At the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover, the Charter School Accountability Committee recommended Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security stay open for another school year with very stringent conditions. At that point, Colonial’s Board of Education could very well decide to take over their charter. Queen Margie once again made it all about her. But the discussion that reached this point was very intense. Much more information here than you will find in the Delaware DOE press release. Continue reading “CSAC Recommends DAPSS Stay Open For One Year With Conditions While Queen Margie Exerts Control”
I’ve seen some arrogant stuff from charter schools in my day but this one takes the cake! Separating herself from the rest of the Board of Directors, Margie Lopez-Waite must be thinking her name adds extra oomph to the struggling Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security. Yes, being a Chairperson or President of any school board does give you a certain amount of power and responsibilities, but to distance yourself from the other equal board members is not a good idea. It makes the rest of the Board look weak in comparison. I’ve seen many charters where the head of the Board calls the shots. The rest of the Board winds up becoming a rubber stamp.
For Queen Margie, she has gained absolute control at the school. Obviously they need something since they are on formal review but I would prefer like-minded people working together as opposed to this self-created hierarchy.
Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security came out with their response to the initial Charter School Accountability Committee meeting. We learned Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting turned down the school’s request to submit a major modification to reduce their numbers. That makes sense since you can’t do that when you are on formal review. The school also made an attempt to compare their test scores to area high schools and show they really aren’t that bad when you compare them like this.
Since their modification won’t happen, that means they can’t switch their location for this school year or even next school year if they remain open by that time. That means they have to renew their lease with Fatima, the church that holds the lease on their building. Given that the school is at least $184,000 in the hole, this spells trouble. My sense is they are deeper in the hole than suggested but they found a way to hide it. Even though THIS WAS DISCUSSED AT THEIR FIRST MEETING WITH CSAC.
We also learned their teaching staff has some glaring holes in it. Out of their eight core teachers, three are on emergency certificates, two are vacant positions, and one has an initial license. What does that mean? This school’s teaching population is not up to snuff. 75% of them are not fully certified teachers.
Does Herb Sheldon make $185,000 as Principal of this school? According to their proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year, that’s what it looks like. I hardly think a school of 200 students needs a Principal making THAT much money. Especially since he has NO academic background aside from human resources at another charter school.
What disturbed me the most about this school was their attrition rate with special education students. If you look at the below graph, you can see the number of students with disabilities dropping considerably each year as they go on to their next grade. What happens to these students? Are they counseled out? Expelled? Or do parents just say enough is enough and pull them out? Where are these students going when they leave DAPSS? To other charters or back to their regular feeder pattern? For their Grade 9 that started last year, they were at 32.9% special education. This year, those students in 10th grade are at 0% special education. What happened to those 25 students on an IEP? Same with the 9th graders that started in 2014-2015. In two years, they went from 27 IEPs to 16 to none. For a school that boasts about being able to handle high-needs students, I’m not seeing it! To begin training on special education law at a state and federal level before the 2018-2019 school year does NOT show a commitment to these students. That training should be going on NOW!
I love how the school talks about all the programs brought about by their former Curriculum Director, Erica Thomas, who is no longer with the school. Way to take someone else’s work and make it your own!
To read the pitiful response from the school, please see below. To read the appendices mentioned in the report, please go here.
For a few months there, I had a great source at the Delaware Department of Education. When Delaware MET went down at the end of 2015, there was a lot I didn’t publish about what was going on there. You will find out why shortly. I’m glad I trusted my gut and didn’t send Wilmington into chaos mode. The below emails, between Dave Morgan and myself, not only shed a lot of light on Delaware MET, but also the Delaware DOE itself. Different names are thrown around in these emails. Going back and reading these is always fun! The last email between Dave Morgan and myself is particularly enlightening given that DAPSS is finally under formal review. The incompetence at the DOE is plain to see in these emails. I wish I could have met Dave in person. I probably did but didn’t know about their secret alias with me. I’ve had a few suspicions over the years, but have been unable to prove it. Some parts of these emails I redacted for a few reasons. That’s my business! Continue reading “Untold Tales: Delaware DOE, Dave Morgan, & Three Days That Scared The Hell Out Of Me”
Sussex Montessori School went through their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting in their application process. I thought for sure, given this was their second attempt to apply for a charter, they would get it right and everything would be smooth sailing. Instead, their application is missing a lot of information. The committee smacked them up and down the court.
These are my favorite quotes from the report: Continue reading “Sussex Montessori Appears To Be Clueless On Special Education & Basic Charter Formation”
On the surface, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is toast. But many key players in the Delaware education world are busy making plans to make sure that outcome does not happen. How do you get a school way below enrollment to survive? You partner up and you do it fast! Continue reading “The Behind The Scene Plans To Save DAPSS & What The DOE Isn’t Telling Us”
Providence Creek Academy has been around well over a decade. Aside from a year off, Chuck Taylor has been the Head of School at PCA. This school year will be his last according to a letter he sent to PCA parents last week. Taylor will officially retire at the end of this school year.
