Sussex Montessori School, If Approved, Will Bring A Second Charter School To Sussex County

The Delaware Department of Education received one application for a new charter school in the 2018-2019 school year: Sussex Montessori School.  For the parents of students in Kindergarten to 6th grade who are interested in the “Montessori Approach”, this potential second charter school in Sussex County, Delaware could change the face of many surrounding districts, including Laurel, Seaford, and even Indian River.  By putting an enrollment preference of wanting a Montessori approach, this school could already filter out some of the surrounding students due to a lack of understanding of Montessori methods.  Many feel First State Montessori Academy, which has a top priority preference for those interested in Montessori despite having a five-mile radius, is not balanced well with high-needs students in the area.

Where this application loses me is quoting the Rodel Foundation and Vision 2025, as well as using standardized test scores as a barometer for student achievement.  The application was submitted by Montessori Works, a non-profit 501c3 corporation.  They have received initial funding from the Longwood Foundation, the Welfare Foundation, and Discover Bank.  If approved, the plans call for a $4.4 million dollar 32,000 square foot facility on ten acres of land between Bridgeville and Laurel which the group expects funding by the above three entities or a financial institution.

I didn’t recognize many of the names with the founding group of this school, but a couple stuck out.  Trish Hermance was the Head of School for Campus Community until 2013.  Brett Taylor was involved with the Delaware STEM Academy which failed to open due to low enrollment and charter revocation by the State Board of Education.  But you can read the resumes of all the founding group and support.  Their feasibility study shows an initial student population of 300 students in the first year  (2018) and 450 students by 2023.

Last month, the Christina Board of Education voted 6-1 to keep the Montessori program in their district despite shrinking enrollment due to First State Montessori Academy in Wilmington a couple of years ago.  There are currently no Montessori programs in Kent County but the Jefferson School in Georgetown exists.  With that being said, the class size once children get out of pre-school and Kindergarten is only six to eight students per class.  It is not considered a good school by many parents in the area according to an anonymous source.  Typically, as in years past, the State Board of Education would vote on final approval at their April board meeting.

What Is Up With Prestige Academy?

A few weeks ago, I put up an article about Prestige Academy folding into EastSide Charter School’s mini-empire.  I received this information from someone who has always been a very reliable source of information.  This person earned their stripes.  Since then, I have heard nothing on this.  Not one peep.  Today, at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the Charter School Office will give their monthly charter school update.  According to this update, Prestige Academy will still close this year.  At the beginning of October, I broke the news that Prestige’s Board of Directors wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education which stated they would not pursue the renewal of their charter and would close at the end of this school year.

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So what happened?  Got me!  Many things could have happened: the original plan of the school closing (which looks reasonable at this point) will go through, my source got really bad information, or this merger with EastSide could still go through but they are holding their cards at this point in time.  EastSide swooped in at the last-minute and probably saved Family Foundations Academy from closing down at the beginning of 2015.  When it comes to Delaware charter schools and the Delaware DOE, you never know what deals are cooking behind closed doors.  I welcome any confirmation on what could be going on here or if, indeed, my source got bad information.  Like I said, this source is very reliable.

Charter School Accountability Committee Recommends Charter Renewal For Academy of Dover With No Conditions

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.

The Charter School Office At The Delaware DOE Has A New Director

Denise Stouffer joined the Charter School Office at the Delaware Dept. of Education last April. but as of the past couple of weeks she became the Director of the Charter School Office.  She rose through the ranks to replace Jennifer Nagourney, who left the Delaware DOE on July 1st to join the New York City Dept. of Education.  But she had been working with the Delaware DOE for two years before that as a contractor with a title of “Data Governance Contractor”.  In 2010, she created a company called BHS Educational Services based out of Pennsylvania.  BHS specializes in helping individuals to create charter schools and professional development training.  Stouffer also helped out the DOE during their contract with Wireless Generation as a consultant that trained people on professional development and data driven instructional practices.  All this information is based on Stouffer’s LinkedIn account.  While her new title does not appear on that account, it was referenced in the Charter School Office presentation to the Delaware State Board of Education at their retreat earlier this week.

I have seen Denise Stouffer at meetings the past few weeks, whether at the State Board of Education or Every Student Succeeds Act meetings.  I was wondering who she was… now I know!  I had a decent relationship with Jennifer Nagourney and I hope the same can be said for Denise Stouffer.  I’m a pain in the ass at times.  But as I’ve always told folks at the DOE and written on here more times than I can count, if I’m barking up the wrong tree, let me know!  In any event, congratulations Denise!  You have big shoes to fill!

