Dr. Steven Godowsky had quite a year as the Delaware Secretary of Education! As he sails off to distant shores (across the canal), away from the Townsend Building in Dover, Delaware, let’s look back on 2016. And stay tuned for the end of this article where I may or may not reveal a VERY BIG secret about Godowsky.
The Delaware charter school train is back on the schedule. The Delaware Department of Education is accepting applications for new charter schools. The moratorium on new charter school applications will be lifted once the DOE finished the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities strategic plan. The committee coming up with this has one more meeting (tentatively scheduled for 12/19) and the strategic plan will come out. Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman hinted at the meeting last week that the DOE anticipates at least two new charter school applications.
While this doesn’t mean these charters will get past the application phase, it means the machine is revving its engines again. No new charter schools have been approved for Delaware since the very crazy Spring of 2014 when the State Board of Education was handing out charters like they were candy. The ramifications of their carelessness and haste caused two charters to close. Delaware Met closed less than six months after they opened and Delaware STEM Academy never even opened.
Meanwhile, the settlement between the Christina School District and 15 charter schools will set precedent that all charters will get more money from the tuition tax if they are implementing special education with fidelity. Say what you will about the settlement, but this will provide greater oversight of special education in Delaware charter schools. In my eyes, greater oversight is needed for ALL Delaware schools.
Will Delaware STEM Academy make another attempt at a new school? Last Spring, the school underwent a formal review due to low enrollment for their opening. This resulted in the State Board of Education taking their charter back. Will the Mapleton Charter School try to come back in some form in some town? Last year they submitted a modification to open up a charter school in Dover instead of at Whitehall (a new development in the Middletown area) but rescinded the request and handed their charter back to the DOE.
In my opinion, Wilmington is still saturated with charter schools. More is not the answer at all for that city. Sussex County, with only one charter school, would be my best guess for the next wave of Delaware charters. The way Kendall Massett kept giving comment at the above strategic plan meetings about Sussex districts collaborating to meet programs they couldn’t do on their own tells me the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wants more charters in lower Delaware.
We shall see who applies this year. At this point, no applications have been uploaded on the DOE website, but give it time!
The Delaware DOE came out with an official press release on the Delaware State Board of Education’s decision today to revoke the charter of Delaware STEM Academy. The decision came just hours ago at the monthly State Board meeting. Most of the information is factual with the exception of one item which I will notate after their press release.
Delaware STEM’s charter revoked
Delaware STEM Academy will not open this fall after its charter was revoked today. Students who had planned to attend the school will be able to enroll elsewhere.
Earlier this month, the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) recommended the revocation of charter unless the school’s board could provide sufficient information to address the committee’s concerns about its financial viability and programming. The New Castle high school was scheduled to open this fall with grades 9 and 10 with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The school was placed on formal review in April.
While committee members praised the school’s board for its transparency, responsiveness, involvement and leadership, citing its members’ experience and commitment as among the school’s greatest strengths, they raised concerns about how the school would be able to execute its approved charter with fidelity due to low enrollment and thus reduced funding that has led leadership to make programmatic cuts.
The school’s approved application was for 250 students in Year 1 with reliance on state/local funds generated by student enrollment. At the time of its final meeting with CSAC, the school had 124 students enrolled with a budget also reliant on private fundraising and a line of credit.
Following a public comment period, including two public hearings, Secretary of Education Steve Godowsky presented his decision to the State Board of Education for its assent Thursday.
“While the public record demonstrates that the school’s leadership and founding board are committed to the school, the low number of students and low levels of state and local funding raise too many concerns about Delaware STEM’s financial stability,” Godowsky said. “My review of the documents led me to the same conclusion as that of the accountability committee – that the school has failed to meet legal standards for financial viability and fidelity to the approved charter.”
The state will assist the families of the students who planned to attend the school this fall in enrolling in other schools. The children are able to return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school.
In terms of students being able to choice into another charter school, that is only if the charter school has openings. If a charter is full and there is a waitlist, these students would not be able to automatically just choice in.
The Delaware STEM Academy is up for a decision right now at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. Director of the Charter School Office Jennifer Nagourney is advising the State Board why the charter was put on formal review: low enrollment and financial viability. Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s recommendation is to close the school. He believes the school’s board and leadership are committed to student success, he is very concerned about the low enrollment and how it can adapt a strong, rigorous program. He agrees with the Charter School Accountability Committee’s recommendation to close the school and wants the school to surrender their charter.