In 2014, Taylor returned to the school after he “resigned” the year before. When he returned, his salary increased dramatically. In Delaware, your pension is based on your three highest years of salary. Coincidence? I think not.
In any event, as far as I’ve heard, Taylor will continue to serve on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware DOE. As well, he is also President of the Board at the Delaware Charter School Network.
In her resignation letter, former Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security Board of Directors President Sherese Brewington-Carr expressed a desire for the charter school to close. As well, she opened a can of extreme whoop-ass on Delaware Charter School Network Executive Director Kendall Massett. Five days later, the school and board went through their first meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee and went through a very intense meeting. Las Americas Aspiras Academy Head of School Margie Lopez-Waite lambasted the school in the meeting while begging CSAC to keep the school open another year. Continue reading “Former DAPSS Board President Rips School & Kendall Massett To Shreds While Margie Lopez-Waite Pleads To Keep School Open”
Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security made some substantial moves at an emergency board meeting Friday night. Including having an existing charter school leader become the President of their board! As well, the distressed charter school put a for lease sign up at their current property. Apparently they have an eye on another charter school’s vacant property.
Margie Lopez-Waite, the current head of school for Las Americas Aspiras Academy in New Castle, DE took over as Board President at their emergency board meeting Friday night. I can’t recall a time seeing an active charter school leader from one school become a board member on another. But this type of situation is not unprecedented. For a brief time, Colonial Superintendent Dusty Blakey serves on Aspiras’ Board of Directors.
On Tuesday, DAPSS will have their first formal review meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education in Dover. A growing discontent with the former President, Sherese Brewington-Carr, led to the changes. As well, a former board member named Dennis O’Brian went from Emeritus (on the board in honor but not active) to active. Some other new board members were added as well. Many folks have asked me if Sherese is related to Tennell Brewington from Family Foundations Academy and I have not been able to confirm any kinship. Some have speculated they are but Sherese has categorically denied this ever since Tennell’s financial fiasco a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the school put a for lease sign up at their school. They want to move into the old Family Foundations Academy property in New Castle. This is now an administration building for East Side Charter School and Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations). The first public hearing for DAPSS’ formal review will take place at this building on February 13th.
The Board of Directors at DAPSS has not put up any of their meeting minutes since their November meeting even though they have had three meetings since. They are also out of compliance with putting up their audio recordings of their board meetings as none have appeared since the November meeting as well.
Sources tell me Charlie Copeland has not been active with the school for a very long time and he actually wanted the school closed due to the dwindling enrollment two years ago.
The last time a charter school went through these kind of board member changes was Family Foundations Academy during their own formal review. However, even though FFA was going through a financial-fraudpalooza, they had the student count to justify staying open. DAPSS does not. This should be interesting!
Charter schools in Delaware- they are like a soap opera!
Last night, the Delaware State Board of Education unanimously put Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security on formal review for academic and financial reasons. The 6-0 vote puts the New Castle charter school through a two-month review period where they have to meet with the Charter School Accountability Committee and go through public hearings. The placement of a charter school to formal review status does not mean they are being shut down. Putting a school under formal review is the process. Any decision to leave a school open or shut it down takes place after a formal review and the findings that come out of that.
I knew their enrollment was low but that isn’t the only reason they went under the formal review knife. Academics played a big part. This is always tough for me to support because I loathe the use of standardized testing in punishing any school. With DAPSS, they went from Smarter Balanced to the SAT in a two-year period. In 2015, the SAT was remade to include Common Core.
Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will make her recommendation to the State Board of Education at their March 15th meeting and then the State Board votes on that recommendation. The letter from Secretary Bunting notifying the school of their formal review status, the timeline, and their performance matrices for each category are included below.
Either the Charter School Office was ready for the State Board to vote for the formal review or they are able to predict the future, because the below PDF was created at 1pm yesterday, four hours before the State Board of Education began their meeting! I would have to say the school’s founder, Charlie Copeland, is not happy about this!
Only one application came in for a new charter school this year in Delaware. It is the same one that applied last year but that school withdrew their application shortly after. Sussex Montessori School is going for it again this year.
The proposed school is looking for 260 students in grades K-3 and by year four they are hoping to have 455 students in K-6. There is only one charter school in Sussex County, Sussex Academy. There are some very familiar names in their founders list and interested parties with a board consisting of nine people. It sounds like they have their ducks in a row with this application.