Breaking News: The Delaware Academy of Yachting Charter School

Yes, you heard it right.  The Delaware Academy of Yachting Charter School.  This is a hot topic today at the State Board of Education Retreat down at Dewey Beach.  Perhaps you never heard of this school before.  But it exists.  At least on paper (or pdf if you want to be technical).  Did a charter school change their name?  Is this a new charter school?  I would have to assume this school is down in Sussex County if it is a yachting school.  The Delaware DOE loves to abbreviate everything, so they call this the DAY School.

delacadyachting

It looks like Happy Days are here again!  The last time I did an article like this was a few weeks ago.  I wrote Governor Markell submitted a video application to become Hillary Clinton’s (if elected President) U.S. Secretary of Education.  It was a joke.  It was the Governor’s weekly address.  Many folks didn’t read the whole article.  Let’s see if that happens again.

But the document talking about the DAY School does exist, as seen here.  Sometimes you just have to lighten the mood a bit.  The State Board is discussing the charter renewal process for this year’s charter renewals.  To give an example for the presentation, the Charter School Office created this imaginary charter school.  But someone will think this is the real deal.  Don’t.  It’s fake.  And no, I don’t consider this a waste of taxpayer money.

Delaware Charters & Delaware DOE Looking To Make Changes Against Delaware Law! And Who Is “The Author”?

Incompetence seems to rule the Delaware DOE these days.

The Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Charter Schools, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network have been holding meetings this year to look at changing two areas of their annual Performance Framework.  The Financial and Organizational Frameworks are two sections that have been controversial for charter schools in the first state.  Some of the proposed changes are minor but some are very big.  One statement from the proposed draft for the organizational framework probably sums up what many of the charter schools feel when these things roll out each year:

In order to avoid penalizing charter schools for anything less than perfection, the authorizer will apply a reasonable interpretation of sufficiency that acknowledges attentiveness, prudent compliance, and generally sound stewardship.

Let’s get real here Delaware!  Unless a charter school falls apart like Delaware Met, Moyer, and Pencader, you aren’t going to see the DOE or even Red Clay doing a lot in terms of compliance on some of these issues.  Especially website maintenance.  Far too many charters have been raked over the coals by bloggers such as myself for not adhering to the law on tons of the requirements.  But when it comes time for the charter to renew or get a modification, or even get a formal review, those things are rarely mentioned in the conversation.  The State Board of Education rarely talks about any of that stuff.  But in my eye, they need to be perfect with those things.  The districts do as well (see: Indian River).

One of the biggest flaws in this new system pertains to board membership.  Delaware law clearly states:

At the time at which the school commences its instructional program and at all times thereafter, the board of directors must include a teacher from at least 1 of the charter schools operated by the board and at least 1 parent of a student enrolled in a charter school operated by the board;

With this new organizational framework, they are proposing to change Delaware code, without any regulation or legislation, by giving charters a 90 day window to fill the parent and teacher slot for their board membership.  This label in the framework would give the charter a “partially meets standard”.  You can’t partially follow the law.  You either do it or you don’t.  In this area, you are either “meets standard” or “does not meet standard”.  As well, they want to do the same thing with not posting minutes and financial information on their website, but this would have a 60 day window.  You can’t cherry-pick through state law.  If the law needs to change, lobby legislators to change it.  But you can’t do it through the Delaware DOE and the State Board of Education.  This Department continues to defy Delaware legislators.  It is the legislators duty to write the laws of this state, not the Charter School Office at the DOE.

The proposed financial framework would give charters some leeway when it comes to reporting requirements or how they submit financial information with the state.  Let me be the first to say ALL Delaware schools need to get some serious training on this.  The training exists, but everyone seems to do what they want with limited to no oversight.  There have to be uniform procedures and policies across the board for every charter and district in the state with absolutely no excuses.  Once again, it comes down to partially breaking the law.  A misnomer if I’ve ever heard one.  But even more important, there have to be very real consequences for those who violate financial laws in our state.  This is something I hope and pray the 149th General Assembly tackles when they come back in January.  Because right now, it’s a train wreck.

I will fully admit I sometimes feel bad for the charters.  Especially when it comes to the DOE’s constant nitpicking about things.  An organization filled with more non-educators in leadership roles that doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a right and left hand most of the time.

charterframeworkrevisionstimeline

But the most egregious thing out of all this: the window for public comment begins on September 1st.  But try finding them anywhere.  Good luck with that!  I happened to find the below documents in the DOE search engine.  How can you say this is an open, transparent, and collaborative method when the public can’t even comment on what you are proposing?  Even worse, the State Board of Education won’t let you comment on any action item on their agenda.  This won’t come up for final action at a State Board of Education meeting until their October 20th meeting, but if these documents are never released to the public it will be highly illegal for the State Board to take action.

