Christina Falls For The Trap Set By Governor Carney, Secretary Bunting, and the Delaware DOE

It was just announced on the State of Delaware website that the Christina School District in conjunction with the Christina Education Association plan on working with Governor Carney’s Office and the Delaware Dept. of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding to improve the educational “success” for Christina’s Wilmington students.  In other words, they swallowed the bait and Carney is reeling them in.  There is no Christina Board of Education seal of approval on this letter of intent, but it does state the Christina board would vote on this MOU.  It appears Carney is rushing into this without a care in the world and he is bringing all the key players with him.  But let’s not forget, this is just another way to corporatize education at students’ expense.  This is priority schools under a new spin.  There is inherent danger here folks.  You play with the devil, you get burnt, plain and simple.  Notice this is only the Christina Wilmington students.  Nothing about the Red Clay or the many charter school students whatsoever.  This is not a Wilmington Schools Partnership.  This is a trap.  Jack Markell must be proud of this development.  Mark Murphy is probably going “Why didn’t I think of that?”

WILMINGTON, Del. – Governor John Carney, Christina School District Superintendent Richard Gregg, and Christina Education Association President Darren Tyson announced on Thursday that they have signed a joint letter of intent to work together and develop a partnership with the goal of improving educational opportunities in the City of Wilmington.

The partnership will address the long-term success for the 1,640 Christina students in preschool through grade 8 who reside in Wilmington and attend the district’s four city elementary schools and one middle school. These schools are Bancroft Elementary School, Elbert-Palmer Elementary School, Pulaski Elementary School, Stubbs Elementary School, and Bayard Middle School.

Christina School District will work with staff from the Governor’s office, the Delaware Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, and the Christina Education Association to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this calendar year and submit the MOU for approval by the Christina Board of Education.

The MOU will define the roles and commitments of each party in crafting a system designed to create great public schools for every Christina student in the City of Wilmington. Dr. Susan Bunting, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Education, and Dorrell Green, Director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement, also signed the joint letter of intent.

“It’s always been clear to me that as goes the City of Wilmington, so goes our state. And improving our city starts with improving our schools,” said Governor Carney. “We are committed to working in partnership with the Christina School District, the Christina Board of Education, the Christina Education Association, families, educators, and community members, to improve outcomes for students in Christina’s city schools. We have a responsibility to do better by these students, and I look forward to getting to work.”

“The Christina School District is committed to exploring every option available to improving achievement for its students,” said Richard Gregg, Superintendent of the Christina School District. “We are willing to enter into this partnership to explore the development of an MOU that clearly outlines the commitments that will be made by all involved. The Christina Board has been clear that any agreement that is developed must focus on what is best for our students, and we will work with the Department of Education and the Governor’s Office toward this goal in good faith.”

“We welcome the Governor’s initiative to partner in service to our Wilmington students,” said George Evans, President of the Christina School District Board of Education. “We need to create and maximize new pathways to excellence and equity within our Wilmington schools.”

“CEA and its members look forward to entering into this partnership and working together to create an MOU that best serves and supports the Christina students in Wilmington,” said Darren Tyson, President of the Christina Education Association.

Read the full letter of intent here. (or you can read it below without even leaving this blog!)

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Governor Carney will join Superintendent Richard Gregg and CEA President Darren Tyson at two Wilmington town hall meetings to discuss the partnership between the State of Delaware and the Christina School District:

Town Hall Meeting on Wilmington Schools Partnership

This event is open to the press.

WHAT: Governor John Carney will join Christina Superintendent Richard Gregg, Office of Innovation and Improvement Director Dorrell Green, the Christina Education Association, members of the Christina School Board, and community organizations to discuss the partnership, and ideas for improving Wilmington schools, with families and educators in Wilmington. Governor Carney, Superintendent Gregg and others will take questions.

WHO:          Governor John Carney

Richard Gregg, Superintendent, Christina School District

Members of the Christina School Board of Education

Darren Tyson, President, Christina Education Association

Dr. Susan Bunting, Secretary, Delaware Department of Education

Dorrell Green, Director, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Delaware Department of Education

WHEN:       Wednesday, October 18, 2017

6:30 p.m.

WHERE:    Bancroft Elementary School

700 N. Lombard Street, Wilmington, DE 19801

 

Town Hall Meeting on Wilmington Schools Partnership

This event is open to the press.

WHAT:        Governor John Carney will join Christina Superintendent Richard Gregg, Office of Innovation and Improvement Director Dorrell Green, the Christina Education Association, members of the Christina School Board, and community organizations to discuss the partnership, and ideas for improving Wilmington schools, with families and educators in Wilmington. Governor Carney, Superintendent Gregg and others will take questions.

WHO:          Governor John Carney

Richard Gregg, Superintendent, Christina School District

Members of the Christina School Board of Education

Darren Tyson, President, Christina Education Association

Dr. Susan Bunting, Secretary, Delaware Department of Education

Dorrell Green, Director, Office of Innovation and Improvement, Delaware Department of Education

WHEN:       Wednesday, October 25, 2017

6:30 p.m.

WHERE:     Bayard Middle School

200 S. DuPont Street, Wilmington, DE 19805

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Governor Carney Shows His True Colors In A Dog And Pony Show For The Ages!

Delaware Governor John Carney released a statement about his meeting with the Christina School District Board of Education last evening.  I felt obligated to give it the TC Redline Edition.  In which I give a no-holds barred critique of Carney’s boneheaded idea.

Governor Carney to Christina Board: Let’s Partner to Improve Wilmington Schools

Date Posted: Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

WILMINGTON, Del. – Governor John Carney on Tuesday met with the Christina Board of Education during a study session at Bancroft Elementary School to discuss a proposed partnership between the state and Christina School District to more effectively serve educators and students in Christina schools in the City of Wilmington.

I have to give kudos to Carney for actually attending and meeting with the Board.  However, that does not excuse the backdoor closed meetings he had with two of their board members over the summer.

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Governor John Carney
Full remarks to Christina School District Board of Education – October 3, 2017
*As prepared for delivery

Thank Rick Gregg, members of the Board, Principals, teachers, parents and others present.

Proper thing to do when you are in their house so to speak.

I’m here with Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and Dorrell Green. I appreciate the opportunity to address the Board in this workshop format.

They would be the ones to also be there.  Was anyone else there?  Perhaps your Education Policy Advisor, Jon Sheehan?

I’ve lived in this city for 30 years. And it’s always been clear to me that as goes the City of Wilmington, so goes our state.

I respect that Wilmington is the biggest city in the state and it is essentially the gateway to the rest of it, but the rest of the state has a lot to offer.  Perhaps Wilmington wouldn’t be in the shape it is in if the state didn’t keep trying to put all its eggs in one basket when there are hundreds of others as well.  We get you’ve lived in this city for 30 years.  It’s all we heard from you when you were campaigning for Governor.  But you had many years at a Federal level to do more for Wilmington.  What did you do for Wilmington when you were in Congress?

Wilmington is our economic and cultural center. Its success in many ways will drive Delaware’s long-term success. And so we need a city that is safe, with strong neighborhoods and good schools. We’re working with Mayor Purzycki, legislators, members of city council, businesses and the community service agencies to achieve these goals.

And yet we continue to see murders and violent crimes constantly.  All we hear from political leaders is “we’re working with…”.  That doesn’t solve the problem.  Action does and I have yet to see true action being taken to reduce those crimes and rampant drug use.

Our efforts have to start with improving our schools, and doing a better job educating city children.

No, your efforts have to start with improving the climate of Wilmington. 

One of the first things I did when I took office was ask Secretary Bunting to visit Wilmington schools.

Which she did.

I joined her on some of these visits. And while we certainly saw dedicated teachers and principals, what we saw by and large was very discouraging.

Let me guess: you saw children with hygiene issues and worn clothing.  You saw a look in their eyes you couldn’t really understand.  It tugged at your heartstrings and thought, “I will be the one to fix this.”

And when the proficiency scores for these schools were released this summer, we saw that they fell well short of what’s acceptable.

Here we go… the test scores.  For a flawed test.  In most schools, anything below a 65% is failing.  For Smarter Balanced, the whole state is failing.  Is that the fault of teachers and students or the test itself.  Don’t answer, we already know.

All of us, together, are responsible for doing better.

We can always do better, but don’t put the blame on all of us Governor Carney.  The buck stops with you.  While you inherited many of these issues from your predecessors, you are falling into the same traps.

It was pretty clear to us that Christina’s portion of the City schools – Bayard, Stubbs, Bancroft, Palmer, and Pulaski – are in the most need of help.

Was it only a year ago that the state refused to step in when Pulaski had all the mold issues?  It is great that you visit these schools but what have you done to make life outside of these schools better?  These are the schools with the highest concentrations of low-income and poverty students.