What bothered me about their Executive Summary was this line:
It is clear that the traditional public schools are not working well for many children in Sussex County.
They based this on… what else… standardized test scores. We will NEVER learn, will we? This charter school isn’t even open and they are already assuming they can drive those Smarter Balanced test scores up. I know, whether you agree with this or not, you have to kiss the ring of the Delaware DOE by promising higher achievement on the not-so-Smarter Balanced Assessment. Shouldn’t there be more to education than this horrible measurement?
Sussex Montessori School does have three enrollment preferences in their application: siblings of students already enrolled, children of staff members, and children of the school’s founders.
The school is projecting a little less than 22% of their funding will come from local school districts for each year they are open.
To read the entire application and all the attachments, please go here. The leadership team of Sussex Montessori School will have their first meeting with the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee on January 24th.
All five of the Delaware charter schools have received renewal recommendations from the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC). The State Board of Education will decide if they agree at their December 14th meeting. Anyone wishing to submit formal public comment must do so by December 8th. Everything looks good for these charters except for one of them. Which one? Continue reading “Academia Antonia Alonso, Early College H.S., First State Montessori, Sussex Academy and Thomas Edison All Get Renewal Recommendations But One Has Serious Conditions”
What? Who in the world is Herbert Sheldon? Who is the Board? While you may not know this name right now unless you are very involved in Delaware education, you soon will. Why? Continue reading “18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Herbert Sheldon & The Board”
What would you do with $145,000? Apparently, for Noel Rodriguez, it was whatever he wanted to do. But the money wasn’t his. Today, the former Principal of Academy of Dover pled guilty in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington according to Cris Barrish with WHYY.
Noel Rodriguez, 56, admitted in U.S. District Court in Wilmington that he stole in a number of ways, including charging personal expenses to four unauthorized school credit cards and a state credit card. He spent the money on electronics, travel, car expenses, gardening and camping equipment, home improvement items and a dog house.
According to the article, the newly christened U.S. Attorney, David Weiss, is in charge of Delaware when it comes to federal matters in court. Rodriguez got a $250,000 fine and will assuredly be facing jail time at his sentencing, up to ten years. What I would like to know is if part of that $250,000 fine goes back to Academy of Dover. I think it should. Taxpayers were robbed by Rodriguez, they deserve to have their tax money go back to what it was allocated for.
The article referenced the State Auditor of Accounts report, conducted by Kathleen Davies in 2014 and 2015.
“A major concern regarding the situation at the [school] is the length of time that passed without any intervention from oversight parties” the school board of directors and auditors, the Department of Education and the Charter School Accountability Committee, the report said.
It is my most fervent hope that all four of those entities know better now and this never happens again in Delaware.
Say, what about Providence Creek Academy? What is going on with their theft of school funds? Sean Moore and Tennell Brewington of Family Foundations Academy and now Rodriguez all pled guilty. What about PCA’s shenanigans? And the fact that one of the entities Davies slammed in her audit investigation just so happens to have PCA’s Head of School on it? The good old Charter School Accountability Committee. Word on the street is Chuck Taylor will be resigning soon and collecting that nice increased pension based on the past three years of service when he came back to rescue the school during the fall of 2014. Say, is that matter still under investigation?
For Rodriguez, this puts a capper on that shenanigan. As the article mentioned, Academy of Dover is still open and they actually increased their enrollment this year.
For well over two years, Providence Creek Academy has been searching for a new Head of School. Let me repeat that. For over two years. And guess who is on the committee to hire a new Head of School? Chuck Taylor. The not-so-interim and more like permanent Head of School. How many interviews have they had? What is the hold up? If I were a betting man, Chuck is so glued to that school he weeds out anyone who could possibly replace him. In reviewing their board minutes for the past nine months, there has not been one mention of this committee or any type of interviews for a candidate.
I’ve always been curious how a charter school leader can hold that position when they aren’t even certified to do so. We hold that standard for traditional school districts, why not a charter school? This came up with the Delaware DOE during the school’s renewal a year and a half ago but I haven’t heard squat about it since. I would have to believe more than a handful of qualified candidates knocked on their door for this job. I have a sneaky feeling there are some in the PCA community who are wondering the same thing. How they aren’t exactly enamored with Chuck in this role. That they may be questioning his ability to effectively govern the school with his qualifications. I’ve also heard, and not just recently, that he rules over the school AND the board with an iron fist. A season of discontent? You better believe it! Many feel Taylor abuses his position and he owns their Board of Directors.
When he isn’t busy with PCA, Chuck helps out with the Delaware Charter Schools Network as the President of their board. He also serves on the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education. How does a former shop teacher get so involved with charter school policy at the state level? Which will be very busy in the fall with no less than five charter school renewals on their plate.
