On Thursday, the Delaware State Board of Education approved the major modification Family Foundations Academy submitted on June 30th. Following the Charter School Accountability Committee’s final meeting on August 7th, a public hearing occurred on August 10th. On August 20th, the CSAC approved the major modification.
The modification was approved for FFA to move it’s elementary school from it’s present location at 1101 Delaware Street in New Castle to 170 Lukens Drive in New Castle. The 170 Lukens Drive has been home to the recently closed Reach Academy for Girls as well as the Pencader Business School which was shut down by the state two and a half years ago. In addition, they will move their middle school from their former location in Newport at 1 Fallon Avenue in Newport to the former FFA elementary school location. In the 2016-2017 school year, FFA will move it’s middle school to 160 Lukens Drive, the other building where Reach and Pencader used to be and will sell the 1101 Delaware St. building. If they sell the building sooner, the middle school will move to 160 Lukens Drive shortly afterwards.
The goal of the modification is enrollment expansion. Currently both schools have enrollment up to 800 students. This would allow them to expand to 1100 students. Where this gets somewhat sticky is House Bill 56, passed by the 148th General Assembly in April of this year, and signed by Governor Markell on May 5th. While this law put a moratorium on any new charter schools until 2018, it does not specifically mention major modifications with existing charter schools. If a charter school is expanding, it may go against the law because the law specifically states:
“There shall be a moratorium on all new charter schools opening until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State, whichever occurs first. The aforementioned strategic plan shall be based on a systematic evaluation of educational needs using national models and best practices that align with the public education system, such as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers guidelines.”
By expanding their enrollment, FFA is throwing off the dynamic of existing charter schools and traditional school districts enrollment figures during this crucial time of transition with the current redistricting effort in Wilmington. If Red Clay Consolidated takes Christina’s City of Wilmington schools, those schools may suffer from a decreased enrollment based on the actions of FFA. The current Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities initiative, suggested by Governor Jack Markell in March, is enacting the Strategic Plan called for in House Bill 56. The Delaware Department of Education must submit this report to the Governor, and they are anticipating its completion in November.
It would not shock me to see more charters submitting major modification requests in an effort to increase their enrollment before all is said and done. At Gateway Lab School, the new principal and interim head of schools is a former assistant principal from East Side Charter School, Rebecca Brookings. When FFA was under formal review last winter, East Side essentially took over the school from its prior leadership team and board. With one of their key employees overseeing Gateway, some have expressed concern about the East Side Board of Directors and Dr. Lamont Browne beginning a charter consortium in New Castle County. East Side, Kuumba Academy, Prestige Academy and Thomas Edison are all part of what is known as the Delaware Charter Collaborative, a consortium of charters that have their own teacher evaluation method outside of the DPAS-II used by every other school in Delaware. How long until FFA and Gateway become a part of this consortium? And what does it all mean for WEAC’s recommendation of a group to help manage the Wilmington charters? The mysteries continue….
Updated, 10:03pm, 8/22/15: This article has been corrected to clarify Family Foundations Academy is NOT selling their 1 Fallon Ave. location because they do not own it. This is owned by St. Matthew’s Church. But they will be selling the 1101 Delaware St. location. Sorry for any confusion folks!