Already we have taken steps that, I believe, will help our efforts in all city schools.

And how many of those were created by you with no public input.  How many of those efforts involved back-door secret meetings?  Once again, don’t answer.  We know the score.

We opened the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education, to focus state energy on these and other high-needs schools.

Ah, yes.  Your attempt at “reducing” the Delaware DOE.  By making a satellite office in Wilmington. 

We created an Opportunity Grants program that, while not funded at the level that I want, will help identify proven practices for serving disadvantaged students.

Don’t even get me started on that failure of a FY2018 budget Carney.  You put aside a million bucks while cutting exponentially more.  That does not serve disadvantaged students.  It is a Band-Aid on an infected wound.

We put basic needs closets in Wilmington schools, so students can have access to hygiene products, school supplies, and winter clothing, in a dignified way.

Now this I do support and continue to do so.

We’ve reestablished the Family Services Cabinet Council to better coordinate services to families and children, and to address issues of poverty that are impeding the success of our city children.

Closed-door, non-public, back-door meetings.  We have no idea what this council discusses.  For something you like to scream from the rooftops about, we have no clue what they talk about.  Put your money where your mouth is and make these meetings public.  Otherwise, this is smoke and mirrors.

But we need to do much, much more, and that’s why I’m here today.

Every time the state tries to fix these issues, the problems get worse.  I have to wonder if that is intentional.

We didn’t get here over night. And we could spend all day debating the reasons for how we got here. I know a lot of that history through my father who worked in the old Wilmington Public School District and through my many years in state government.

Yes, why debate how we got there.  Because until you take a deep dive at those reasons, you will never understand.  You can’t ignore things that come into schools.  But I digress…

Some blame a lack of resources. Dysfunctional families. Inexperienced teachers. Weak leadership. Busing. Trauma in the home. Segregated neighborhoods. Too much testing. Not enough testing. Bad parenting. Education bureaucracy. Violence in the city.

I agree with some of these: a lack of resources, dysfunctional families, weak leadership (some from CSD in the past and definitely from the state), busing, trauma in the home, segregated neighborhoods, too much testing, bad parenting, education bureaucracy, violence in the city.  I don’t see the inexperienced teachers (except for the TFAers who get their rush-job credentials in a matter of months) and not enough testing.

Over the last few years the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) did a comprehensive study of the challenges, and came up with a plan to make changes. We’ve incorporated many of their recommendations into what I’m about to discuss.

In other words, you are copying the work done from others for your own political benefit. 

It’s clear to me that the most important thing we should do now is focus on making changes that will raise achievement levels for city children. That’s part of my responsibility as Governor, Dr. Bunting’s job as Secretary of Education and your jobs as school leaders and Christina Board members. We’re in this together.

Together?  Are you kidding me?  For months you’ve been circling the wagons and cherry-picking people to talk to about the “Christina problem”.  Divide and conquer.  That’s what I see.  Not getting that warm and fuzzy feeling I felt at your inauguration Carney…

I’m here today, at the invitation of your Superintendent, because I want to partner with you to say “enough.” I believe it’s time to begin intensive efforts to get our teachers, principals and students what they need in the classroom.

Knowing Rick Gregg like I do, I believe he invited you because he was getting tired of your secret meetings and wanted to make it a public event so people can see what the hell you are up to.  I think it’s high time Christina said “enough” with the endless interventions from the state that have been compete and utter failures.

To that end, I’m proposing that the State, Christina School District, and Christina Education Association form a partnership that focuses exclusively on Christina’s city schools.

You and your damn partnerships.  Let’s be partners.  Public-private partnerships.  In other words, let’s do as much as we can behind closed doors and throw transparency out the window.

My vision is to spend the next few months talking as a group about what this partnership would look like, so that by the end of this calendar year we can sign a memorandum of understanding to work together to improve these city schools and the proficiency of the students. I want to be ready to put our new plans into effect by the start of the 2018 school year. This aligns with your Superintendent’s timetable for implementing change as well.

When I hear Memorandum of Understanding, I hear priority schools all over again.  Who is your Penny Schwinn that is facilitating this?  How much state money will be spent trying to craft this MOU for months?  Cause I published all the emails where Schwinn painstakingly tried to make the MOU from the Fall of 2014.  And that was based on Delaware’s clueless interpretation of their own ESEA Flexibility Waivers.  Schwinn did everything she could to make sure it was six Wilmington schools within Christina and Red Clay.  Definitely Markell’s biggest failure.

I think our partnership should address five main issues that I’ve heard over and over again as I’ve toured schools in Wilmington.

Who is telling you these things you’ve heard “over and over”?  Let me guess: Senator Sokola, Rep. Jaques, Rodel, Atrne Alleyne, Michael Watson, Donna Johnson, Jon Sheehan, Kendall Massett, Greg Meece, etc.

First, principals need more control over key decisions in their schools. I would like to work with you to give principals the leadership tools they need and the flexibility and autonomy over structural areas such as staffing/hiring, school schedules, and programs. To give them the resources to implement extended learning time, and to create other school conditions necessary to best meet student needs. As part of this partnership, the Office of Innovation and Improvement would work with principals and our institutions of higher education to provide principals with high quality professional learning, coaching, and support. The Department of Education, using state resources, would assist Christina School District in training principals to better use observations to provide effective feedback that will elevate instruction.

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like the “empowerment zones” in Springfield, MA.

Second, educators in high-needs schools need more say in how resources are used. I plan to engage Christina’s city educators to ensure we are working in partnership with them, as they are on the ground every day working to improve student outcomes. I would like to work with you to empower teacher-leader teams at each school to partner with school administration on key decisions like working conditions, resource use, and school culture. The Office of Innovation and Improvement would work with our institutions of higher education and use the full expertise of the Department of Education to provide educators with professional learning that is relevant, consistent, and meaningful.

In other words, more useless programs through TFA, The Leader In Me, and other cash-cow Crackerjack box outfits that will happily take state money to “fix” the problems.  And that “full expertise of the Department of Education”… are you serious?  How many of these “experts” at the DOE have actually taught in these classrooms?  How many came up the ranks from TFA or the charter world?

Third, we need to address the fact that student achievement rates at Christina’s Wilmington schools are among the lowest in the state. In partnership with DSEA and CEA, I want to create more flexibility for these schools to provide students with additional learning time, including vacation and weekend academies. Teachers would receive stipends for additional hours worked, supported by state funds and the redeployment of district resources. I would argue serious conversations, in partnership with the Christina Wilmington community, need to take place around building use. We are doing our students, educators, and taxpayers a disservice when we have half-empty school buildings — needlessly spreading resources thin.

Maybe if the state stopped intervening in Christina, stopped pumping up charter schools like they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and stopped calling Christina a failure, those buildings wouldn’t be half full.  The state created most of this mess by authorizing so many damn charters up there.  This is where you are assuming DSEA and CEA are on board with your half-cocked plan.  You are seriously messing with collective bargaining agreements here.  Vacation and weekend academies?  When do these kids get a break?  Are you going to churn and burn them until they score proficient on the useless Smarter Balanced Assessment?

Fourth, we need a plan to address the significant trauma students in Wilmington experience outside the classroom. I’m proud of the work already underway between the Office of Innovation and Improvement, DSEA, the Office of the Child Advocate, and community leaders to train staff to create trauma-informed classrooms. We need to double down on those efforts. I have already directed the Family Services Cabinet Council to work with City leaders to implement the CDC report, including finding a way to share data across state agencies about students in need. That work is under way.

How about thanking the Christina teachers who spend every single day dealing with trauma first-hand?  The ones who wash kids clothes, make sure they have food for the weekend, and help students deal with the latest murder that happened in their neighborhood?  You are all about the kudos before anything happens while failing to properly thank those on the ground floor.  And what will the closed-door Family Services Cabinet Council do with all this data that tells us what we have always known?  Let’s get real Carney: until you fix the crime, violence, and rampant drug use in Wilmington, these problems will always exist.  Until you find a way to desegregate the charter schools that cherry-pick students and put every single Delaware school back in balance with their local neighborhoods, these efforts will fail.

Finally, we need to build systems to create meaningful, sustained change in Christina’s Wilmington schools. As part of a partnership with you, the Family Services Cabinet Council would launch a two-generation network to support infants, toddlers and adults, with the goal of breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Additionally, we ought to convene higher education institutions and create a pipeline to develop teachers and leaders ready to enter into our Wilmington schools. These efforts cannot be a flash in the pan. We need to methodically build systems that will endure.