In 2013, Chuck Taylor left Providence Creek. He “resigned”. He resurfaced in the fall of 2014 after a brief stint as interim Head of School at Campus Community School in Dover. The circumstances surrounding his sudden “resignation” are mysterious. I’m sure the reasons are tied up in some type of non-disclosure agreement. But when truly strange things started happening at the school in October of 2014 and many became worried about school safety and security, Taylor came back. It was meant to be temporary, but two years and eight months later he is still there. He guided the school through their renewal process last year but during all that one of their former employees was named in an audit investigation and alleged to have embezzled money from the school.
In April, the PCA Foundation was approved as a 501c3 non-profit. Somehow, this will allow the school to get a loan from the USDA according to their April board minutes. It also appears the Delaware Department of Finance approved the school for procurement cards with a maximum limit of $5000. Their board minutes do not specify how many p-cards the school received and which staff will receive them. The school was selected as one of two pilot schools for the changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. The changes, which came from House Bill 399 last year, were not implemented at PCA and they bowed out of the new alternative pilot. They did, however, hire a non-educator to conduct their teacher evaluations at the school. This DPAS-II coordinator’s education experience consists of summer camp counselor experience. During the Spring, many parents became upset over a field trip waiver which parents felt did not adequately protect students. Quite a few spoke out in public comment during their May Board of Directors meeting.
To those who want to say “Here he goes again, bashing on charter schools”, that is NOT the case here. Aside from the ongoing Newark Charter School ruckus, I’ve probably been harder on districts than charters in the past six months. But all I will say is there is legitimate cause for concern and I’ll leave it at that. In this era of reduction in workforce notices and budget cuts, fear is a very powerful thing. I would love it if educators at PCA went on the record with whatever is going on there, but I also understand a need for staying quiet in what could very easily be seen as a hostile work environment. Delaware has fairly extensive Whistleblower laws on the books.
Just when things were getting quiet in Delaware Charterville, it looks like Delaware Design-Lab is having some very big organizational issues. The school submitted a minor modification request that has to be seen to be believed. The Head of School quit in February and there are all sorts of financial issues going on surrounding their LLC status and even the name of the school! Given that the school did not meet their April 1st required numbers of 80% enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year and the bombshells in this application, I don’t blame Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting for referring this to the Charter School Accountability Committee. The situation looks rather complicated and it needs a set of eyes to get more information on this developing situation over at what could soon be called DDLHS. I had a feeling something was going on with this school.
This will be short and sweet, but the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee voted on Monday to recommend the Academy of Dover for charter renewal with no conditions. The committee, created through the Delaware Dept. of Education Charter School Office, will issue their final report next week. In December, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at their monthly meeting. The State Board will then have a vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.
One major thing that came up at their initial committee meeting last month was their enrollment. It dipped this year and has been on that trend. The committee advised Academy of Dover that if this trend continues they could face major obstacles in the future which could put them in a very precarious financial position. Charter schools in Delaware are required to be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st before the next school year. If they don’t, they go on formal review. This will be something Academy of Dover will have to deal with going forward until they get their numbers back up.
I think the closure of any school is a very serious decision and if it has to happen, it better be for some damn good reasons. Academy of Dover is not anywhere close to that level. I will do a follow-up on this when the report comes out next week.
Move over bacon! Here comes something meatier! It looks like we have a charter school “district” coming in Wilmington. How very interesting. Word on the street is Prestige Academy has been invited to become a part of the EastSide Charter “district”. We will now have three charter schools in this “district”: EastSide, Family Foundations Academy, and now Prestige Academy. Add in the very big connections between EastSide and Gateway, and we are seeing a budding school district within already existing school districts.
This is NOT a joke. But questions are rising up faster than Buccini-Pollen apartment buildings in Wilmington! Last month, the Board of Directors at Prestige Academy wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education indicating they would be surrendering their charter at the end of this school year and would not be attempting to renew their charter. They based their decision on low enrollment. So if they wrote this letter and did NOT have their initial Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, how can this even happen? Whether they join or not, they still have to go through the charter renewal process and deal with their very low enrollment. But once again, the word on the street is the DOE will let this go through. Even though they haven’t changed anything on the charter renewal part of their website for the 2016-2017 year for Prestige’s renewal. But still, Secretary Godowsky would have to give his assent to the State Board of Education who would have to vote as a majority. I really shouldn’t predict what they are going to do. They have their own minds.
