/1.

Blowman: There is a big gap between 9/1 and the 3rd quarter.

Gerchman: It was always the plan to have 10th graders start within 10 weeks.  Not all students are ready.  We will be doing internal internships instead of external for kids with a disciplinary record.  They will stay at school to learn expectations for the workplace.

Alleyne: How do you know they are all going to be ready?

Gerchman: When we say internship ready we mean external.  We have a lot of resources coming into the school to help out, and the internal students can do IT at school.

Barbara Mazza: What training have you given teachers for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)?

Gerchman: We are having meetings with parents for one hour instead of a half hour.  All teachers have been given student goals and have a spreadsheet with all the goals.  Sue Ogden, the head of Special Education, is driving those meetings and she has worked w/teachers.

Mazza: Is she working with teachers on professional development for instruction?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden was not there during the summer.

Blowman: Do all eligible students have approved IEPs?

Gerchman: I can’t answer that.  I don’t know.  We are having meetings and they all have to do with transitional (not sure of next word after that)

Mazza: It has to be done within 60 calendar days of the schools opening date.  When did the school open?

German: 8/24.  Sue Ogden has a chart she is following closely.

Blowman: How many are handling special education?

Gerchman: 62.

Blowman: No, teachers.

Gerchman: We have Sue Ogden and two paraprofessionals and outside services for counseling, occupational therapy.

Blowman: That is equivalent to 4 units.

Mazza: How many unit counts did you estimate based on 9/30 student counts?

Karen Thorpe: 4 complex, 39 basic, 17 intensive.

Mazza: That is more than 4 units.  We want assurances every student had an IEP meeting before the 60 day mark.

Editor’s note: It got very quiet at this point.

Gerchman: Do you want a breakdown of service related hours?

Mazza: Not just that.  Also any behavioral needs being met.

Gerchman: We have social workers.

Mazza: You have 8 students identified with a disability?

Gerchman: That is where the mentoring team comes in.  We have a social worker, a psychologist to do the functional behavioral analysis and create the BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan).  Sue is involved in deciding if the behavior was a manifestation of the disability.  When a student brought a weapon to the school, we did a full manifestation determination hearing with the psychologist.

Blowman: Are you pushing inclusion?

Gerchman: Yes, and pull-out groups.  Classes are co-taught with special education teachers and there is time allotted  for pull-out services.

Blowman: How are you implementing RTI (Response to Intervention)?

Gerchman: We are utilizing intervention blocks of times. Students will be pulled for 45 minute times based on tier 1 or tier 2 services.  We are using pevious years of DCAS and Smarter Balanced scores and looking for kids that were consistently low.  Sue did additional testing to get to current levels.  Students get those additional services in addition to special education.

Johnson: Funds generated for special education students must be used for those students. I want a follow-up on how much money is being spent on special education currently and how much is for unit counts and staffing.

April: Science & Social Studies.  I have questions.  The school provided a curriculum outline, but I have concerns.  You also provided 1st quarter objectives and they not in compliance with the science coalition that was provided.  It is not compliant, and it almost feels like you will join the social studies and science coalitions but the application stated the school would be members of that coalition before the school opened and the school year started.

Gerchman: In my role now I can’t explain what happened.  When we saw we were put on formal review we reached out to those coalitions.

Nagourney: Is there anyone in this room that can explain this? Any board members?

Gerchman: I can’t explain it.

Nagourney: Is there anyone here that can answer this?

NO ONE IN ROOM THAT CAN ANSWER!!!

Johnson: Delaware Met had an additional year of planning to get ready.  The charter was approved by the Secretary and the Board (State Board) did not go through the exact science and social studies curriculum because they were joining that coalition.  I see them joining now because they are on formal review. I don’t see this matching to state standards and don’t see teachers have already gone through training to understand current state standards.

Nagourney: Who was responsible for overseeing this process?

Johnson: I don’t care who was responsible.  I want to know what happened and why because they had an additional year.  Those are basics and that’s very concerning.

McRae: Kind of what Donna (Johnson) said but since you are not currently members of the coalition we would like to see lessons aligned to state standard to see students are getting that curriculum.