Are you saying the teachers in these schools aren’t ready?  That they can’t handle the trauma they deal with every single day?  There is nothing any higher education institution can do to adequately deal with these issues until the state takes an active hand in dealing with the issues coming into the classroom.  And Wilmington City Council needs to get their heads out of their ass and deal with the corruption going on there before they enter into any “partnership”.  Once again, make your beloved Family Services Cabinet Council public.  This whole thing reeks of non-transparency and I’m getting sick of that. 

Give principals a bigger say. Trust and support our teachers. Tackle low proficiency rates. Address trauma. Build systems. That’s what I propose we work on together.

You will never trust and support our teachers while they are under local control.  Never.  You want to mold them and cherry-pick them to serve the latest corporate education reform scheme.  The best way to tackle low proficiency rates is to get rid of Smarter Balanced and stop judging schools, teachers, and districts based on meaningless and useless test scores.  These misused and abused scores are just one of the reasons why I advocate parents opting their kids out of the state assessments.  Addressing trauma is one thing but finding a way to actively eliminate it is the true hurdle and I don’t think you have the money, resources, or guts to do that.  Working together doesn’t require a contract like an MOU.  That is a gun to the head and we all know it.  You are seriously overreaching here with your executive power here Carney and you need to slow your roll.

The partnership I’m proposing isn’t flashy. It’s not an education fad or sound bite. It’s about the nuts and bolts of educating children. It is a simple but intense effort to put the focus where I think it belongs — in the classroom.

This isn’t about kids at all.  It’s about different ed reform companies lobbying through Jon Sheehan to get their latest programs or technology into the classroom.  And you fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Frederick Douglass said that “it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And that’s the choice we’re facing. We all have dreams for our children. But right now, we’re consigning far too many of our students to a life that no parent wants for their child. Every student we graduate who can’t do basic math or who can’t read or write, we’re sending into the world knowing he or she doesn’t have the tools to succeed. Doors are closing for these children before they even leave the third grade.

For the most part, the state created the conditions which led to these broken men.  Through very racist laws and credos.  The state allowed this to happen and now they want to rush in and save the day by fixing the schools.  What about all these broken men?  What are you doing to make restitution for the state’s absolute failure with them?

I believe, and I know you do too, that it would be immoral to let this situation continue this way.

Don’t speak for the Christina Board of Education Carney!  It would be immoral for this board to give up local control so you can make education companies happy.  How about you let Christina School District, under the leadership of Superintendent Rick Gregg and their elected Board of Education, do their thing.  I like Gregg.  I think he is the leader Christina needs.  But your swooping in and undermining the hard work he has done is an insult at best.

So I’m asking you to form this partnership with us. Let’s take the next few months and work out the details. I’d like to hear your thoughts on what I’ve laid out, and on how you think we can work together.​


I have to listen to the audio when it comes out today, but based upon reading the News Journal article on this last night by Jessica Bies, board member Liz Paige said it best:

Elizabeth Paige said the plan lacked specificity, but that she was willing to talk more as long as the state could guarantee they weren’t going to pull the infamous Charlie Brown football gag on Christina.

“We’re Charlie Brown and the football,” she said. “He has to prove he’s not Lucy.”

Don’t be fooled Mrs. Paige.  He is most definitely Lucy!

Board member John Young gave Carney’s remarks at B+.  I think he was being nice.

Harrie-Ellen Minnehan spoke the hard truth:

Harrie Ellen Minnehan said that students are often used as “political pawns” and that the plan sounded too much like just another in a long string of political solutions imposed on the education system but that have resulted in no gain whatsoever for students caught in a downward academic spiral.

The Christina Board of Education is at their best when they are fighting the latest state method of eroding local control.  I saw this firsthand at the first Christina board meeting I went to in September of 2014.  When they stood together and gave Markell’s priority schools idea a collective no thank you.  I am hoping they do the same with this latest Markellian effort by Carney.

As for Dorrell Green, his quote in the News Journal is very concerning because it gives a good deal of insight into Carney’s plan:

“Do you feel you have the bandwidth or the internal capacity to see that plan through without our support?”

This was in response to Superintendent Gregg’s own plan to build up Christina.  It as if Green was saying “You can’t do anything without the state helping out.”  Which is exactly what the problem is here.  The state interferes so much that it paralyzes the district.  The state needs to do more on the side of fixing the crime and poverty in Wilmington.  Let Christina deal with Christina.  If the state wants to “partner” under forced coercion, that is bullying.  Christina needs to enact a zero tolerance policy on state bullying.  And just by using the word “bandwidth”, Green may have overplayed his hand.  By using that particular word, he is suggesting Christina will get better by more corporate education reform double-speak education technology.

I have to give it to Carney.  He has successfully learned how to play the field like Jack Markell did.  He certainly has been busy trying to hand-select his pawns with this attempt.  And yet he gave the farm away when he announced his trip to Springfield, MA on his public schedule.  I didn’t see any of that in your speech.  It’s like a super villain in a comic announcing their intentions before they even implement them.  Look what I’m about to do.  We see through you Carney.  Stop listening to those around you who truly don’t have a clue about what is really going on.  Otherwise you are just another Jack Markell.  Be your own man, not a carbon-copy.

Don’t think for one minute that I don’t understand you Carney.  I know about some of your antics with things lately.  I know you hate my blog and will cast out those who support it.  We both know exactly what I’m talking about.  We know you have heard objections to this Christina scheme and totally ignored them.  In fact, you punish those who don’t agree with you.  You aren’t the person you put in front of the media.  Who is the real John Carney?  Time to take off the mask and reveal the true John Carney.  We both know when this plan fails (and it will if implemented), the state will continue to blame Christina for their own failure and will embark on another scheme to “fix” the problem they create in the first place.

Is The DOE About To Dump 7 Christina Schools On Red Clay? Does WEIC Know About This?

Red Clay taxpayers beware: You might get a sticker shock on a future tax bill!  The Delaware Department of Education issued a Request For Proposal on November 28th for a “time sensitive” Facilities Condition Evaluation of all the Christina schools based in Wilmington.  While I initially thought this could have been related to Christina’s recent mold issues, I found this went much deeper than that.  Is this some type of surprise announcement that will come in John Carney’s State of the State address?

The schools that will be evaluated are Bancroft Elementary School, Bayard Middle School, Elbert Palmer Elementary School, Pulaski Elementary School, Stubbs Elementary School, Douglass School, and the Sarah Pyle Academy.  Even the district office at the Drew Education Support Center is on the list!  The smoking gun is this part:

Develop cost estimates to bring each of the above listed facilities to a similar state and with the same control systems such as building controls, camera systems, keysets, alarm, access control, phones, tech. infrastructure (switches), and wifi as Highlands Elementary School, 2100 Gilpin Avenue; Shortledge Elementary School, 100 West 18th Street; Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, 920 North Van Buren Street; Baltz Elementary School, 1500 Spruce Avenue; and DuPont Middle School, 3130 Kennett Pike.

Those are all Red Clay schools.  If this were just some random facilities evaluation, there is no way there would be something to bring Christina schools up to Red Clay specifications.  There is going to be a big move coming soon!

Identical to the process and methodology followed for typical school facilities assessment work, the assessment will identify any potential issues related to major building systems and building components such as the building envelope/structure, roofing, HVAC/mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, telecommunications, and security systems as well as any site improvements required to the immediate surrounding area for building access. Data generated from this effort will:

• Evaluate the above listed schools in 1. facility condition indices as compared to RCCSD facilities as listed in 2.

• Identify and prioritize required short and long term improvements

• Identify code compliance, accessibility and system coordination issues requiring immediate attention

• Identify potential energy conservation opportunities

But does the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission know about this?  They are having a regular commission meeting next Wednesday at Warner Elementary School.  If they don’t, boy are they in for a surprise!

As well, it looks like the Delaware Autism Program could be shifted to Red Clay as well:

Prepare a design analysis for the Christina Administrative space, Douglas Alternative School, Sarah Pyle Program and Delaware Autism Program as currently located in one of the buildings listed above.

Who is the driving force behind this?  If it is John Carney, he may want to open with a huge splash by finally giving the civil rights advocates in Wilmington their hearts desire.  But if this is his move, it would also be a huge smack in the face to the Red Clay taxpayers.  Carney was very wishey-washey during his campaign about what he would do with the WEIC redistricting plan.  He hinted at liking some of it but not all of it.  But WEIC Chair Tony Allen is on his transition team.  If Carney pulls this off without the General Assembly he risks alienating many of State Reps and Senators.  Which may not work out in his favor with the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s seat.  That race will determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Delaware Senate.

Another option is Governor Jack Markell.  With the time sensitive status around this and a due date for bids of December 13th, could he have the gumption to stick it to Christina one last time before he leaves office?  While ticking off the taxpayers at the same time?

The RFP was authored by a Renee Harris.  The only thing I found on her while doing a Google search and a State of Delaware search was related to the Tobacco Settlement from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.