charterframeworktimeline2

The Delaware DOE Charter School Office needs to release these drafts to the public and let them comment on it.  These documents have not been posted on the DOE website.  Care to take a wild guess who is running the show on this?  If you said David Blowman, that would be correct on the surface.  Until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney, who left the DOE on July 1st, Blowman is the guy in charge.  But in a very odd find, well, you’ll get the picture…

de-proposed-fincl-framework-authorship

de-proposed-organ-framework-authorship

How can Jennifer Nagourney be the author of the below documents when she is no longer an employee at the Delaware DOE?  Doesn’t she work in the Charter School Office at the New York City DOE now?  What in God’s name is David Blowman doing?  This is the same guy who has run the non-transparent local cost per pupil scam that has caused a “firestorm” in Delaware.  The same guy who went ahead and sent out changes to school districts and charter schools without the old Secretary of Education Seal of Approval?  And he is in charge of this hot mess?  Where charters seem to think it will be okay to partially follow the law?  With a guy like Blowman running the show no wonder they think they can do as they please!  And, it goes without saying, I’m sure the Sisters of Sin, Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network have their hands involved in this.  But Nagourney?  Unless you are getting paid for this work when you are no longer employed by the State of Delaware, why are you even involved at this point?  It’s not like I haven’t written about the old PDF right-click trick.  And you guys keep forgetting that essential thing!

At this point in time, our General Assembly needs to meet for emergency hearings and subpoena the hell out of the entire Delaware Department of Education.  Every single document in their system.  Every nook and cranny, from top to bottom.  The more than obvious fraud and lies coming out of this Department is readily available for anyone to see.  I’ve proved it over and over again.  But no one does anything about it.  It’s time.  You know it and I know it.  So stop making postures and just do it!

Below are the two proposed frameworks.  These are not approved, just in draft form.

Proposed Financial Framework

Proposed Organizational Framework

Jennifer Nagourney Leaving Delaware DOE

I have to admit, I was kind of bummed to hear this.  Lord knows I have issues with charter schools, but I do recognize they are here.  If you were going to have someone do the job, Jennifer Nagourney was the right choice to run the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  She inherited a huge mess and had to put out a lot of fires during her time.  But she did it with grace and aplomb during a very troubling era of Delaware charter schools.  I know I kept her busy, but the reality is it would have been a great deal worse had someone else been in the job.  There were many things going on she had absolutely no control of.  The actions of others in charters who were doing what they did long before her time.

I remember attending an Enrollment Preference Task Force meeting at the end of 2014.  The subject for the members was if charter schools should have pre-admission assessments.  There was a lot of lively discussion on the subject.  Nagourney was filling in for Mark Murphy at that meeting.  When it came time for her to submit her opinion, she openly stated she was against pre-admission assessments.  At least with the people I was sitting with, a collective jaw-drop occurred.  I knew at that moment Nagourney wasn’t the typical charter leader.

Nagourney and I had more than our fair share of issues, but those were the roles the fates set up for us.  In the end though, I think she made a lot of much-needed changes for Delaware charter schools.  They aren’t perfect.  Nothing in education is and ever will be.  But she pushed transparency from the charters, and if you compare charter school websites from before her time to the way they are now, they are much better.  She held charters accountable for their actions and some didn’t survive the challenge.  Some made strides to be better schools than they were before.  Formal Reviews won’t be the same without her.  She was a perfectionist and made sure every possible detail was included on the DOE website.  That was a good thing!

Jennifer’s last day at the DOE will be July 1st.  From what I hear, she will be working for the New York City Department of Education and will be their Director of Charter Policy and Strategy.  This will be a much bigger role for her.  All I can say is good luck with Eva Moskowitz!

Two Truths And A Lie

This is the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing feature of this blog.  Below will be several groups of statements and facts.  Two will be true and one will be a lie.  It will be your job to guess or determine which is fact and which is fiction!  Comment away!

#1

*EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy are blaming their Smarter Balanced scores on the fact their kids are not as computer literate as their peers in other schools

*Sussex Academy won’t be able to finish their pool because of mercury in the ground.

*Freire Charter School signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wilmington Police Department

#2

*Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick was so happy their referendum passed he was seen doing cartwheels the next day.

*Academia Antonia Alonso wants no help from the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE with their upcoming move to property at Odyssey Charter School.

*Howard High School of Technology suspended students who were in the bathroom the day of Amy’s death and kept suspending them for weeks on end without any form of due process.

#3

*Charter School of Wilmington held a legislative breakfast.

*Charter School of Wilmington wants an audit inspection to be released that has been on hold since March.

*Charter School of Wilmington will be allowing 20% of all students with disabilities who applied this year to be admitted to the school in August.

#4

*Early College High School parents are not happy about the school’s grading system since the school’s scores didn’t match up with Delaware State University’s grading system

*Penny Schwinn is coming back to the Delaware DOE.

*Dr. Lamont Browne mentioned my blog post about his resignation at a Family Foundations Academy board meeting.

#5

*Family Foundations Academy held pep rallies prior to the school’s testing window for the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment to pump up kids.

*A Delaware State Representative recently had a Facebook post titled “State Representative Looking For Beaver”.

*The same State Representative found some beaver and had a barbecue.

Delaware DOE Isn’t Digging Delaware STEM Academy Right About Now

The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability.  At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.

The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment.  And it is very low.  Their approved charter calls for 250 students.  By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment.  Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students.  Applications and pending decisions don’t count.  They must be enrolled.  As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students.  As of May 10th, they had 113.  They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%.  And we are approaching the end of May.