Blowman: How long into the school year before that impacts students?  A lot of what should have been done over the past two years is being done once the school opened.  It is sacrificing instruction.  You had two years. (Blowman goes over everything discussed up to this point)

Johnson: I have a question about the 1st week of school plan.  Was that week considered an on-ramp to high school or are those hours including instructional hours for the school year?

Gerchman: It was considered on-ramp for Big Picture Learning.  It was also an on-ramp to high school but more Big Picture.

Johnson: That does not count towards instructional hours.

Gerchman: We will subtract them out.

McRae: What does it mean to be intern ready?

Gerchman: Charly has worked with advisors to understand this.  It means the student is ready to go external: they will be ready with how to dress, language, behavior and expectations.  For students we feel are not ready to go external we will give internal (internships).

Paul Harrell: How often does the school psychologist visit the school?  3, 4 days a week?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.  I don’t have that information.

Harrell: The mentoring program, who does it?

Gerchman: It is run by AJ English, it is called English Lessons.  He has two other people for three total.

Harell: Are they local?

Gerchman: It is a local mentoring business, one is a licensed social worker.

Harrell: Does anyone else in Delaware use AJ English?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.

Nagourney: We would like a list of external internship partners.

Gerchman: We don’t have that because no one is in an internship yet but we do have have interested parties.

At this point, the CSAC dove into what everyone wanted to hear: School Culture!

Gerchman: My assessment on the school culture is it is not what is was supposed to be.  This is not a surprise to anyone walking through the door.  AJ English was supposed to be an after school program but we saw the need for additional support for students, a need to understand what is triggering behavior and not just punishing behavior.  They have a rubric.  Some mentors know students.  We added a school climate officer who was hired before the start of the school year.  I was not part of the process for hiring him.  I’m not sure why he wasn’t there the first week of school.  He was given additional support and we brought people in: An In-School suspension person with experience at that to make it more effective- consequences when they are there, doing school work.  He worked in the Philadelphia school system (Note to self: but is he credentialed in Delaware?).  We brought in Rob Moore who works in the community and runs a basketball program and knows students and families.  He is a climate monitor and he can remove students from class with a goal of getting them back into class.  Mr. Wilson has enough people on his team, a one-person team can not handle it.

Blowman: How is the current climate?

Gerchman: Not where it needs to be.  Teachers need to do a better job of fully engaging all the students with instruction and professional development, and using the Teaching for Excellence framework.  I just got to the school on 10/27.  That was always the plan and teachers trained on this in August.  With Tricia Hunter (the official Head of School, out on maternity leave until mid-November) going out on maternity leave those were not fully taking place but since she came on they are.  When my kids are better engaged they are learning.  When we determined the 4-5% of students causing problems, we do check-in and check-out with their advisor or mentor, we are using behavior intervention plans, and we are trying to stop what is going on outside of school from coming into school.  The school is implementing Teaching for Excellence and teachers got training over the summer.

Johnson: That was a minor modification and that didn’t happen until after school year started.

Gerchman: I was mistaken.

Mazza: How is ISS (In-School Suspension) handled?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden administers that.

Nagourney: When was the last time a police officer was called to the school?

Gerchman: The Mayor (of Wilmington, Dennis Williams) came last week.  We have a police officer there every day for 2 hours at dismissal.  Kids come from other high schools to meet friends or for other reasons.  Yesterday we had a student that was suspended come back to school to start a fight with another student.

Blowman: How many times have the police been called in?

Gerchman: I don’t know.

Nagourney: Are those incidents being recorded?

Gerchman: Yes.

Harrell: When was the code of conduct issued?

Gerchman: The beginning of school.

Harrell: Wouldn’t it have been better to send during summer given the population at the school?

Gerchman: We wanted to review it with the students instead of just giving them a document.

Blowman: What plans do faculty have in place to engage students? Are teachers fully able to get engaged with students?

Gerchman: They have lessons plans and they are giving feedback on lesson plans.  We are making sure teachers know who to put out and we are working with those teachers first.  This is not a kid issue, it’s an adult issue.  We need to help teachers get stronger with that, have better relationships with the students.

Harrell: How is the morale of the teachers?

Gerchman: Not great.

McRae: It sounds like you are having an issue with fighting.  A student came back to finish fighting…

Gerchman: We suspended the student for a vocal altercation.