No matter what this is, it is going to be something that will change the Wilmington education landscape.  There is absolutely no way the DOE would issue an RFP like this without something waiting in the wings.  The WEIC redistricting plan was put on hold for a year.  The state isn’t overflowing in cash right now either.

**UPDATED** 12:35pm, 12/2/16: Senate Bill 300 with House Amendment 1 was what allowed the WEIC Redistricting Plan to survive.  But there is key language in the amendment put forth by State Rep. Kim Williams:

The amendment removes language obligating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and affected school districts to develop, before February 2017, a detailed assessment of the impact of transitioning City of Wilmington Students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. Such detailed assessment would require development of school- and student-level changes that require public input and facility analysis that cannot be completed in the timeframes in the original bill. Instead, they should be undertaken as part of the planning phase for redistricting upon commitment of necessary and sufficient funding. The amendment preserves appropriation of $200,000 to continue the work related to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, including analysis of fiscal impacts, and language clarifying and ensuring that any additional state funding requires further action of the General Assembly.

That date of February 2017 flies in the face of this RFP.  I would strongly consider a “Facilities Evaluation” part of a “detailed assessment of the impact…” for the WEIC plan.  The amendment does not include the Delaware DOE though.  But the original WEIC bills from 2015 do not give the Delaware DOE to have this much involvement.  Something is happening…

**UPDATED** 2:04pm, 12/2/16: If you read the fiscal note for Senate Bill 200, it states the following:

  1. This Act is effective upon signature of the Governor.
  2. This Act provides a supplemental appropriation of $200,000 to establish the Wilmington Redistricting Transition Fund to assess the fiscal impact of transitioning City of Wilmington students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District. The funding is to be used by the Red Clay Consolidated School District, in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District, for the assessment in which said assessment is to be substantially completed on or before January 31, 2017.
  3. This Act also establishes a working group to review the fiscal impact assessment that is prepared by the Red Clay Consolidated School District in consultation with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the Christina School District. The Department of Education is to provide staff support to the working group, upon request, and it is assumed that the Department will provide this support within existing resources. The working group shall submit its review by March 31, 2017 to the Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
  4. Funding is set aside in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget process in the amount of $200,000.

But once again, that due date was changed based on House Amendment #1 to the bill.  So, once again, why is the DOE issuing an RFP with a submission due date for bids of 12/13/16 and labeling this as “time sensitive”?  The key words in the amendment are this- “commitment of necessary and sufficient” funding.  The amendment states this work should not take place until a time when that commitment is assured.  No budget proposal will come out until towards the end of January.  And a budget proposal does nothing until the General Assembly approves it.  So even if folks are saying this is part of the $200,000 allocated to WEIC as a result of SB300, it appears the amendment is being completely ignored.  The bill was dead before the amendment.  The amendment saved WEIC.  I am not convinced of anything I am hearing at this point.  Whomever is directing these actions is breaking the law.

**UPDATED** 2:16pm, 12/2/16: Upon further analysis of the above amendment, it states the type of work included in this RFP should be done during the “planning phase” of the redistricting plan.  As per the plan approved by the State Board of Education, the timeline consists of the following:

December 17, 2015 to June 30, 2016 Approval Stage

July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 Planning Stage

July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 Transition Stage

July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 Implementation Stage

But because the General Assembly did not pass the legislation that would make the redistricting plan happen, they instead bumped it up a year.  So the Planning Stage of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 is no longer in place.  The amendment is very clear about what should happen during this stage.  That planning stage can’t begin again until July 1, 2017 if the General Assembly allows for that to happen based on signed legislation.  I’m just a blogger without the legal expertise the WEIC and DOE attorneys would have.  But if I can clearly see that the law is not being followed, they would assuredly know.

To read the RFP, please read below:

 

 

State Rep. Charles Potter Undermines Deal That Could Have Turned Baynard Stadium Into Something Wilmington Can Be Proud Of

A Potter’s field is a graveyard for the unwanted and the indigent.  It is the final resting place for the unwanted of society.  Delaware State Rep. Charles Potter thwarted a deal that could have renovated Baynard Stadium into something children could really enjoy.  Instead, he convinced Wilmington City Council to stop a deal with Salesianum, a Delaware private school, into donating $20 million dollars to make the Wilmington municipal recreational area into a state of the art facility.  Why?

The Delaware News Journal wrote an editorial on this very odd move of a State Representative yesterday.

In the “Save Baynard Stadium” email sent Nov. 11, Potter rallied constituents to oppose the Salesianum offer, saying “To give control of the stadium to a private school, which would then control and determine the athletic playing schedule for field use could place public school children, youth groups and community groups at a disadvantage, for a minimum of 50 years. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of the children in the city of Wilmington to have their future athletic extracurricular options determined by a private school.”

However, as the News Journal pointed out, this was already part of the proposal by Salesianum.  They would have accounted for all of Potter’s concerns in the plan he should have actually read and understood.  Wilmington needs a lot of help, so why kill a deal that would have benefited the city immensely?  While boasting about securing $200,000 for new bleachers at the stadium, he undermined a deal that would have given the park $20 million dollars.  Why?

There is no question that any deal between Salesianum and the city would have had to clearly state usage parameters that were beneficial for all parties. And we firmly believe such parameters were already on paper. But then Mr. Potter fumbled the $20 million ball.

I hope Potter’s fumble didn’t ruin any chance Baynard Stadium has of getting a deal like this in the future.  As someone who writes all the time about the dangers of corporate interference in education, this deal was harmless.  It would have benefited the City of Wilmington and the children who use this park.  In reading the editorial, it seems more a matter of ego for Potter instead of doing the right thing for kids.  And yet I don’t see Potter doing much to stop real corporate interference in education.  I just don’t get it.  How is saving a municipal park that is already rundown and turning it into something better justifiable in any possible way?

That’s what Salesianum School was planning to spend on renovating the stadium. That’s $20 million in private donations.

Not user fees.

Not tax increases.

Just private donations.

Thumbs down of the week to Rep. Potter… bad form…

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!

Some Are Pushing For The WEIC Redistricting For The WRONG Reasons

I’ve gone back and forth with the WEIC redistricting plan for a while now.  Some days I like it, others I don’t.  I tend to think of it from more of a statewide level because I live down in Dover.  But there are those who are in full support of the plan.  But some aren’t in it for the right reasons.  I recently heard a reference to “those kids”…those being the Wilmington Christina students.  While many of the main advocates want a better outcome for these students and think a population of city kids split up between four districts is bad, there are those who don’t want those kids in Christina anymore.  For the simple reason that they are a perceived burden and a problem that needs to go away.  I like to call this racism.  There are also some in Red Clay who don’t want more of “those kids”.  That is also racism when said in the same context.

I get the folks who are afraid of their taxes going up.  I understand that.  Especially older citizens on a fixed income.  But those who don’t want them because of their environment, or the color of their skin, or the issues they bring into schools… you need to get over it.  We live in the 21st Century.  The Jim Crow laws are gone.  Gay people can marry.  It’s a new way of looking at things.  I tend to believe, and this is only my opinion, most issues of racism are inherited.  Racism exists on both sides.  There are white people who hate black people and black people who hate white people.  I think it comes down to a matter of trust and dealing with fear.

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, I worked in a comic book store in Trenton, NJ for a little while.  I was driving home from work one night, and I took a wrong turn.  I wound up in a bad neighborhood.  I was approaching a stop sign when a group of African-American men started walking towards my car with baseball bats.  It terrified me.  I ignored the stop sign and gunned it until I was in a safer area.  I didn’t report it.  I just made sure I was never in that area again.  Did I let that one bad situation define my views of African-Americans?  No.  I recognized there are good and bad people everywhere.  Is there really much difference between those men who were defending their turf and a fight at a school?  Probably not.  Was their intention to harm me or just scare me?  I may never know.  Perhaps they viewed me as a threat.

Back to WEIC, I just feel like the Christina Wilmington children could possibly be a political football.  I’ve discussed this with many people over the past year and a half or so.  I just don’t see how transferring them from Christina to Red Clay is really going to make such a huge difference for them.  They will still be in a school district.  Maybe they won’t be bused as far, but I remember it taking my bus an hour on some days to get to school.  If it was snowing, forget about it!  As an adult, I would kill for an hour in a vehicle I don’t have to drive!  To be alone with my thoughts, possibly someone to talk to.  Read, listen to music, stare at the scenery, I wouldn’t mind it at all.

I get that things need to change.  Personally, I think making Wilmington its own district isn’t such a bad idea.  I think a lot of the other districts should combine.  We really don’t need nineteen school districts in Delaware.  If those in power pushed this, it would happen.  But they are stuck in their ways and the way it is.  Change is very hard for Delaware.  I’ve realized that a lot lately.  But this whole “it has to happen now” thing is beginning to irritate me.  A lot.  If it has to happen now, why are there so many demanding conditions on the whole thing and timetables set up that almost seem to be a detriment rather than a help?