I have a novel idea. Maybe the enrollment would go up if they changed locations. Being across from a men’s prison for an all boys school with a huge African-American population isn’t the wisest idea. It didn’t work out for Marion T. Charter School either (they went down years ago). But it looks like we could have a Wilmington School District in the future, just not the kind any of us expected (actually, Kavips did when the whole priority schools thing went down). I’m sure some will say “You’ve got this all wrong”. We will see what comes out in the wash! How ironic that the charter school lawsuit against Christina would also coincidentally come out at the same time, which all three schools in the EastSide Empire are a part of…
Academy of Dover is up for charter renewal this fall. The Secretary of Education will announce his recommendation at the December State Board of Education meeting and then the State Board will vote on it. The school has a gigantic hurdle to overcome: their enrollment.
Today, the Charter School Accountability Committee released the report from their initial meeting with Academy of Dover on October 10th.
Mr. Blowman noted that the school’s enrollment has declined steadily over the years, from 308 students in school year 2013-14 to 247 students this school year.
That is a very serious drop! Their approved charter enrollment is 300 students. Charters can’t go below 80% of that, so their magic number is 240. How bad is it? To put things in perspective, they decreased their Kindergarten classes from 3 to 2 this year because of lower enrollment. That is their bread and butter for future growth.
Ms. Johnson stated that if the current 2016-17 enrollment is projected out based on the trends to date, the school would be at 46% enrollment in four years, well below the required 80%. She added that this trend is occurring at every grade level versus one particular cohort. She reiterated that the school must provide a strong plan to mitigate this year’s reduced kindergarten enrollment and the low year-to-year retention rates.
Teacher retention was also an issue, but Academy of Dover is not immune to this issue. Many charters and districts regularly suffer through this process each year.
This is my problem with charter school renewals. So much of it is based on standardized test scores. Far too much of it. I can’t sit here and mock charters about low test scores while demonizing them in traditional schools. This very huge flaw in education is universal. For any school to feel they have to create a “Smarter Balanced Boot Camp” to drive up scores shows exactly what is wrong with the system to begin with. This school already has a long day, from 7:45 to 3:30. By keeping struggling students until 5pm and factoring in transportation, that is half of a student’s day. Gone.
One thing I was very happy to see was a minor modification request submitted by Academy of Dover to reduce their number of school days from 200 to 180. Citing a lot of absenteeism of students the first two weeks of school and the last two weeks, the school said they are listening to parents. But of course the DOE has to pick that apart as well.
I believe the DOE needs to take a strong look at their Charter School Accountability Committee. The non-voting members, at least two of them, had a lot to say during this meeting. More than I’ve seen in a long time. But when one of the voting members could potentially stand to gain if the school shut down… that I have a huge problem with.
The next Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, where the committee will give their final recommendation, will occur in late November or early December. I think the school has come a long way since the Noel Rodriguez days. I think they realize what their major mistakes were and have attempted to take swift action. The addition of Gene Capers, a former Principal from Capital School District, as a curriculum director, was a stroke of genius. Cheri Marshall has come a long way. While she was thrust into a position of leadership based on another person’s wrong actions, she has grown in that role. I saw a confidence in her at the renewal meeting last week that I didn’t see during their formal review a year and a half ago. While this may seem to be too little too late for those who are no longer at the school, no human being can change the past but they can try to make a better future.
I gave this school a very hard time the past couple of years. So much of that surrounded a central theme: transparency. I think the combination of Rodriguez’ shenanigans, special education issues, and their start and stop time of the school year are playing a major part in their current enrollment woes. My recommendation: approve their minor modification and let them stay open. See what happens in the fall. If their enrollment falls below 80%, the DOE will be forced to follow the law. But give them a chance. We have had far too many charter schools close that serve minority and low-income populations the past few years. It is not good. They have to get special education right, but they are not the only school in this state struggling with that. We must, as a state, clearly define a better strategy for special education and make sure all schools are consistent with that path.
On a Facebook page called The Unofficial PCA, about Providence Creek Academy, the host put up a post on Monday about a large exodus of teachers from the Kent County charter school. The post disappeared, but a more watered down version of the question showed up Wednesday night on the page. As well, students in Kindergarten to 2nd grade took a standardized test that actually caused some parents to pull their children out of the school. Questions are beginning to mount concerning the “interim” Head of School, Chuck Taylor, who has filled this interim position for a year and nine months.
In terms of the teacher exodus, it was confirmed at PCA’s board meeting on Tuesday that twelve teachers left this year. The average is three to five. But the school insisted this is “in the norm” according to the new Facebook post on The Unofficial PCA.
Are Teachers Leaving PCA?
Notes from 7/26 board meeting.
I hadn’t planned to attend last night’s board meeting. But the day before, I ran into another parent at the store asking if I had heard about the rumors. People had been saying that a large portion of the teachers were leaving PCA out of frustration with Head of School Chuck Taylor and Principal Audrey Erschen. My friend didn’t have much details so I canceled my plans and went to the meeting. I was expecting a huge turnout from parents but there was only one other parent attending (other than the parent board member) and she hadn’t heard the rumors.