McRae: Have adults been trained to handle physical altercations?

Gerchman: No, not all

McRae: You have 62 IEP students, THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST,  AN ABSOLUTE IMPERATIVE

Gerchman: I just found out AJ English has programs in two other schools.

Johnson: Can you provide an outline of how school board and staff used the additional year to plan?

Nash Childs: It was difficult since we didn’t have a building.  We acquired the MBNA building bought by the state.  It took a long time.  We didn’t know we had the building until before the school year started (Innovative Schools officially purchased the building in November 2014).  We had to get a certificate of occupancy for the building.  The board was so focused on facilities and student recruitment that they lost valuable time working on the educational program and the code of conduct.  We had a school leader acquired but didn’t have the  money to pay her.  We had all these financial issues come together.

Johnson: What was relegated to the CMO (Charter Management Organization, in this case Innovative Schools)?  It seems to me they should have been working on those aspects.

Childs: As far as facilities that was the board.

Johnson: That makes sense.  How did the board hold the CMO accountable?

Editor’s note: No one answered this question.  I am guessing here, but I believe at least two board members were sitting in front of me but they were not a part of the response team. There was quite a bit of whispering between the two women at this point.

Childs: We work as a team.  I’m not an educator, but we have a lot of passionate volunteers on the board that love this model.  We thought this was perfect for downtown Wilmington but it is obvious we could have spent more time on the education program and climate.  The board didn’t know they were going to be faced with these issues.

Johnson: What are the current responsibilities the board is putting on Innovative Schools?

Childs: They have been a great partnership and the board is not throwing blame.

Johnson: What role is the board having on Innovative Schools?

Childs: We gave them a list in September 2015.  Our contractual agreement was not 100% implemented until after May of 2015.  They were doing work and not getting paid a dime for a while.

Gerchman: We are currently in the school and not charging the school for that.  Hodges (another Innovative Schools employee) is in the school and we are not charging for that.  We are working on filling gaps with no additional charge.

Blowman: Is that a deferral, cause we had that situation last year…. (I would love to hear more about that one!)

Gershman: It is not a deferral, when we looked at the numbers we rearranged their plan and how we could support them.

Johnson: In response towards the school leader, it says Innovative Schools additional roles would incur greater expense. Is the school having additional costs to cover your (Teresa Gerchman’s) primary duties?

Gerchman: I am working nights and weekends, no.

Johnson: Are you still CSO of Innovative Schools?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: I am concerned about the capacity to serve all these schools.

Johnson: You are serving more schools now.  That was a concern last year and it is now.  I have questions around board governance training, due process training, and financial training.

Childs: We had training that started over a year ago. I can’t say who got what but I can get that list.

Johnson: How many board members have been on the board since you started the training process?

Childs: The majority.

Johnson: For new board members training?

Childs: Yes.

Gerchman: The entire board received DANA training and repeated this in September.

Kendall Massett: I was there and everyone did.

Gerchman: Not everyone got budget training.

Blowman: Financial Viability…

Thorpe: The current student count is 215. We have contractors in place for services, transportation, staffing in budget, our financial goals were not to draw any outside credit, to be able to reserve summer pay as required, as well as instructional goals to provide one on one technology.  The budget you received  was for 218 enrollment.

Nagourney: They submitted a new budget two hours ago.

Thorpe: We submitted a budget before the 9/30 count, but since we have had additional special education and what services are needed, and trying to get all the right people together for the budget.

Field Rogers: The budget submitted did not show funding streams.

Thorpe: It does now.

Gerchman: I was on leave when the letter came out so that is why we didn’t submit a budget.

Field-Rogers: The summer pay is part of a budget.

Thorpe: Those are in-school expenses

Field-Rogers: It shows a surplus of $10,000. Is this through 6/30?

Thorpe: It is a 12 month budget. This is before encumbrances, expenses from encumbrances are in current year budget.

Field-Rogers: This says there was a $65,000 line of credit was drawn in June.

Thorpe: Some bills did not get paid until July.

Field-Rogers: Are there any outside bank accounts?

Thorpe: None.

Field-Rogers: There were 215 students by 9/30. Have any students left since then?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: How many students left since 9/30?