When I hear about Red Clay’s nightmare of an inclusion plan, I worry about the Christina Wilmington special needs kids who may be headed into a district that, on the surface, claims they are a success.  When I hear from parents that the flaws and issues facing that inclusion plan haven’t been solved and that the administration keeps canceling the Red Clay Inclusion Committee meetings for no reason at all, I worry we are sending them to a district that just doesn’t get it.  But once you start digging a bit, you find out Red Clay really isn’t that different from Christina in a lot of respects.  But what they do have is power.  They have very affluent suburbs.  Red Clay and Colonial own the Data Service Center.  They have the ability to authorize their own charter schools.  While it hasn’t been done in a long time, the option is there.  Christina has this option as well, but no one has utilized it.  Christina doesn’t have a Charter School of Wilmington or a Conrad to brighten their reputation (and test scores).  One of them is the most discriminatory institutes of learning I have ever seen in my life while calling themselves a public school.  But no one acts on this.  I have to wonder why that is?  We talk all the time about how we need to make life better for kids.  But we allow discrimination factories in our state that the citizens of the state pay taxes to fund.  What does that say about who we are as Delaware?  We can say we hate it, but when the time comes to push on these issues, and I mean really push, it gets very quiet.

If WEIC truly wants to make things equitable for the children of Wilmington, they need to stop doing it under this illusion of instant change or it is gone forever.  I would love instant change as well, but that doesn’t mean it is always good.  The redistricting plan, if it becomes law, is going to pump tons of money into Red Clay.  But it won’t last forever.  What happens when that money is gone four, five years down the road?  All these programs will happen based on that money.  When it disappears, what happens then?  Is Red Clay going to ask their citizens to pay for it?  Do we truly think the state will keep paying?  And why aren’t Brandywine and Colonial participating in this?  That was the original plan.  Do they not want “those kids” as well?  I know Colonial want to keep the ones they already have, but why did they never offer to take more?

If you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, you better be damn sure you are doing it for the best of all possible reasons.  If you are sending kids into a transition just for the sake of getting rid of them, you might want to take a good look in the mirror and think how it would feel if you were being tossed around like that.  If you’re doing this to gain power, or an illusion power, remember this is not a game.  These are children.  If you truly believe their lives will be better, than go with that feeling.  If you want a legacy, make sure it is a legacy for kids and not your name.  Names are only as important as how things are perceived in the long run.  If this ends bad, your name will be attached to it.

I know there are legislators who have or will vote yes for this because it is the political thing to do.  I know some of them really haven’t researched it enough to know what they are actually voting on.  I have to say, I respect the hell out of State Rep. Kim Williams.  Out of all the House Democrats, she was the only one to vote no.  Not because she doesn’t want a better life for these kids.  Not because she thinks Red Clay isn’t as good as Christina.  She voted no because she is deeply concerned about the funding for all this and what it will eventually mean for the constituents in her district.  To vote against party lines like that, especially when you are the last Democrat on the roll call and you know every single other Democrat in that room already voted yes, that takes courage and strength.

I know some Senators will fight this.  Even a Democrat or two.  I recently heard something about a tooth and a nail.  I heard about another one who is opposed to it but the power players feel they can handle this Senator.  Excuse me?  Handle?  Is this the FBI?  I didn’t know Delaware Senators had handlers.  I spent a lot of time in Legislative Hall this week.  I saw and heard a lot.  More this week alone than I think I have the entire time I’ve gone there during the 148th General Assembly.  While I’m not naming names here, I think some of the Delaware “elite” may want to put themselves in check.  You only have as much power as you think you have.  It can be taken away in an instant.  For those who think they are above the will of the people and all that, think twice.  I’m not the only one who talks, and I don’t talk as much as I could.  The “elite” would most likely have something to really fear if others did.  I would worry more about the things people say about you that you can’t hear.  That puts a chink in your armor and you don’t even know it’s happening.

I fear this will all end badly for these kids.  I agree with what some of the legislators said the other day.  This is a hope bill.  A hope bill with a hell of a lot of money, but even more important, children’s lives on the line.  We still have the Smarter Balanced Assessment which will be the measurement of how successful this thing is.  Success based on a failure of a test.  I have to ask… what the hell are we really thinking this will accomplish if it based on the very flawed measurement that will define this?  The same test that is making a complete mockery out of special education in our state?  If this thing is so important, so “has to happen now”, I would encourage all those who have children or grandchildren that could attend Red Clay district schools send their children there.  Choice them into Warner, or Bancroft, or Stubbs.  Only then will the words I hear so many of you saying actually mean you truly believe this.

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…

Wilmington Advocate CEO Hope Cries Out For Help With People Dying In Wilmington

At the Wilmington City Council meeting last night, advocate CEO Hope gave a very passionate speech about the crime and murder in Wilmington.  He begged the City Council to get out on the streets and see the dead and to do something before these kids go to prison.  Things are getting very tense up in Wilmington, and education will not solve all of the issues going on there.  We can redistrict and “close the gaps” until our eyes fall out, but that is not going to solve the problems.  I’m not going to pretend to have the answers, because I simply don’t.  But what we are doing now?  It isn’t working.  I live in Dover, and it is getting bad here too.  Not Wilmington proportions, but we are already over last year’s homicide rate down here.

I would start listening to this video at the 28:00 mark to see what happens before CEO’s speech, the speech, and after.

I think, if anything, these people need hope.  They need to know that their leaders want to make changes that will last and not just put band-aids on the problems.  Kicking the can does not work, and more children will die or go to prison if something doesn’t change.

Red Clay’s Skyline Middle School Parents Want Change In School Climate, Release Youtube Video

At the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night, several parents of students who attend Skyline Middle School spoke before the board about school climate.  The school has several new students from the City of Wilmington attending the school and parents are very concerned about the 500% increase in suspension rates and a rapid increase in bullying.  Sounds like Skyline needs to be looked at as well as The Delaware Met.  I’m glad the board at Red Clay is taking quick and decisive action on this, but these things just shouldn’t happen under any circumstances.

I just posted the following on Facebook:

The bullying has got to stop. No more excuses. Schools need to be a safe haven for ALL students. Matt Denn, please look into this in ALL Delaware schools. We need to make sure special education is being implemented and done right. We also need to put an end to violence being inflicted on students. No child should ever come home crying and tell his parents he is too scared to go to school. No parent should ever have to stand before a school board and demand change. It just shouldn’t happen.

Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact: Delaware Charter Schools

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According to Delaware Governor Jack Markell, throwing our hands up with poverty is a recipe for the status quo.  As we can see in the above chart, poverty had a tremendous impact in Delaware charter schools.  The higher the low-income status, the lower the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  There is no hiding this.  Even the highly-praised EastSide Charter School was not immune to the wrath of the high-stakes test.  Below is part of Governor Markell’s speech he gave at the Imagine Delaware Forum in March of this year:

One of the reasons that we often hear for the struggle of our kids in the inner-city schools is poverty. And it is absolutely true that poverty presents enormous, enormous challenges for many children across our state. They face barriers to learning that the rest of us can’t imagine. And that’s why we need to do everything in our power to lift our children and our families out of poverty and to reach these children from the beginning of their lives, to counter the effects of growing up poor. And we are committed to addressing the root causes of poverty, by increasing access to the best early-learning programs, by investing in economic development and reducing crime and battling the addiction epidemic, and more. But as we pursue these goals we can’t delay improvements to the education kids in these communities receive. I, and I know that many of you, refuse to throw up our hands and say that we can’t truly improve education in these schools as long as poverty exists. That’s a recipe for the status quo, a recipe for fewer of our most vulnerable children to get the skills they need to escape poverty.

What Governor Markell seems to lack insight into or just plain ignores is the impact of poverty on children’s education.  It isn’t something “rigor” and “grit” can fix.  It’s a matter of increasing the funding to these schools, and not under the guise of priority schools or focus schools.  It means lowering the size of classrooms, increasing special education funding, and judging children based on a once a year test the clearly shows how much poverty does matter.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is not improving education. It is making it more difficult for schools to get the true reform they need.  The Delaware Department of Education will be releasing their school report cards with the Smarter Balanced Assessment carrying most of the weight for school grades.  This is highly destructive to schools that do not do well on this test.  With the Delaware DOE and the State Board of Education pushing Regulation 103 into state code, we need parents to see how that will affect all school districts in Delaware.

