Look For New Charter Schools In Delaware For The 2018-2019 School Year

The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule.  The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools.  The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan.  The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out.  Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.

While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again.  No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy.  The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close.  Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.

Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity.  Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools.  In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.

Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school?  Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening.  This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back.  Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town?  Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.

In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools.  More is not the answer at all for that city.  Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters.  The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.

We shall see who applies this year.  At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!

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Does The New Charter School Moratorium In Wilmington Still Exist?

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Last year, the Delaware General Assembly passed House Bill 56 which created a moratorium on new charter school applications in the City of Wilmington until June 30th, 2018 or until the State Board of Education came up with a strategic plan to deal with charter schools in the city.  This was signed by Governor Markell on May 5th, 2015.  As of today, no strategic plan has come forth.

This bill provides a moratorium on all new charter schools in Delaware until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State. Also, the bill requires review and comment from Wilmington’s Mayor and City Council before either a local school district or the Department of Education approves a charter in the City of Wilmington. Lastly, the bill requires the local school board’s approval for a charter school in the City of Wilmington before the Department of Education can approve the charter school.

An amendment was placed on the bill:

The amendment clarifies that the Mayor and the City Council of Wilmington may review and provide comment on applications by charter schools seeking to locate in the City of Wilmington before the school is authorized by the relevant approving authority. It also clarifies that no new charter schools will be authorized to open in the City of Wilmington prior to June 30, 2018 or the development of a statewide strategic plan for specialized public educational opportunities; those charter schools already authorized will be able to open as planned.

While this bill was desperately needed at the time, one of the major failings of the bill was not addressing enrollment issues at already existing Wilmington charter schools.  Several new charter schools opened in Wilmington over a two year time span in years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.  Other charters closed down.  Meanwhile, other charters submitted modifications to increase or decrease their enrollment.  This causes havoc with education funding which is already a beast.

Yesterday, I broke the news that Prestige Academy is slated to become a part of the EastSide empire.  But given that the board of Prestige already wrote a letter indicating they would not seek charter renewal for next year and no part of the renewal process has gone forth since that letter, wouldn’t the school becoming a part of EastSide technically be a new charter school?  Whatever the intention with Prestige Academy might be, it needs to be publicly addressed now.  When Family Foundations Academy became a part of EastSide, it was done with no public ability to comment on the move and was announced at a State Board of Education meeting.  Negotiations took place behind the scenes with no transparency whatsoever.  By adding a sole-standing charter school into a conglomerate of other charter schools, it essentially changes the entire corporate make-up of a charter school.  And for those who aren’t aware, charter schools are considered to be corporations in Delaware.

Charter school modifications have a ripple effect not only on traditional school districts in the area, but also other charter schools.  We saw this play into the fates of the Delaware Met, Delaware STEM Academy, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School of Wilmington.  All faced enrollment issues which resulted in either closure or a formal review for those enrollment issues with the exception of Delaware Met.  For Delaware Met, they were woefully unprepared to open the school and students suffered as a result.  There is certainly a correlation between the charters that received approval for larger enrollments and other charters who had less students this year.

I would like to see our 149th General Assembly continue this moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington but add a few more items to it.  Any charter school modification needs to be given the same weight in terms of approval by Wilmington City Council and the local school district.  On November 1st, the Delaware Department of Education will begin accepting applications for new charter schools to open in the 2018-2019 school year.  These issues need to be addressed by our legislators before the State Board of Education may begin approving more charter schools next April, not only in Wilmington, but the entire state.

I also urge the 149th General Assembly to firmly address the issues of inequity at Newark Charter School, Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy, Odyssey Charter School, and Sussex Academy.  As well as some of the magnet schools and vo-tech schools in the state.  We can no longer move forward in the 21st Century with the severe inequities across our schools that represent a face of discrimination and de-facto segregation.  Delaware needs to be better than that.  We are still waiting on the Office of Civil Rights to address these issues based on the complaint from the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union and Delaware Community Legal Aid.  The OCR has been sitting on this since it went to them in December of 2014, almost two years ago.  The reliance of standardized test scores on all Delaware schools has been extremely punitive to schools that have much larger populations of high-needs students, especially in the City of Wilmington and the greater Newark area.

Things To Know About Prestige Academy

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As announced about an hour ago, the Board of Directors at Prestige Academy opted out of renewing their charter in a letter to the Delaware Department of Education.  While a specific reason was not given, my hunch is the decision was made due to low enrollment.  The letter was dated October 1st, the day after the September 30th count in Delaware which determines funding for all Delaware public schools.