I relayed as much of the rumors as I could, without revealing names. This year, there are about 60 on staff and about a dozen teachers left PCA; some to other positions, some for family, and a couple that were dissatisfied. In an average year, 3-5 teachers leave PCA but this year is not too far out of the norm and certainly not as severe as the year in which 21 teachers left. All but two of the teaching positions have been filled. Ms Erschen assured us that they are in no rush to fill the position and are being very selective. She is confident that the two positions will be filled well before school starts.
As far as any issues teachers may have had with Mr Taylor or Ms Erschen, they never were clearly defined. Mr Taylor has been the interim Head of School longer than intended as that the last candidate selected was not able to take the position. Another candidate is being considered and Mr Taylor is planning to go back to retirement in January. On the couple of occasions that I have heard someone complaining about Mr Taylor, it usually stemmed from a misunderstanding. I do not envy Ms Erschen for the balancing act she does every day. She deals with a whole lot of problems and somebody being dissatisfied is inevitable but she always maintains professional composure. Every morning, no matter the weather, they are out in front of the school to greet students and talk with parents. I’ve always found them to be very approachable and the kids (including my daughter) think well of them.
Greater transparency and addressing issues before they become rumors would help to put parents at ease. Board meetings include an “Opportunity to Address the Board” and it is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and raise concerns. PCA is considering putting the ‘Head of School’ and ‘Principal’ reports in the webpage ‘news’ in addition to already being in the ‘Board Minutes’. They are also considering providing staff bios so that parents know more about the staff.
I intend to follow up with any more details that I come across and certainly welcome any input. Rather than passing along rumors, it’d be helpful to discuss these things in an open format (you can message me if you’d like to remain anonymous). I requested a list of the teachers that left (elsewise, we could always figure it out through the process of elimination). Arguing the validity of an individual complaint may not be as useful as keeping an open eye for trends. PCA isn’t perfect (no school is) and we should all strive to make things better and that depends on parents being involved.
-Director of Curriculum Danielle Moore wants to go back to the classroom and work with kids. She has been replaced by John Epstein who had been working for the Delaware Board of Education.
-‘Special’ classes will no longer be on a six day rotation because the classes were too far apart. So this year, students will have two special classes each trimester with the same amount of time give to each class.
I would not say 12 teachers leaving out of a staff of 60 is “in the norm“. That is 20% of their staff. Charter schools do tend to have higher turnover than traditional public schools. But that is an alarming number, in my opinion. While it isn’t the exodus of 21 teachers that happened at one time, it should be a matter of concern for other teachers and parents. My biggest questions would be how seasoned the departing teachers are. Will their replacements be more experienced or less? That could have a big impact!
In their latest posted board minutes, for their June 21st board meeting, I found several items that were somewhat odd which have my comments under each one.
Mrs. Erschen reviewed the placement of appropriate employees to be included in the Consolidated Grant FY 2016-2017.
What does “appropriate employees mean?
PCA will be the only charter school involved in a new DPAS study.
Which DPAS study is this? The only public DPAS study I have seen is the pilot program which will come out of House Bill 399, which changes Component V for teacher evaluations. Senator David Sokola was really promoting his “pilot program” amendment. Sokola and Chuck Taylor worked together on the charter school audit bill. But what makes this very interesting is House Bill 399 didn’t pass until July 1st. Eleven days after this board meeting on June 21st. So how could PCA have been picked for this program if this is the DPAS program they are talking about? And Markell hasn’t even signed the bill yet. Unless there is some other DPAS program that hasn’t been revealed.
There were some issues with the implementation of the new grading policy for grades K-2. This new policy created some confusion with parents. With help from Mrs. Erschen and Mr. Taylor the concerns were addressed and professional development will be provided to the teachers at the beginning of the school year to ensure that there is consistency among teachers.
What is this new grading policy? How did it create confusion for parents? If professional development is needed so teachers can understand a grading system in the next school year, there is something not right about this. More on this later.
Approval of Employee Bonuses: Lisa Moore made the motion, Chris Craig seconded. All in favor? Motion passed.
PCA consistently gives out “academic excellence” payouts every single month. But are all teachers getting them? The average monthly employee bonus is $466.
And from their May 24th Board minutes:
Head of School Search Committee: One candidate was interviewed. Board of Directors are still narrowing candidate pool for more candidate interviews.