In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools.  But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.

While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed.  In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor.  It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens.  But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.

One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.

This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open.  It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.

This is the part I don’t get though.  The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade.  Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students.  Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code?  It is, if that is what the school applied for.

…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…

The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers.  This charter school was approved back in April of 2014.  They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy.  Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at.  You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware.  Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open.  Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools.  This is not looking good…

asdf

Will Prestige Academy Survive Charter Renewal?

The outlook for Prestige Academy is not good in my opinion.  Like I just posted in the Academy of Dover charter renewal article, one of the biggest factors going against the school is the state assessment which is extremely dangerous to any public school in Delaware.  But the biggest danger this school faces is a case of Wilmingtonitis.  There are just too many charter schools in Wilmington and Prestige faces serious enrollment issues.

Despite their recent modification, Prestige still faces enrollment issues.  All Delaware charter schools are required to meet 80% of their enrollment by April 1st before the next academic year begins.  The school was placed on formal review along with two other Delaware charter schools last year.  They barely got their enrollment up by the time they were put on probation as recommended by then Secretary of Education Murphy and passed by the State Board of Education.  According to the Charter School update presented to the State Board of Education in April, Prestige Academy was at 76% of their enrollment for the 2016-2017 school year as of April 19th, with 182 students enrolled based on their approved charter enrollment of 240 students, thus putting them ten students shy of meeting the mark.

The most startling part from the Delaware Department of Education charter renewal report is the following:

Should Prestige Academy Charter School not make a deposit of funds sufficient to cover the school’s end of year expenditures in May, the Department of Education may take measures to freeze the school’s spending and establish payroll reserves.

That is NOT a good place for any school to be in.  It means there are very serious concerns about their financial viability.  In the below response to the DOE charter renewal report, the school does not even address their enrollment and financial issues.  That is not a good start to what will be a long seven months until the State Board of Education issues its final recommendation about Prestige Academy’s charter renewal on December 15th of this year.  With that being said, can Wilmington take yet another charter school closing down and the instability this causes for the students who have to transition to another school?  With no less than four charter schools closing down in upper New Castle County in the past three years (Pencader Business School, Moyer, Reach Academy for Girls, and Delaware Met), most of these schools serviced high populations of low-income and minority students.  While they obviously didn’t get a lot of things right, it still contributed to some of the current problems we are seeing in Wilmington education.

 

 

Will Academy Of Dover Survive Charter Renewal?

The Academy of Dover is going through the very laborious charter renewal process with the Delaware Department of Education.  On April 30th, the DOE gave the school their renewal report and AoD had 16 days to respond.  The school had a rough couple years.  Between a very damaging state auditor report on their former head of school embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, low high-stakes testing scores, a very large settlement with a former management company, and compliance issues, they have had their hands full.  The former assistant principal now leads the school.  A former principal from Town Pointe Elementary School in Capital School District runs the curriculum now.  The board has shifted and received training in areas that caused some of the problems.  Will it be enough?

This charter renewal comes at an interesting time.  The 2014-2015 school year was the first year Smarter Balanced came into play.  As such, the scores from that year don’t really count, but the DOE is using the ratings from the Delaware School Success Framework as a substitute for their Academic Framework.  Let me say from the start, I feel bad for charter schools in the respect that the state assessment plays such a large part in anything going on with the DOE.  AoD has a large population of low-income and minority students who typically fare worse on these tests than other schools.

Other factors that could affect their renewal involve Noel Rodriguez, their local school district, and the scores from the 2015-2016 SBAC.  The former Head of School, Noel Rodriguez, will face charges at some point.  I know of at least one other Delaware charter where the Attorney General’s office recently issued subpoenas about their own similar issues.  Yet another Delaware charter had their board file for insurance claims due to embezzlement at their own school from former leaders.  So something is coming which will put the school in the spotlight when Rodriguez faces charges.  However, this issue already came up in their 2015 formal review and they were not shut down for it then so the DOE should not put them under the same scrutiny twice.

Capital School District, under the new leadership of Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton, is looking at their own district with their Strategic Plan.  What comes out of that, to improve the district, could affect AoD in the long run in terms of enrollment.  But it should have no bearing on their renewal process.

The scores from the recent Smarter Balanced Assessment for the school will not play into their academic framework since it is not a part of the renewal report, but the impression could taint the process.  Once again, I will stress my opinion these should not even factor into their charter renewal, but the DOE and I do not agree on this point.

I will admit I have softened my stance on Delaware charter schools a bit.  My own experience with them tainted my view a bit.  I still don’t agree with some of their very discriminatory practices up in Wilmington and the only one in Sussex County.  But I believe they are just as much a victim as traditional school districts are with the DOE in terms of very bad regulations, mandates, and accountability.  Academy of Dover and I had a frosty relationship in the past, but that has warmed up a bit in recent months.  Many of the complaints against most charter schools are a result of politics and tainted legislation by people in Dover who should really know better.   I believe the Delaware Charter Schools Network adds immensely to the perceptions against charters.  With that caveat, Academy of Dover has a former State Representative on their board who does carry a bit of clout in Kent County so politics can play a part to help the school.