The school has certainly gone through enrollment woes since they opened.  In the 2014-2015 school year, they had 246 students.  After going on formal review in the Spring of 2015 based on their April 1st count, they were put on probation.  Their enrollment for the 2015-2016 year fell to 224.  Last Winter, they submitted a major modification to lower their enrollment and drop 5th grade.  This modification was approved by the State Board of Education last March.  They were up for charter renewal this fall, but apparently the board made the decision for themselves.

The all-boys charter school opened in August of 2011.  The school had their fair share of discipline incidents as well as higher populations of African-Americans, low-income, and students with disabilities.  In January of 2015, Jack Perry resigned as the original Head of School.  He was replaced by Cordie Greenlea, a former Christina and New Castle County Vo-Tech employee.

The school never had any major scandals like some other charters in Wilmington, but based on their student population with high needs, the school never seemed to find its footing.  Sadly, this is happening more and more in Delaware.  The charters that service students with severe needs are the ones that shut down.  Pencader, Reach, Moyer, Delaware Met, and now, Prestige Academy.  Meanwhile, charters that get all the rewards and accolades that don’t have demographics anywhere close to the districts around them, continue to thrive.  It isn’t working.  For the students in Wilmington that are shuffled around city schools… it can’t be good for them.

The only heat I ever got from the school was based on an article I wrote from when Jack Perry resigned.  But for the most part, they were quiet and did their thing.  At the end of the day, they opened the school hoping to make a difference for minority city students.  For those in Delaware who think all schools should be charters, there is a lesson to be learned here.  If all schools were charters we would be seeing dozens of charters closing each year.  We have become so obsessed with test scores we have lost sight of what truly matters… the students.

I’m sorry this school closed.  I never like to see any school close because of the severe disruption it puts students and their families through.  While Wilmington still seems to have a charter moratorium for any new charters, it didn’t stop the State Board of Education from approving several charters in the area for major modifications which increased their student enrollments.  Perhaps Prestige Academy would’ve had a fighting chance had the State Board followed the spirit of the legislation behind the moratorium.

Delaware has to do better by its students, especially those in our city schools.  I don’t believe having an influx of community organizations coming into our schools is the answer.  We have to increase funding for the schools that need it the most.  We need to stop with the slush money, in both charters and districts.  The excuse of “grant money” being allowed for a specific purpose is losing its meaning.  That money would be better off going to schools that need it more.  I am wary of all that the Every Student Succeeds Act has to offer.  So much of it is more of the same, just with more outside organizations coming into schools and the promise of what amounts to an eventual digital education for all.  Something has to give.  But our State Board and the Delaware DOE has to take a lot of the blame for this.  I have no doubt they were following whatever Governor Markell told them.  They play games with children’s lives with their wax-on/wax-off charter school agendas.  It is killing Delaware education!

Wilmington Education Advisory Committee Wants Christina and Colonial Out Of Wilmington

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, which came about due to an executive order by Delaware Governor Markell, issued their executive summary today.  As expected, the issue of Wilmington having four school districts within it’s boundaries was a major topic of discussion and recommendations.  Before the committee gives their final report, they want public input from all citizens of Delaware, but most importantly, those already residing within Wilmington.

The biggest change the committee is suggesting is taking Christina and Colonial School Districts out of Wilmington.  This would leave Red Clay Consolidated, Brandywine, and New Castle County Vo-Tech as the sole school districts in Wilmington, aside from the numerous charter schools already there.  The report recommends Red Clay take over all of Christina’s schools in Wilmington.  It doesn’t say anything about Colonial.

The charters in Wilmington should strategize together and work together with best practices from each school.  The report also agrees with the Wilmington City Council and their moratorium on new charter school applications.

I’m not sure how I feel about this report yet.  Something has to be done, but I don’t like how they are so quick to throw Christina out.  Red Clay gave in to the priority schools much quicker than Christina.  Hell, Christina’s union hasn’t even signed off on the MOUs at this point, if they will at all.

The full report can be read here.  Please note this is NOT the final report:

Message From The DE ACLU In Wake Of Wilmington City Council Vote To Ban New Charter Schools

The Delaware American Civil Liberties Union has put out a message to all citizens of Delaware following the vote by the Wilmington City Council to ban all new charter schools in the City of Wilmington last Thursday night.  Nancy Willing, of Delaware Way, has written the following:

Any parent in the state of Delaware who has experienced problems getting their child into a charter school or keeping a child in a charter school should contact the ACLU of Delaware! http://www.aclu-de.org/. The ACLU’s resegregation lawsuit is focusing on the actionable classes of either special needs or minority children but I would think they’d be interested in the testimony of any parent whose child was denied admission to a public charter school.

Sad to say, I know far too many people who should probably check this out if they haven’t already…