This is just the first of many articles based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment and how it affects students of low-income status, students with disabilities, and the most vulnerable minorities in our state.  In conjunction with Delaware Liberal, Exceptional Delaware will be publishing articles in the coming week on this high-stakes testing epidemic that is destroying schools in our state.  This very unique “blog crossover” will paint the picture the Delaware Department of Education doesn’t want the public to see.  But numbers don’t lie.  They present facts that cannot be disputed.  Please come to Delaware Liberal and here to see further articles “Poverty Matters! The Smarter Balanced Impact”.  Delaware Liberal will be covering New Castle County while Exceptional Delaware will be covering Kent and Sussex Counties.  We may cross reference each other here and there, and I highly recommend reading what they have to write, especially with all the potential redistricting in Wilmington and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

A very special thanks to the always awesome Pandora and LiberalGeek from Delaware Liberal, Brian Stephan of the excellent blog Those In Favor, and Delaware State Representative Kim Williams for their assistance in the data collection and formation of the graphs in this series.  This is truly a collaborative effort on all ends, and Delaware is a better place for it!

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Membership & Committees Announcement, Two Major Things Missing

I know a lot of these people, but some I don’t.  All have an enormous task in front of them.  Without further ado, this is the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission:

Tony Allen, Chairperson, Bank of America Senior Executive

Kenny Rivera, Vice Chairperson, President of Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and teacher in Brandywine School District

Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Education Advocate, Wilmington Parents, and Public Allies alumna

Eve Buckley, Parent and Education Advocate, Christina S.D.

Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Chair of Education Youth & Families Committee for Wilmington City Council

Rosa Colon-Kolacko, Chief of Diversity Officer, Christiana Care

Karen Eller, Teacher in Christina S.D.

Reverend Meredith Griffin, Chairperson of the Education Committee for Interdenominational Ministers Action Council

Frederika Jenner, President of Delaware State Education Association

Yvonne Johnson, Delaware PTA Parent & Education Advocate, Red Clay S.D.

Joseph Laws, President of Colonial School District Board of Education

Margie Lopez Waite, Head of School for L’Aspira Academy Charter School

Aretha Miller, Executive Director of the Community Education Building

Harrie Ellen Minnehan, President of the Christina School District Board of Education

Joe Pika, PhD., former President of the State Board of Education

Chandra Pitts, Executive Director of One Village Alliance

Delaware State Rep. Charles Potter

Vicki Seifried, Teacher in Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

John Skrobot, President of the Brandywine School District Board of Education

Delaware Senator David Sokola

Michelle Taylor, President of the United Way of Delaware

A High School student from Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

A High School student from Colonial S.D.

As well, support is being given by the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration and the following employees:

Dan Rich, PhD., Policy Director

Kelly Sherretz, Project Manager

Elizabeth Burland, Administrative Coordinator

Jerome Lewis, PhD., IPA Director and Senior Policy Advisor

Ed Freel, Senior Policy Advisor

Liz Farley-Ripple, Policy Advisor

Neil Kirschling, Policy Advisor

Sarah Pragg, Communications Advisor

The following committees have been announced with the following as Committee Chairs:

Redistricting Committee: Joe Pika, Henry Harper, PhD. (former Superintendent of Appoquinimink S.D.)

Charter & District Collaboration Committee: Eve Buckley, Aretha Miller

Meeting the Needs of Students In Poverty Committee: Chandlee Kuhn (former Family Court Chief Judge), Michelle Taylor, Jackie Jenkins Ed.D. (Education Advisor for Office of the Mayor of the City of Wilmington)

Funding Student Success Committee: Jill Floore (Chief Financial Officer for Red Clay Consolidated S.D.), Mike Jackson (Deputy Comptroller for the State of Delaware)

Parent, Educator, and Community Engagement Committee: Yvonne Johnson, Chandra Pitts

At first glance, this is a very diverse group in this.  But I have a major new concern, as the below document will clearly show, the website for this, still under construction but will be available on September 1st, is http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com.  I thought this was a Wilmington thing.  I know, some of the recommendations from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee can help all of Delaware, but if they are doing this, why is there NO representation from anyone in Kent or Sussex Counties?  I think excluding representation from the whole state is very dangerous in this political climate, especially for a commission that will be meeting for the next 5-6 years.

As well, they need to make an entirely separate committee to cover special education.  If special education is not improved, nothing they do will make any difference for students with disabilities who represent anywhere from 16-20% of the student population affected.  I actually advised Tony Allen of this twice.  Once at the House Education Committee in February, and last March in private.  I know there will be sub-committees, but this needs to be its own committee.  I have to say I’m very disappointed, but then again, special education doesn’t seem to be a priority anywhere these days in Delaware.  We keep making the same mistakes over and over again and then we are left scratching our heads wondering why these children don’t have better outcomes.  Meanwhile, disabilities are on the rise and funding is going to become a huge issue, especially with Autism.

I don’t like the idea of Senator Sokola being in WEIC at all.  This is a man who has done more harm than good for all the students of Delaware, specifically in Wilmington.  Most don’t see it that way, but he was the spearhead behind a lot of legislation that has further segregated Wilmington schools.  I know, I’m biased cause we went head-to-toe on House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill, but I wasn’t a big fan of his before that.

Delaware Charter War Part 1: The Birth of Charter School of Wilmington, Counseling Out & Cherry-Picking of Delaware Students

CSWApplication1996

Charter schools.  Two words that bring up a great deal of conversation in Delaware.  For some they have become the savior of public education.  For others they find that they continue segregation in Delaware, are not accountable in the way traditional schools are, and they are the root cause of the corporate education reform movement that has swept across America over the past decade.  In the 1990s, charter schools were created in Minnesota and California.  By 1995, Delaware wanted to take a stab at it.

In 1995, six companies wanted to sponsor a new type of school in Delaware, a charter school: AstraZenaca (then called Zenaca Inc.), Christiana Care Health (then called Medical Center of Delaware), Delmarva Power, DuPont, Hercules Incorporated and Verizon (then called Bell Atlantic). They infused a $600,000 commitment into the school launch. Red Clay Consolidated School District President of the Board William Manning, and St. Marks Principal Ron Russo, were sold on the idea. Originally, they wanted to house the Charter School of Wilmington at The Pines in Pike Creek, a northern suburb of Wilmington, but local residents rejected this idea.  Why not turn Wilmington High School into a charter school? They wanted to offer parents different choices for education that did not involve parents shelling out tons of hard-earned money for private schools.  The school already housed two magnet schools at the time: Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the Academy of Math & Science. The plan was to have Charter School of Wilmington replace the Academy. But first the concept of charter schools in Delaware had to become part of state code.

Enter Senator David Sokola, who sponsored Senate Bill 200. At the time there was no Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Innovative Schools, or any charter organization in the state. There were no high-stakes standardized tests at this point. Governor Carper was getting a lot of pressure to change education in Delaware. Reform efforts already began which put Delaware in the spotlight for the first time in a long time.

To get to the story of how CSW began, we have to look even further back at the landmark decision made in 1978.  If folks think four school districts is too much for Wilmington, back then there were eleven! After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which demanded the dismantling of “black” school districts, Wilmington schools were desegregated based on a court ruling called Evans v. Buchanan in 1956. The schools integrated and by 1967 there were no more black school districts in Delaware.

The demographics of Wilmington changed drastically since Brown v. Board of Education. In seventeen years, Wilmington went from 73% white in 1954 to 79% black by 1971.  Dubbed the “white flight”, Wilmington changed dramatically in less than two decades.

The concept of desegregating schools in Delaware was not native to Wilmington.  According to Gene Capers, a retired principal from Towne Point Elementary School in Dover, William Henry Middle School housed the “black” students of Dover, while Central Middle School had all the “white” students.  In the late 1960s, the district changed the dynamics of the two schools and integrated all students in 5th-6th in William Henry and 7th-8th in Central Middle School, which continues to this very day.

In 1969, the General Assembly approved the Educational Advancement Act of 1968, trimming down the number of school districts in the state from 49 to 26. Wilmington wasn’t a part of this legislation, and in effect, Wilmington became re-segregated. In the 1970s, many schools began re-segregating students. The State Board of Education came up with the very controversial “busing plan”. Schools were forced to accept every type of student and the result was a dramatic shift in the makeup of many schools in the area. Schools were closed, students were resassigned, and parents became very angry. The entire public school district system changed, and parents wanted to do away with the busing requirements. The anger from this gave birth to the creation of charter schools in Delaware.

Senate Bill 200 passed in the General Assembly in 1995 creating charter schools in Delaware.  The bill was introduced on June 1st, 1995, and signed by Governor Carper on July 10th of the same year.  To read the whole Senate discussion on Senate Bill 200, please read the below in its entirety.  Senator Sharp predicted much of what came to pass.