Many of the issues with Academy of Dover are well-known by the DOE and have come up before in formal reviews.  There really aren’t any new complaints which suggests the school has fixed many of the issues since Noel Rodriguez left.  No school is perfect, but Academy of Dover seems to have turned a lot around in the past year and a half.  Rodriguez controlled the school and left a considerable amount of damage in his wake.

My one concern in the below response from the school is this 11 week Smarter Balanced Boot Camp after school for struggling students.  In this era of high-stakes accountability, schools are under the gun for kids to do well on these tests.  But they can go overboard with this effort.  Calling anything a boot camp with education is a bad idea in my opinion.  It suggests a dire need for these kids to do well on these tests regardless of the cost.  The sooner we can get schools to stop giving in to this very bad proficiency environment, the better things will be in the long run.  It gives the Delaware DOE all the power.  But I also don’t run a school with that kind of pressure thrust upon me so it is easy for me to say that.

I know the school had special education issues in the past, but we won’t know until June how they may have improved.  That is when the DOE issues their special education compliance annual reports.  However, those are usually about three years behind and would reflect the height of the Noel Rodriguez era so that should be taken into consideration as well.  Special education is a hot mess in Delaware overall.  There seems to be a mass amount of confusion between Response to Intervention and true special education.  This is an ongoing issue that will only get worse if we stay in this high-stakes accountability environment.

Dr. Steven Godowsky, the Delaware Secretary of Education will issue his final recommendation to the State Board of Education at their December 15th board meeting where they will vote on Academy of Dover’s charter renewal.

Below is the charter renewal report from the Delaware DOE and Academy of Dover’s response:

 

 

Breaking News: Delaware STEM Academy Considered For Formal Review

Another Delaware charter school is getting the formal review recommendation at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow.  Delaware STEM Academy did not meet their 80% enrollment numbers required under state law and their own charter.

DelawareSTEMAcademy

I’ve seen this happen before with a few of the other new charters before they opened.  They don’t meet the enrollment numbers by April 1st, but they will probably meet them by the time this comes up for State Board action, most likely June the way these things go.  It happened last year with Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School of Wilmington.  Without knowing what their current enrollment numbers are, it would be hard to say what their situation is though.  The simple fact is this: we have too many charters in upper New Castle County.  The State Board should have considered this when they had their charter approval party two years ago this month.  This is what happens when you have too many schools and too many seats in those schools.  With some of the problems the newer charters had this year, such as Delaware Met closing mid-year and Delaware Design-Lab High School, Freire, and First State Military Academy experiencing opening struggles, I can picture many parents reluctance to send their kids to an unknown and unproven charter school.

 

Shocking Find: Delaware DOE Reorganization Memo

After their first budget hearing with the Joint Finance Committee, the Delaware Department of Education knew it had to make some changes.  To that effect, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky crafted a memo to the Department employees.  I was able to get my hands on this over two-month old memo that has been shrouded in secrecy until today!  This isn’t something you can just find on the DOE website.  It doesn’t exist there.  It doesn’t exist anywhere on the internet.  Until now…

Since this memo came out, more DOE employees have left the organization.  Just this month, three major employees left the Department.  Atnre Alleyne, formerly with the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit left. Michelle Whelan from the Charter School Office got a job over at the Attorney General’s Office.  And Brian Curtis, once with the Accountability area and most recently with the TLEU, attained a position as the Principal at Kirk Middle School in the Christina School District.  These are three long-time DOE employees, there since Race To The Top.  Out of the three, Whelan’s position is the only one that will be replaced.

I could tell you how I got my hands on this document.  But then I would have to…

 

Charter School Update Presentation To State Board of Education…Hmm…

In the DOE’s Charter School Office presentation to the State Board of Education on Thursday, there is a very interesting tidbit at the end.  They have a section called “Good News” and there are four charter schools listed: Early College High School, East Side, Family Foundations Academy, and Gateway Lab School.  What is the good news?

As well, how are the Delaware Met students doing?  Did they all transition or are some still falling through the cracks?  The answers are here.

Academia Antonia Alonso Submits Modification To Change Location Out Of Community Education Building

Syringe

One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out.  Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School.  Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey.  So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?

After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.

Now this is some logic I can get behind!  Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays.  It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.

Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces.  Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.

Thank you!  While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!

Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.

Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!

In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time.  Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.

Wow!  How much thought went into student safety for this building?

The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision.  Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.

So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe?  Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle?  I would get the hell out of this location too!  I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…

To see the full major modification request, please see below.  For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings.  A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.

Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building?  I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!