Can someone please tell me why the Interim Head of School, who has been in this “interim” status for 21 months, is on the search committee for this new head of school? How many candidates have interviewed? It looks to me like Chuck Taylor is using his position on this committee to secure continued employment for himself. Because this is how I see it. He left PCA under very vague circumstances in the Spring of 2013. He wound up at Campus Community School where he became their interim Head of School after Trish Hermance resigned in the Summer of 2013. In September of 2013, their board voted unanimously to keep him on as the permanent Head of School. By December, they hired a new Head of School. Chuck joined their board and six months later, he resigned from their board. In October of 2014, Chuck came back to PCA during the Audrey Erschen odd relative/employee shenanigans going on at the school. As the interim Head of School. A few months later, the Tatnall leader who was supposed to become the new Head of School was poisoned in the Caribbean. That was over a year and a half ago. What qualifications does a leader need to become their Head of School? This looks like a lot of stall tactics by Chuck Taylor. I don’t buy him wanting to retire.
For a guy who wants to fade into obscurity, he sure does place himself in very important charter school positions. As well as his “interim” duties at PCA, he also has a slot on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) at the Delaware DOE and is the President of the board for the Delaware Charter Schools Network. He was present at the Senate Education Committee for legislation surrounding charter school audits. While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is important to know that PCA used the same auditor for their annual audit as Family Foundations Academy for many years. Both PCA and FFA had major investigations from the State Auditor of Accounts that led to findings of severe financial abuse and theft. During FFA’s charter renewal, Taylor served on CSAC. When questions arose among the committee about FFA having a bizarre number of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor actually defended the FFA board even though it was painfully obvious there was a major conflict of interest at play. During this time, FFA’s leader, Sean Moore, was the Treasurer for the Delaware Charter Schools Network. Moore embezzled over $100,000 from FFA according to the inspection report that came out last December. The State Board of Education placed FFA on probation when it became public about the financial fraud. Moore was terminated by the re-structured board which eventually removed the fraternity brothers.
All K-2 end of year assessments were created and given to the teachers who are working on administering them to the students. After all tests are complete teachers will submit them to so that data can be gathered on the assessments and determine if any changes need to be made for next school year.
PCA created assessments for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd year students? Yes, they did. Who created these assessments? And if a child failed these tests, the parents were told the student had to go to summer school for a fee of $350.00. It didn’t seem to matter what their classroom grades were. Six different parents of first graders received a letter the second week of June indicating their child had failed the reading assessment part of this assessment. PCA highly recommended sending these kids to summer school. This is actually a step up for the school, because the original intention was to keep the kids in the same grade if they did poorly on this self-created assessment. At least two parents pulled their children out as a result. Was this the intention? Let’s see: students do bad on an assessment, school tells parents they want the kids to go to summer school for a rather steep fee (told to parents days before this summer school was supposed to start), and parents pull kids out. I see it as a way to get rid of low-scoring assessment takers without regard to their actual capabilities.
For the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, PCA did rather well on their scores compared to the state average. They went from 66% proficiency in English/Language Arts to 74%. In Math, they went from 43% to 55%. Those are huge gains which will cause the Delaware DOE to award the charter school the token “reward school” status next fall. I have to wonder how much of these gains and “growth” are engineered by the school in advance. For the surrounding districts where PCA draws its student base from, the Smyrna School District went from 59% to 66% proficiency in ELA and 45 to 46% in Math. Capital went from 48% to 50% in ELA and 32% to 36% in Math. Campus Community School went from 62% to 60% in ELA and 37% to 40% in Math.
A few years ago, one parent pulled her child out of PCA. Her child, according to the mom, was brilliant. This student had some minor attention deficits, but was able to get straight As at the school. PCA insisted on placing the child into a lower-tiered classroom as a 4th grader. At that time, there were three levels in classrooms: lower, middle, and high. I would have to assume this was due to Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies for lower grade students when they attended those grades. But placement in RtI groups usually isn’t based on actual classroom grades. It is based on how they do on standardized tests. For this child, being placed in a lower-tier was not a good thing. The child did not feel challenged. Many children who are very smart put in this position will tend to act out. As a result, the school started putting the “bad behavior” label on the student. Teachers agreed with the mom that the student should not have been at that level. By the time the school finally put him into the higher level, it was so late in the school year (and after the 2nd wave of DCAS testing) the mother had already decided her child would not attend the school the next year. The mother stated that the new school had none of these issues and her child has thrived ever since.
Last weekend, I posted an article about Newark Charter School and what I see as “social engineering” to drive up their test scores. Many of the most fervent charter school supporters are parents of children who do well on these types of tests. In my opinion, far too many Delaware charters drive their enrollment based on this flawed idea. When you compare PCA’s demographics to surrounding districts and their closest competition with an area charter school, we see startling changes.