By 1996, Charter School of Wilmington was approved by the Red Clay Consolidated School District. In their application, it stated Delaware required 19 credits for students to graduate, Red Clay required 20 credits, but CSW required 24, and said “We regard these requirements as only a minimum education program.” What was even more frightening though was the part about special education, to which the Red Clay Accountability Committee wrote:

“As the Charter School of Wilmington accepts students, it should be cognizant of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a federal law which mandates a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. The charter school plans to seek a waiver from the State of Delaware related to the special education provision…The value of diversity which appears in the school’s mission statement must be made concrete through the provisions of this aspect of the Charter School’s operations. Specification of admission requirements was requested of the Charter Committee and a copy of the application was provided and is attached as Appendix B. It is clear from this application that the proposed charter has met the requirements of the law which stipulate that the charter may not restrict student admissions.”

In fact, CSW may have given birth to the phrase “counseling out” with charter schools, as written in their response to the Red Clay Accountability Committee:

“Students who cannot or will not meet success criteria will be counseled to transfer to other schools. It would be appropriate for students to enroll in the CHARTER SCHOOL at times other than the beginning of the school year. This presumes a minimum of disruption to the student’s schooling. Ideally, any transfers out would be balanced by the arrival of new students. Consideration should be given to having the balance of the student’s funding follow the student to the receiving school.”

The issue of charter school funding is an issue that still haunts traditional school districts to this very day.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 28 this legislative session to address this issue, but the bill wasn’t even heard in the House Education Committee.

While the “specific interest” of CSW wasn’t talked about in the response, it became very clear that the assessment given to students prior to admission was a requirement for the school, but this wasn’t listed in the response to Red Clay.

“In the case of oversubscription, the CHARTER SCHOOL will use the preferences permitted by the CHARTER LEGISLATION; i.e., siblings, Red Clay Consolidated School District students residing in a five-mile radius of the school. Diversity will be achieved by attracting a diverse pool of student applicants.”

The reality is, once the school got to a position of needing a lottery for students to enter, the opposite occurred.  Instead of achieving diversity, the school in the City of Wilmington became the mirror opposite of the population of Wilmington.  When the seventh type posted the original Senate document, some very interesting conversations took place on Delaware Liberal with both sides of the issue planting their flags in the ground over the topics of race and the predictions of Delaware Senators and eventual segregation in Wilmington schools.

For the first few years, CSW accepted applications from anyone who applied. But the first charter of the state was already on the way to becoming the school it is now in terms of demographics. Imagine the old Wilmington High School all of a sudden housing three different schools. On the first floor was Cab Calloway, Wilmington High School on the second, and CSW on the third. Ron Russo, the head of school at CSW, was adamant about keeping the CSW students separate from the Wilmington High students. In 1997, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by reporter Connie Langland talked about this new choice option open to Delaware students. Manning was quoted as saying “The nice thing about choice is that it tells you right away what people think of your schools…and what schools require change.”

Langland wrote in the article:

“Another concern is whether the plan will have an adverse impact on long-standing efforts to desegregate Wilmington-area schools. School districts in the Wilmington area have relied on busing to achieve racial balance, but with choice families can avoid an unwanted assignment.”

By 1999, Wilmington High School was no more, and the former home of the Red Devils was now the birthplace of the Delaware charter school and a magnet school.

In the book: Congressional Record Vol. 146-Part 2: Proceedings and Debates of the 106th Congress Second Session from March of 2000, Bill Manning was described in a section on school construction funding that he testified at:

“An attorney by trade, Mr. Manning has been among Delaware’s leaders in proposing and implementing a variety of educational reforms: public school choice, charter school legislation, and rigorous academic standards statewide. Red Clay is currently the only district in Delaware to have reached an agreement with its teachers association pursuant to which Red Clay teachers will be evaluated based on student performance.”

During the testimony, Manning said:

“I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.”

To date, Charter School of Wilmington is the only charter school in Delaware that started (and continues to do so) in a building that also housed a regular traditional school district school. While charters share space in the Community Education Building in Wilmington, no other charter has been able to replicate the success of what CSW did in terms of literally taking the best and brightest out of their own building and sending the others to feeder schools.

As the sun set on the previous century, more charter schools were approved by the Delaware Department of Education and opened up across Delaware: Campus Community School and Positive Outcomes in Kent County, EastSide Charter School and Thomas Edison in Wilmington, and Sussex Academy. One charter, called the Richard Milburn Academy, closed down in 2000 due to poor academic performance and the inability of board members to function as a cohesive unit.  Other charters applied for authorization, and were approved, but never opened.

The idea of charter schools was blossoming from an idea to a new landscape for education in Delaware. The forced busing issue combined with school choice was setting up the battle for the ages, but something happened in 2000 that changed everything for all Wilmington schools.

To be continued…

*Special thanks to the amazing narrative of Antonio Prado and Andrea Miller in http://www.clintdantinne.com/mphs/losthighschools.pdf which provided a great deal of the historical backdrop in this article.  As well, to Mike O from the seventh type who provided a wealth of knowledge in his publishing of the Senate discussion of Senate Bill 200.  I would also be remiss in forgetting the Delaware Department of Education who provided the link to the Charter School of Wilmington’s original application to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Governor Markell To Sign House Bill 148 And Senate Bill 122 On August 4th, Let The Redistricting Begin…

On August 4th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will sign two bills to improve education in the City of Wilmington.  House Bill 148 creates the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission while Senate Bill 122 allows the State Board of Education to redraw district lines to allow for City of Wilmington schools to shift to Red Clay Consolidated School District away from the Christina School District.

The signing will occur at Hockessin Colored School #107C, 4266 Millcreek Rd. in Hockessin, DE.  I will fully admit when I heard the name of this location my eyes bulged open while my brain was feverishly wondering why they wouldn’t do the signing in the city proper.  On the Facebook page, Solutions for Wilmington Schools, Wilmington Education Advisory Committee chair Tony Allen provided a link to a USA Today article on the historic location.

The “colored” schools in Delaware, as they were called, were created by Pierre DuPont in the 1920s.  The Hockessin Color School #107C became the heart of a pitched legal battle regarding integration into the much better School #29, which only white people were allowed at.  The legal cases involved with this situation became a part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and is considered an historic landmark in Delaware.

Many fear the redistricting of Wilmington schools under two school districts, Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine is a smokescreen to create an all-charter Wilmington school district.  At this time, Delaware is projected to have a $160 million deficit for FY2017 and the Delaware Department of Education is going back on the original promised amount for Red Clay’s three priority schools.  The legislation, which looks great on the surface, could face numerous obstacles in the implementation.

Citizens of Wilmington have desired a reduction in school districts for decades, ever since the Secretary of State created the current four district control of Wilmington schools.  While I can easily see the need for this reduction, the thorn in the foot is the charter schools in Wilmington.  Not that all of them are bad, but they have taken away so much local and state funding away from the cash-poor school districts and created even more segregation in the city.

I will be writing a considerable amount about the history of segregation in Delaware education history in an upcoming article and how this led to the creation of Delaware charter schools.

Exclusive: Red Clay & Delaware DOE Letters You Have To See To Believe! Must Read!!!!!

Red Clay Consolidated School District sent a letter to Governor Markell on 5/14/15 concerning the lack of funding provided to the district from the Delaware Department of Education for the priority schools.  The DOE responded on 5/25/15.  There is obviously a severe lack of communication on the DOE’s end.  They have violated the MOU and school plans they publicly agreed to on February 4th.  I think the mention of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee in Red Clay’s letter was a stroke of genius, and also sheds some light on why Senator Sokola and Rep. Jaques put such a rush on House Bill 148 and Senate Bill 122.  The funding issues in the next year are going to be a very hot issue, and Red Clay is absolutely right!  Read the letters and judge for yourself!

And the DOE’s response, received 5/25/15 by Red Clay.  I can only imagine the call between either the Governor or his office to Secretary Mark Murphy after he received Red Clay’s letter!

It sounds like the DOE bit off way more than they can chew with the priority schools.  The Priority School FOIAs I posted on here show the very clear lack of understanding on the newly hired  Penny Schwinn’s part, and it is obvious she hasn’t learned much since then.  Unless this is all part of a bigger plan, which I have strongly suggested before.

The DOE’s process with the priority schools has clearly been to create chaos and stir up anger.  This has been proven time and time again.  They would only do this unless they know what the result will be.  And it isn’t progress.  It is their insane attempt to stir the flames so they get their desired outcome: all Wilmington city schools becoming charter schools!