 

 

 

New DOE Organizational Chart Showcases Many Things In The Department

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The Office of Accountability and Assessment is gone.  Previously led by Penny Schwinn, who departed the DOE earlier this month, it is now part of the Teaching & Learning Branch but only as the Office of Assessment.  Dr. Carolyn Lazar is still listed as the Interim Director of The Office of Assessment, in the sub-section of the Teaching & Learning Branch which is still led by Michael Watson.  There is a sub-section under the new Deputy Secretary, Karen-Field Rogers, called Performance Management, but that is showing as vacant.  This is echoed with the Data Management office.  Former Deputy Secretary David Blowman has taken over Field-Rogers slot as Associate Secretary Financial Management & Operations.  It looks like he still oversees the Charter School Office.  Chris Ruszkowski is still running the show in the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit.

It appears the DOE is in the process of updating their website, because if you look under their “leadership” tab, it still shows Penny Schwinn there, and Blowman as the Deputy Secretary.  There are many such errors on their website.  If you look under the Exceptional Children Resources group, it still shows Sarah Celestin listed even though she left the DOE last summer to become the Special Education Director at Red Clay Consolidated School District.

The DOE has seen some key departures and changes in the past few months since the new Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky, took the helm.  With the amount of work the DOE receives based on the never-ending barrage of changes implemented by the State Board of Education and the feds, with more coming every day, on top of compliance issues, implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, charter school issues always going on, priority schools, assessment changes, state budgets and everything else is the DOE staff reaching a point where they are actually understaffed?  Do they have too much on their plate?  In some areas I would say so, but in others there is a lot of wasted money and resources going out.  Like the TLEU.  Every time I look, they are paying someone to come up with the latest report on Educator Effectiveness.  Or the Office of Assessment, constantly regurgitating report after report about Smarter Balanced and everything that goes with it.  Figuring out the Rubiks Cube that is the Delaware DOE is always a challenge…

Del. Academy of Public Safety & Security Modification Shows An Out Of Control Delaware DOE

DAPSSEnrollmentFigures

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security submitted a major modification request to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office on December 10th.  They want to decrease their enrollment from their charter approved 480 students to 375 students, a reduction of 22%.  What makes this very interesting is the fact other charter schools in Delaware have been placed on formal review for not having 80% of their approved enrollment in their charter. DAPSS has not met their approved enrollment figures for the past two years.  The DOE looks at formal review status for charters if they fall below 80% of their approved enrollment based on the financial viability of the school.

According to the information submitted by DAPSS to the Charter School Office, their enrollment last year was 363, which put them at 76% of their approved enrollment.  This year, the school lost 60 students and currently stand at 303 students.  This is less than 64% of their approved enrollment.  My biggest question would be why they were not put on formal review last year or this year based on this information.  What is the point of having a state law if the Department of Education doesn’t feel like following it?  Are we at the point where the Delaware DOE is an independent entity, absolved of any accountability or self-regulation?

For their performance framework, the school was labeled as “Does Not Meet Standard” for their organizational framework three out of the last four academic years, in 11-12, 12-13, and 14-15.  For their financial framework, they were labeled as “Falls Far Below Standard” in 11-12, 13-14, and 14-15 and “Does Not Meet Standard” in 12-13.  Once again, they have not been placed on formal review for their very negative ratings on the State Board of Education approved Charter School Performance Framework.  Are charter schools exempt from accountability based on who runs the show at each charter?  I don’t think having charter schools submitting modification requests to make them compliant with the law is the way a Department should run things, in my opinion.

Based on the timeline, the Charter School Accountability Committee meetings start today leading to a State Board of Education decision at their March 17th meeting.  The meetings yesterday were canceled due to the inclement weather.

DAPSSModTimeline

Below is the official major modification application submitted by Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security as well as their projected budget based on an 80% enrollment.

Downtown First State Montessori & Great Oaks Look To Expand While DAPSS & Prestige Academy Look To Shrink

Four charter schools in New Castle County submitted requests for modifications last month.  Two are looking to get bigger while two want to get smaller.  The two that want to expand are in the heart of downtown Wilmington while the two that want to shrink do not have the benefit of having the key downtown locations.

FIRST STATE MONTESSORI ACADEMY

First State Montessori Academy wants to become a K-8 school in 2016-2017.  The shocking news in all this?  They wrote about their intention to use the building Delaware Met resides in until January 22nd.  The location is actually perfect if their modification request is approved.  Aside from boiler issues, the building is already conducive to older students.  The school is currently K-8, but they found they were losing a lot of 5th grade students so they could acclimate to the middle school environment.  By going through 8th grade, this would eliminate that problem.

GREAT OAKS CHARTER SCHOOL

Great Oaks submitted a minor modification request to increase their enrollment by 25 students for the 2016-2017 school year.  Their request shows that interim Smarter Balanced Assessments given to students are showing modest gains for students.  The school is reporting NO violent incidents at the school whatsoever.  In their application, Great Oaks indicated they are only using half of their designated space in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.