The State Board gave a motion, which was seconded, to discuss the motion. State Board member Pat Heffernan asked about the numbers. Nagourney said they are currently at 129 enrolled students. Heffernan asked where they had to be. Nagourney advised, to be in compliance with state law, they would need to be at 80% of their approved enrollment of 250 students, which would be 200 students enrolled. They had to be at that number by April 1st of this year.
Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman is stating there is considerable financial risk with the current enrollment in being able to adequately provide their academic program to students. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, the State Board President, is asking how much of the grant money allotted to the school has been used. Blowman indicated he didn’t have a specific answer. I just checked on Delaware Online Checkbook and the school has spent $137,444.67 in principal salaries for the school.
Earlier today, Technical.ly Delaware reported earlier today how Delaware STEM Academy was granted $175,000 for principal salaries through their Delaware Charter School Performance Award last year which the DOE states is allowable by state law but State Rep. John Kowalko expressed disappointment the school used the performance award for leader salaries. With pensions and other benefits, an additional $61,739.89 was used by the school. Included in that figure is $6,866.81 in United States Department of Education wage garnishments.
There is a lot of discuss surrounding how the school would be able to perform if they had their full funding. Blowman is going over different components of the school’s funding. Dr. Gray is asking if they can implement fidelity of the charter with the changes the school proposed after their final CSAC meeting. Blowman said on some components yes, but on others no. He said the school made as many changes as they possibly could but Blowman referred to Godowsky’s recommendation that their proposals were insufficient. Gray asked what the lowest number they could fall to when they self-destruct, so to speak. Donna Johnson said the school stated they would surrender their charter if they fell to 120 students by July 1st.
There was discussion on reduced funding to Innovative Schools in lieu of a partnership with another Delaware charter school, Positive Outcomes. Board member Melendez stated he wants facts and not assumptions. He told Blowman he doesn’t appreciate that. Melendez said it is either black or white. (seems like a bit of tension between the two)
Nagourney gave an opinion that the closure of Delaware Met in December impacted potential enrollment in the school as she heard parents say they did not want the same thing to happen here. With that being said, Nagourney also stressed the board was doing everything they were supposed to be doing in terms of what needed to happen to have an effective opening.
More discussion happened surrounding what will happen with the enrolled students since the school choice window is closed. Donna Johnson indicated they would go back to their local feeder district, which caused board member Melendez to become very concerned. Secretary Godowsky shared that when Delaware Met closed, the charters and districts in New Castle County were very helpful with helping the affected students transition. Melendez felt the State Board and DOE are responsible for these kinds of situation and something needs to happen to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The Delaware State Board of Education voted 5-1 to revoke the charter school of Delaware STEM Academy. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray was the sole no vote.
Updated, 7:35pm: This article has been updated to change the State Board of Education vote from 6-1 to 5-1. State Board Member Gregory Coverdale was absent.
The Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee had their final meeting with the Delaware STEM Academy on June 2nd. The report came out tonight. Prognosis: Don’t open the charter school! The main reason for their formal review was very low enrollment numbers. How low? They had 105 students enrolled when they went on formal review a month and a half ago. In the 45 days since… a whopping 124 according to the below report. Their charter calls for 250 students. They had to meet 80% of that. They are a bit under 50%.
I think the time has come to say we are getting “chartered out” in Delaware. This isn’t to say they aren’t popular and are growing. But new charters? Not so much. Out of the more recent charter school openings, I would have to say Great Oaks and First State Military School are doing well. Delaware Design-Lab is going through some growing pains. Delaware Met got the heave-ho before they could start a third marking period. Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall was going to move to Dover, but then backed out of that so they would need to reapply if they ever figure out what they are doing. And now Delaware STEM Academy. On top of Pencader, Moyer, and Reach Academy for Girls closing. And Delaware College Prep will close it’s doors at the end of this month. While this isn’t related at all, I did notice the State Board has not approved any new charters in Delaware since I started blogging just about two years ago…
The State Board of Education bit off more than they could chew when they approved all the new charter schools in 2013 and 2014. We are seeing what happens when there are too many charter schools, especially in upper New Castle County. As local districts beef up their programs, there are only so many students that can be choiced out of a school district. And after Delaware Met, parents up there have to a be a bit cautious. I am glad to see the Charter School Accountability Committee asking the right questions. These are things we need to see from the State Board of Education when they vote on new charters.