The following press release from 2/4/15 from Alison May with the DOE shows a very positive vibe on the priority schools in Red Clay moving forward:

Red Clay Priority Schools to move forward with school plans

Red Clay Consolidated School District’s three Priority Schools will provide new student supports, add Saturday and afterschool enrichment activities for students and families, and ensure greater parental involvement under plans that are moving forward after the Delaware Department of Education today approved the district to move onto the next steps in transforming these schools. In September, Gov. Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced significant resources and support for the state’s six lowest-performing district schools, providing the opportunity for substantial changes in their approach to improve their students’ academic performance. These Priority Schools, all located within the City of Wilmington and split evenly between the Christina and Red Clay school districts, are eligible to share about $6 million to implement locally-developed, state-approved plans. The funding comes from several sources including federal School Improvement Grant and remaining Race to the Top resources. Over the following four months, Red Clay leaders worked with educators, families and community members to develop school plans tailored to meet the unique needs of the students in Highlands Elementary, Shortlidge Academy, and Warner Elementary. The plans are in line with a Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the district and DDOE. Red Clay’s school board approved individual school plans on January 27, and after review by Delaware Department of Education staff and national experts, the schools will continue to work with the community, district, and state to finalize plans for the 2015-16 school year. In the coming days, the department will provide feedback to Red Clay about ways to continue to strengthen all three plans during that process so that final plans can be approved in the spring. “We know that many of the children in these communities face unique challenges that require more support and resources. Thanks to Red Clay’s leadership and collaboration with its school communities, Highlands, Shortlidge, and Warner now will have the plans and resources to better meet students’ needs,” Murphy said.  Red Clay Deputy Superintendent Hugh Broomall said his district is ready to move forward. “We’re excited about the opportunity,” he said. “The work is hard, but we’re ready to engage in the process.” Highlights of the School Plans All Schools: Parents will notice better coordinated referrals to community services for families and supports for teachers to improve behavior management in the classroom.Schools will implement the use of iPads and laptops for students and teachers to improve technology literacy for students, with support to help teachers integrate this technology into their lessons.Each school will host a leadership team, which will include a parent and community member, to help inform the decision-making of the school leader. The team’s responsibilities will include: organizing correspondence to the school community on developments in academic and social-emotional programming, improving academic growth and reviewing academic goals, monitoring progress on the implementation of the school’s plan toward its goals, reviewing achievements of teachers, and revisiting ongoing supports to ensure their success.The district is implementing a new math curriculum in all three schools.Shortlidge and Warner Elementary Schools The district will reconfigure grades at two of the schools, with Shortlidge becoming a PK-3 grade campus and Warner becoming 4-5 grade campus.Schools will offer Saturday Library as a time set aside for students and families to study a particular topic and for families to read with their children.Schools will offer increased after school enrichment activities that are academic in focus but have character-building components that teach students skills such as sportsmanship and self-esteem. For example, Reading Basketball would offer students reading remediation with basketball games as a reward for participating.Highlands Elementary School Highlands will foster opportunities for parent-led activities for families at the school, such as family fitness night and a science expo.Reading and math activities at Highlands will ensure parents have the tools needed to support their students to be successful in core content areas.And Saturday activities at Highlands for students and families will increase tech literacy of students and provide parents with life skills workshops.   

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4000

They sure did sell the Red Clay plans for the priority schools as awesome!  So what happened between then and now?  Only the DOE can adequately answer that.  In the meantime, Red Clay and their students will suffer due to the mind games the DOE and Governor Markell’s office continue to play with the students of Delaware…

Wilmington Education Advisory Group’s Tony Allen Responds To Red Clay Resolution

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s Chair, Tony Allen, responsed to the recently passed Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education Resolution in regards to the committee’s recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The below document has Allen’s response, and the actual resolution passed by the board on 4/15/15.

Delaware Design-Lab High School Moving Out of Wilmington. Will They Make Their 80% Enrollment?

Another Delaware charter school scheduled to open in August 2015 could be in danger before they even open.  Delaware Design-Lab High School applied for a major modification request to change it’s location from the City of Wilmington to Newark, DE.  Housed in the same area as Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, the charter school is struggling to reach it’s enrollment requirement.

As of April 2nd, the school has 119 students enrolled.  It’s charter requires 240 students, and the school had to meet that figure by April 1st.  Based on the above figures, the school is short 73 students.

Apparently, many of the prospective students come from the Bear-Newark area and parents were concerned about a city location.  From the major modification request submitted to the Delaware DOE Charter School Office:

Now since the request was only for a change in location, the request was approved by the Charter School Accountability Committee, as you can see here:

But the major problem appears to be the required enrollment which they did not make by April 1st.  Based on the report, it looks like the Charter School Accountability Committee was okay with the school getting a month extension until May 1st to “recruit another 75-100 students”.

At the State Board of Education meeting on April 16th, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board will reach a decision on Design-Lab High School’s major modification request.  With that being said, I would also expect them to hold the school accountable for its enrollment as of that date.

I did have the pleasure of meeting the Chief Executive Officer of the school, Cristina Alvarez, at the Imagine Delaware forum at the beginning of last month, and I think this school has some great concepts, but I worry about the academic challenges and potential specific interest conflicts.

My Thoughts On The WEAC Report: Charter Love & Not Enough For Special Needs Students

Having read the entire Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s Final Report, I’m left with more questions than answers.  Going into this, I did not expect the report to solve all the education problems in Delaware, let alone Wilmington.  The report has lots of data and many letters from the usual groups involved in education in Delaware.

My first impression: This report fails to recognize the damaging effect charter schools have on traditional school districts.  Funding has been stripped from school districts while charters have mostly been allowed to flourish not only with state and local funds, but also numerous donations by companies such as The Longwood Foundation and Innovative Schools.

One thing I was happy to see was this:

“Converting all Wilmington schools to charter schools authorized by a newly created Wilmington Charter District is neither desirable on educational grounds nor practical on political grounds.  Charter schools are playing a central and growing role in Wilmington public education.  However, Wilmington children require the full array of educational options that is possible only with a continued reliance on district, charter, and vo-tech schools.”

Amen!  I know Tony Allen and many members of WEAC have a deep and abiding love of all things charter, but to have them take over would be tantamount to a disaster of epic proportions.  But there is quite a bit in the report showing why charters will continue to grow in Wilmington with no anecdotal proof of how they came about these figures other than growing trends.  If the charter school moratorium for new charter applications becomes law, how are they basing the 2017 numbers and beyond?

Another example of a misleading report comes from the section showcasing a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.  This group attended the last Enrollment Preference Task Force meeting and advised the committee that charter schools should not have specific interest as an enrollment preference unless it serves students who need it the most: Title I, low-income, minority, students with disabilities, ELL, and others in those groups.  The WEAC report did not mention this very specific item which helped widen many of the gaps between schools in Wilmington and parts of Sussex County.  It did touch on certain “enrollment preferences” and recommends this be adapted to best national practices.

What this report fails to do is to bolster traditional school districts.  It seems geared towards getting more kids into charters but at the same time calling for more collaboration between the traditional school districts, charters and vo-techs.  This is dangerous territory to plant your flag in.

There is very little about students with disabilities in the report as well.  There are a few mentions, but absolutely nothing about what will be a growing trend and how to account for this.  I imagine groups and committees will spin out of this report, but it is a large enough issue that I feel it should have been addressed in this report because it is a priority in our state.

The report calls for a Charter Consortium, with more power than the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  This consortium would include all Wilmington charters to share best practices and have one organization perform financial and management duties.  While this would not be a KIPP-like takeover as I have predicted in the past, it could grant charters in the state even more power than they have now, which is very extensive and carries a lot of political muscle among our legislators.

I do have reservations concerning Red Clay being the sole district with Wilmington local schools.  I have not seen any indication that Brandywine would take any of these schools, so I have to assume Red Clay would bear the brunt of the consolidation.  Christina and Colonial would be out, and Red Clay would be the sole traditional school district.  My thought is this: they don’t do a good job with the three charters in their district so how can they add on a large number of  schools and be able to effectively run all these schools?

The devil is in the details, as they say, and I expected more in the details in this report.  What comes of this will be the key, and I anxiously await what happens next.  But the mystery behind all of this is the national issue of ESEA authorization.  If something changes on a Federal level in regards to curriculum and standardized testing, it could change many aspects of this report and what comes next.  I would urge the legislators in Delaware to show restraint until what happens on a national level is determined first.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Video From Wilmington Rotary Club

On 2/19/15, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Delaware for the 5th time.  He went to Howard High School which was also included in his first visit to Delaware.  He spoke to the Wilmington Rotary Club about the “gains” Howard H.S. has made since that first visit.

Two Delaware State Representatives, Sean Matthews and John Kowalko, wrote Duncan a letter the day before his visit asking him to visit one of the six priority schools. Duncan did not acknowledge the letter at all.

In his introductory speech, Governor Jack Markell spoke about the “vitriol” in education talk.  There would be no vitriol if there was true stakeholder input Mr. Governor.  Instead, Delaware had education “initiatives” forced on school districts with strict and fierce warnings of non-compliance.  In my world, we call that bullying.