DELAWARE ACADEMY OF PUBLIC SAFETY & SECURITY (DAPSS)

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security submitted a major modification request to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office on December 10th.  They want to decrease their enrollment from their charter approved 480 students to 375 students, a reduction of 22%.  What makes this very interesting is the fact other charter schools in Delaware have been placed on formal review for not having 80% of their approved enrollment in their charter. DAPSS has not met their approved enrollment figures for the past two years.  The DOE looks at formal review status for charters if they fall below 80% of their approved enrollment based on the financial viability of the school.

According to the information submitted by DAPSS to the Charter School Office, their enrollment last year was 363, which put them at 76% of their approved enrollment.  This year, the school lost 60 students and currently stand at 303 students.  This is less than 64% of their approved enrollment.  My biggest question would be why they were not put on formal review last year or this year based on this information.

For their performance framework, the school was labeled as “Does Not Meet Standard” for their organizational framework three out of the last four academic years, in 11-12, 12-13, and 14-15.  For their financial framework, they were labeled as “Falls Far Below Standard” in 11-12, 13-14, and 14-15 and “Does Not Meet Standard” in 12-13.  Once again, they have not been placed on formal review for their very negative ratings on the State Board of Education approved Charter School Performance Framework.

PRESTIGE ACADEMY

Like DAPSS, Prestige Academy wants to lower their enrollment, but they were put on formal review for this last spring along with academic concerns.  As the only all-boys charter school in Delaware, Prestige Academy appears to be have been held under the microscope by the DOE quite a bit compared to DAPSS.  The charter school is looking to drop 5th grade and would be middle school only, serving students in 6th-8th grade.

IMPACTS

All of this charter shuffling, if approved by Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and the State Board of Education at their March meeting, comes at a curious time.  With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Wilmington students (aside from Colonial) into Red Clay, this is a lot of movement for one city’s students.  While House Bill 56 put a freeze on new charter applications in Wilmington for a few years or until the state can come up with a plan for all the charters in Wilmington, the existing ones look to capitalize on this and change their enrollment numbers to maximize the benefits for their growth (or shrinkage in two of these situations).  It is actually very strategic on their part.

The downside to this would be the effect it has on the surrounding school districts, especially in the case of First State Montessori Academy.  As a school that gets the bulk of their students from Christina School District, this could have a very debilitating effect on the already struggling school district.  It is my contention House Bill 56 should have put a freeze on modifications like this as well, but at the same time preventing any charter school from going on formal review for low enrollment due to so many changes going on in Wilmington education.

The 920 N. French Street building is certainly up for grabs.  I wrote a post last month that Las Americas ASPIRA Academy was looking at the location last month as well.  First State Montessori would be using part of the building next year.  Innovative Schools would be in some deep financial straits if they didn’t line up a tenant for this property right away.  I have to wonder how that works with rent for Delaware Met.  I assume they signed their sub-lease with Innovative Schools for a designated time period.  Will that contract cease as of January 22nd or in the weeks afterwards as the school closes down operations or are they on the hook until June 30th?

Only one new approved charter school will open up in the 2016-2017 school year, Delaware STEM Academy.  They will begin with 150 9th grade students, hoping to reach 600 students a few years after that.  I am not aware of their current enrollment figures for their first year.  The school choice window closes tomorrow.  As required by state law, the school will need to be at 80% of their enrollment by April 1st to prevent a formal review for financial viability.  While they escaped from formal review status last Spring, Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School had major issues with their enrollment figures.  They eventually met the 80% figures but not without some major angst along the way.  Wilmington is a hot mess with far too many schools, in my humble opinion.  I would have to think this was not State Rep. Charles Potter’s intention when he submitted the legislation for the charter school application freeze…

Another Ouster At Delaware DOE Leaves Godowsky Without Deputy Dave!

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The Delaware Deputy Secretary of Education is out!  Some very strong rumors coming my way surrounding David Blowman are all navigating towards the same place: He is no longer the Deputy Secretary of Education.  Nothing is official yet, but look for news surrounding this very soon.

While the Deputy Secretary really doesn’t get mentioned a lot, the position oversees many offices at the Delaware DOE: Adult Education & School Supports, Adult & Prison Education, Finance, Human Resources, and the Charter School Office.  With issues surrounding Delaware charters the past couple years, as well as the very controversial Race To The Top positions that were supposed to be eliminated after the federal program ended, is this what resulted in this change?

It is not known if there will be a new Deputy Secretary named or if the position will be eliminated altogether.  Prior to his Deputy position, Blowman was the Chief Financial Officer for the Brandywine School District for ten years.  Will there be more changes at the Delaware DOE?  In the past month, we have seen big resignations in the form of Penny Schwinn, Ryan Reyna and Shana Young.  I know many Delaware teachers are praying for one particular change…

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Jennifer Nagourney

Jennifer Nagourney serves as the Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education.  To say she had a hell of a year would be an understatement!  Nagourney’s role is to oversee the charter schools in Delaware and to make sure they are in compliance on academic, financial, and organizational performance frameworks.  When a charter school has issues, she is one of the main DOE people who determines what type of action to take.  Her office works with all of the other offices in the DOE.