The final report from the Charter School Accountability Committee is below. Delaware STEM Academy will have their last public hearing tomorrow night. Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will make his recommendation to the State Board of Education at the June 16th meeting. At that point, the State Board of Education will vote to revoke the school’s charter or let them open. My gut says revocation. The enrollment is just too low and everything in the below report doesn’t leave much room for error…
The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability. At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.
The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment. And it is very low. Their approved charter calls for 250 students. By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment. Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students. Applications and pending decisions don’t count. They must be enrolled. As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students. As of May 10th, they had 113. They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%. And we are approaching the end of May.
In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools. But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:
Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.
While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed. In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor. It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens. But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.
One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:
Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.
This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open. It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.
This is the part I don’t get though. The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade. Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students. Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code? It is, if that is what the school applied for.
…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…
The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers. This charter school was approved back in April of 2014. They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy. Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at. You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware. Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open. Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools. This is not looking good…
Another Delaware charter school is getting the formal review recommendation at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow. Delaware STEM Academy did not meet their 80% enrollment numbers required under state law and their own charter.
I’ve seen this happen before with a few of the other new charters before they opened. They don’t meet the enrollment numbers by April 1st, but they will probably meet them by the time this comes up for State Board action, most likely June the way these things go. It happened last year with Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School of Wilmington. Without knowing what their current enrollment numbers are, it would be hard to say what their situation is though. The simple fact is this: we have too many charters in upper New Castle County. The State Board should have considered this when they had their charter approval party two years ago this month. This is what happens when you have too many schools and too many seats in those schools. With some of the problems the newer charters had this year, such as Delaware Met closing mid-year and Delaware Design-Lab High School, Freire, and First State Military Academy experiencing opening struggles, I can picture many parents reluctance to send their kids to an unknown and unproven charter school.
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.
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.
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…
Innovative Schools started as a charter school management organization, but they are trying to get bigger. They have already infiltrated Seaford School District with their Delaware New Tech Academy, and they have plans to get even bigger by 2020. In the application for Delaware STEM Academy (opening next fall), Innovative Schools comes right out and says what these plans are.
All of these “partnerships”, like this Alliance of Model Schools, and the BrINC program run by four school districts, is it for the students or a way to solidify those in power? Do we really need charter schools within actual school districts like Seaford is doing? Sorry Innovative Schools, this is just more Rodel inspired Vision. I think we are all getting a bit sick of all this because we have yet to see the results of all these partnerships…
With NO charters set to open past Mapleton (whatever happens with their change to Discovery and their move to Dover) and Delaware STEM Academy next fall, and a one to two year turnaround for charter application, how is this going to happen? Does this mean we should expect a flood of charter applications coming in to the Delaware DOE in the next few months? Where are we going to put all these new charters? Wilmington is stacked to the brim. Dover is starting to get a bit crowded especially if Mapleton/Discovery gets their major modification approved. I can picture a drive to get more charters into Sussex County. Doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I can see it happening…
Has the Delaware DOE announced the winners for the Charter School Performance Award by default, on their very own website? In the section on their website for applicants of the Charter School Performance Award, their is a clear list of how much each school received from their application and what they can do with the funds. Since the state budget only allotted $1 million as opposed to the $1.5 originally requested, this list could have been more extensive. They did say they would announce the winners today! Each school listed provides the link to my articles on each school’s application as well as my take and opinion about what they asked for.
Las Americas ASPIRA Academy: $250,000, requested $250,000, no restrictions on special education inclusion model
Newark Charter School: $250,000, requested $400,000, can only use for STEM Laboratory
Campus Community School: $50,000, requested $250,000, can only use for school library project
The Delaware MET: $175,000, requested $250,000, can only use for school start-up costs, not for marketing or promotion or student recruitment
Delaware STEM Academy: $175,000, requested $250,000, same as above
First State Military Academy: $50,000, requested $250,000, same as above
Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall: $50,000, requested $250,000, same as above
The only applicant that wasn’t eligible at all was Odyssey Charter School due to their probation status during the 2014-2015 academic year.
To read the full list on the DOE Website, go here:
I’m just going to say this right off the bat. I take great issue with this school being eligible for the Charter School Performance Fund when they aren’t even scheduled to open until August 2016! The best part: they want this award so they can pay their Chief Academic Officer and Executive Director their first year! Doesn’t that already come out of state-allocated funds? As well, how can they select all staff by May 2016 if they don’t hit their enrollment figures by June 2016? And don’t they have to be at their enrollment figures by April 1st, 2016?
This one just has a big huge question mark all over it. I would deny this one DOE…