Gerchman: I am not sure. We sent four students back to Red Clay. (Discussion around working plan out with Red Clay to send the funding for those students to Red Clay)

Blowman: Were they special education?

Gerchman: No.

Nagourney: We received complaints as of this morning that students were not released for good cause.

Blowman: How is the school providing related arts: phys ed, fine arts, drivers ed, health? Cause you have a budget of that for $35,000.

Gerchman: We have a person doing phys ed and health, and some drivers ed.

Field Rogers: I’m confused cause revenues received doesn’t match the budget recieved, as well as transportation eligible students.

Thorpe: The local revenue matches what is on the DOE website. The state revenue is a little bit higher because we  have some teachers that will be credentialed.

Blowman: Page 3 says Academia. Is that correct?

Thorpe: That is correct. I will be more careful of that in the future.

Field-Rogers: Cafeteria funds of $189,000 seems really high…

Thorpe: That is correct, but that is what we are trending at.

Field-Rogers: Special Education is nine units and I see two teachers (paras) and one coordinator.

Mazza: Is Sue Ogden the Educational Diagnostician?

Gerchman: She is the Special Education Coordinator. (believe this to be the title that was said)

Nagourney: Are you planning for next year yet?

Gerchman: I don’t think my being the actual leader is effective. We are waiting on the school leader (Tricia) to come back on 11/19.

Massett: I want to point out this isn’t required.

Nagourney: We are looking at long-term financial viability.

McRae: I’m concerned with students leaving the school because of bullying, seven students left with good cause, police reports… do you feel students are safe on your campus?

Gerchman: More students feel safe now. Four bullied students left but one parent has expressed interest in returning.  The parents are concerned about retaliation for coming forward about bullying.  We have lots of students where that level of chaos is comfortable for them but for students not from those environments it is very hard.

Blowman: Do you believe students are safe in the school (looked directly at Gerchman)?

Gerchman: Yes. (long pause) We are reviewing applications for special education staff and having interviews tomorrow.  Sue is the specialist and we want to make sure she is comfortable.

Johnson: Can we get detail around engagement of parents and students with addressing culture, when the application was in process and when the school opened, with other Met schools, and the steps taken to engage parents and plans to move forward?

Nobody answered.

Blowman went around the committee asking members and staff to state what information was needed from Delaware Met.

McRae: Calendar of instructional hours and social studies and science lesson plans, units, and alignment to standards.

Mazza: We need confirmation they have reached out to John Sadowsky (Climate and Discipline Director at DOE, who did attend the meeting but left early, was not announced) for physical restraint training.  We want a list of IEPs and the 60 days, we aren’t seeing it in the system.

Gerchman: We got some expired IEPs, and we had problems with IEP Plus since 10/1.

Michelle Whalen: Please make sure all private information is redacted.

Mazza: If we find services were not being met what is the plan for making up time so services are met? And for the internships, we want to make sure these don’t provide barriers for students with disabilities.

Gerchman: We are using Positive Outcomes as a resource.

Harell: I want to know what other schools AJ English has a mentoring relationship with. Two teachers have left, I want to know of any other teachers leaving.

Johnson: I’ve asked for a lot. I’m asking for Schoology training, prior training, current use, additional follow-up on training for teachers, the training teachers got for social studies and science, the units are aligned to state standards, specific financial information about how much money receied for special education and how funds are being used and special education units staffed with  those funds, documentation on board docs to CMO, board training, detailed information on how board and staff utilized the additional planning year, and board engagements with parents and family members for school culture before school opened and after.  How many times have police been called?  Are there costs for Wilmington police to provide services?

Gerchman :Yes, $100 for two hours. This just started yesterday.

Field-Rogers: This isn’t budgeted.

Gerchman: We gave all the discipline information to John Sadowsky and the charter school office.

Johnson: (directed to DOE). I would like that information provided to our office (State Board of Education).

Blowman: The goal today is to assess where the school is today with concerns and to determine if there are still areas of concern. Meeting adjourned.

Who’s Who At The Delaware DOE?

I write about these people all the time, and I take for granted that most of you have no clue who some of the Secretary of Education’s underlings are!  So here is an organizational chart, taken from the DOE website, from August 2015.  Don’t be alarmed about the name at the top!  Mark Murphy’s last day is September 30th, 2015.

DOE