PROVIDENCE CREEK ACADEMY
SMYRNA SCHOOL DISTRICT
CAPITAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
CAMPUS COMMUNITY SCHOOL
The students who score the lowest on the state assessment are special education students. This has always been the case. By driving out students with special needs, the overall scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment will automatically go up. If you have a low population of these students to begin with, which is the case with PCA, it is a guarantee. Many Delaware charter schools that begin with Kindergarten have screenings with potential applicants. These screenings, which are meant to show a school where a student is at, can also serve as a way for schools to look for characteristics which could ultimately lead to perceived lower state assessment scores. I have no doubt this practice takes place at some Delaware charter schools, and I believe PCA does this. To further muddy the waters of this social engineering practice, PCA came up with some type of assessment for students in K-2 (who do not take the state assessment) to see how they may do on Smarter Balanced, and came up with a way to tick parents off enough they would pull their child out of the school. Whether by design or unintentional, this is a discriminatory recipe for disaster. Any school is only as good as the populations it serves. We know this. We know the Smarter Balanced Assessment changes constantly and the cut scores change from year to year. The test is not designed to have a great majority of students showing proficiency.
In a charter school that bases everything on state assessment scores, it can become a pressure cooker for students, parents, and teachers. This drive to perform on a once-a-year test is everything that is wrong about Delaware education. And it is becoming clear that this is the environment at PCA. I have no doubt they have many very positive attributes. I am sure they do a lot of good things for their students and have a very welcoming community. But that is the surface. Underneath is a testing regimen that overshadows everything else. If you are a smart kid, you will do great. If you struggle, in any way, there will be issues. When you look at the school’s Facebook reviews on their page, you see many 5 star designations. Many of these reviews are from teachers and even the Principal, Audrey Erschen. Even board members review this school. When any rating system is purposely stacked toward a certain goal, the perception is deceptive.
While the school appears to be doing better financially, nothing happened with the terminated employee who embezzled large amounts from the school. The Delaware Attorney General’s office has yet to file charges against this perpetrator. But that might change. Earlier in the Spring, state agents were in the school issuing subpoenas for financial records. Will they find anything more than what already came out from the State Auditor of Account’s inspection released earlier this year? Time will tell. Providence Creek Academy is the 7th largest charter school in Delaware out of 27 charter schools. But for their expenditures divided by the number of students, they come in at 26th place. We know they don’t pay their teachers huge amounts as well compared to surrounding districts. So where is all their money going?
These are my biggest concerns with this school, and for perspective parents looking at this Delaware charter school, they should be seen as potential red flags. For those who want to claim I hate charter schools, I don’t. I think some of our charters do a great job. I recognize no school is perfect. But far too many use tactics like this which lead to a type of discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities. That is intolerable. But because our state DOE and Governor base everything on test scores on high-stakes tests driven by corporate education reformers, they look the other way.
To view past articles on Providence Creek Academy on this blog, please go here. To view their board minutes, please go here. The picture of the Providence Creek Academy campus came from a website belonging to Nickle Electrical Properties who renovated the school six years ago.
The Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee had their final meeting with the Delaware STEM Academy on June 2nd. The report came out tonight. Prognosis: Don’t open the charter school! The main reason for their formal review was very low enrollment numbers. How low? They had 105 students enrolled when they went on formal review a month and a half ago. In the 45 days since… a whopping 124 according to the below report. Their charter calls for 250 students. They had to meet 80% of that. They are a bit under 50%.
I think the time has come to say we are getting “chartered out” in Delaware. This isn’t to say they aren’t popular and are growing. But new charters? Not so much. Out of the more recent charter school openings, I would have to say Great Oaks and First State Military School are doing well. Delaware Design-Lab is going through some growing pains. Delaware Met got the heave-ho before they could start a third marking period. Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall was going to move to Dover, but then backed out of that so they would need to reapply if they ever figure out what they are doing. And now Delaware STEM Academy. On top of Pencader, Moyer, and Reach Academy for Girls closing. And Delaware College Prep will close it’s doors at the end of this month. While this isn’t related at all, I did notice the State Board has not approved any new charters in Delaware since I started blogging just about two years ago…
The State Board of Education bit off more than they could chew when they approved all the new charter schools in 2013 and 2014. We are seeing what happens when there are too many charter schools, especially in upper New Castle County. As local districts beef up their programs, there are only so many students that can be choiced out of a school district. And after Delaware Met, parents up there have to a be a bit cautious. I am glad to see the Charter School Accountability Committee asking the right questions. These are things we need to see from the State Board of Education when they vote on new charters.
The final report from the Charter School Accountability Committee is below. Delaware STEM Academy will have their last public hearing tomorrow night. Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at the June 16th meeting. At that point, the State Board of Education will vote to revoke the school’s charter or let them open. My gut says revocation. The enrollment is just too low and everything in the below report doesn’t leave much room for error…