2015 started off with a bang in the form of Family Foundations Academy.  After former Heads of School Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington got caught with their hands in the school finances cookie jar, the Charter School Office put the school under formal review a year ago.  After a whirlwind amount of speculation, the school’s board and leaders was essentially taken over by East Side Charter School.  A few months later, no less than four Delaware charters went on formal review: Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School.  All came off formal review status but they are all on probation.  Two were new charters scheduled to open in August who received the designation due to low enrollment which affected their financial viability.  Two were for academic reasons, and of those two one was for their former school leader embezzling from the school (Academy of Dover’s Noel Rodriguez).

As the 2014-2015 school year ended, two charters officially closed due to charter revocation decisions by the Delaware State Board of Education.  Moyer and Reach Academy for Girls closed their doors forever, but five more were opening up in August: Delaware Design-Lab High School, Delaware Met, First State Military Academy, Freire Charter School, and Great Oaks Charter School.

Towards the end of September, issues started to rise with one of the new charters, Delaware Met.  After the school was placed on formal review by the State Board in October, the Charter School Accountability Committee voted yesterday for a recommendation of charter revocation at the end of this marking period, in January 2016.

Earlier in the year, with all of the charter movement, as well as the designation of the sixPriority Schools in Christina and Red Clay, the Wilmington Education Advisory Commission recommended a charter moratorium in Wilmington until the state could come up with an action plan for charters in Delaware.  This became legislation in the Spring, and this all morphed into the current Wilmington Education Improvement Commission which is leading a redistricting effort in Wilmington.  While charters don’t make the news a lot coming out of this, they are certainly a part of any plans that come out of the commission.  The State Board of Education will vote on this in January 2016.  Meanwhile, the DOE and the State Board are working on the Statewide Resources for Educational Opportunities in Delaware to determine how all schools in Delaware can best serve their students.

Due to the events at Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, House Bill 186 caused controversy in the Spring.  Introduced by State Rep. Kim Williams , Hosue Bill 186 dealt with how charter schools are audited.  The bill morphed a couple of times into the final bill which passed the House in June and will land in the Senate Education Committee come January.  As well, State Rep. John Kowalko openly and publicly opposed the Charter School Transportation Fund and the Charter School Performance Fund.  Rep. Williams also introduced a bill to make sure if a charter school student transfers mid-year to a traditional public school district, the money would follow the student.  That bill has not even been heard by the House Education Committee, over ten months after its introduction.  I’ve heard rumblings of legislation which would make sure traditional districts send timely information on students that transfer to charters, especially in regards to IEPs and discipline.  Which is fine in theory, but there is a caveat in the potential legislation about the districts paying for the funding if the charters don’t receive that information in a timely fashion.  That will be a bill to watch in 2016 if it garners enough support to become potential legislation.  It will be a lightning rod of controversy between the pro and con charter crowd in Delaware.

All of this charter school activity has certainly kept Nagourney and her staff on their toes at the DOE in Dover.  With a staff of four, this is a great deal of work for this office.  Add in modifications, performance reviews, special education compliance, standardized testing, and leadership changes among the charters in 2015, Nagourney definitely had her busiest year ever at the DOE.  It is no secret I have issues with many concepts behind charter schools as well as the DOE, but I believe the Delaware DOE has come a long way in terms of monitoring the charters and taking action when needed.  This can all be attributed to the leadership of Jennifer Nagourney.  While her name doesn’t get thrown around in the media the way Secretary Godowsky or even Penny Schwinn does, make no mistake that Nagourney is one of the busiest leaders at the DOE.  I am hoping, for her sake, that 2016 does not throw as many challenges her way.  In fact, the Charter School Office is taking another look at how the Organizational part of their charter performance framework is made up and a working group will be starting to make recommendations on this.

Nagourney, in my opinion, is one of the strongest leaders at the Delaware DOE.  This is not an honor I usually give to anyone down there!  At least there is only one charter opening up next year in the form of Delaware STEM Academy.  I am pretty sure the DOE will be watching very carefully at how any new charters use their planning period between approval and opening to make sure a Delaware Met never happens again!  My biggest wish for this office to carefully monitor special education at Delaware charters.  I’m sure that falls under the watch of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE, but I can say with certainty they are missing a lot.  It is not every charter, but it is far too many.  I have tons of issues with special education as a whole in Delaware, but some charters do not even know the most basic fundamental aspects of special education laws.

Underneath all of this is a potential ticking time-bomb in the form of the ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid complaint to the Office of Civil Rights a year ago.  This complaint alleged certain charter schools discriminated against minorities and students with disabilities in their application process.  If it becomes a law suit, it would be against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District who is the only district charter school authorizer in the state.  Information was sent to that office in February this year, but no ruling has come down since.  This could happen at any time.