As Capital joins the BRINC initiative in Delaware, they are moving forward with their Strategic Plans which will benefit corporations more than students. It is like they copied the playbook of the Delaware Dept. of Education, Rodel, and Governor Markell and called it a plan.
At their April board meeting, the Capital School District unanimously voted to apply to join the BRINC Consortium. BRINC is a personalized/blended learning group of districts in Delaware that involves spending money, potentially compromising student data privacy, and forcing teachers into a certain way of doing things. While the Rodel/DOE loving teachers jump all over this, some are opposed to it. But that doesn’t stop districts from convincing their boards to vote on joining. I gave public comment to the Capital Board of Education at their April meeting with my severe concerns with student data privacy and the loopholes that exist in state and federal law that allows student data to get out. But no one listens to the blogger when it comes to making important education decisions. Or consults with the parents of students in the district to let them know they will be changing how students are instructed going forward using lesson plans from teachers they aren’t familiar with. Despite my reservations, the Capital School District joined BRINC when they accepted an invitation to join the conglomerate of blended learning school districts in Delaware. WBOC reached out to Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton who said:
Dr. Dan Shelton, superintendent of Capital School District, said he is looking forward to using technology as a resource for teacher collaboration and sharing quality lesson plans.
For a district that is in the middle of a Strategic Plan that was supposed to be about increasing public stakeholder input for the district, this one sure fell under the radar. Without the ability for the public to comment on it, for parents to see what BRINC is, and their board passed the action item with no public announcement ahead of time and just a board agenda, Capital has shown once again they don’t really want public input, just the illusion of it. It’s starting to look like the ability of this board to provide the much-needed pushback against the DOE and corporate driven education “best practices” has faded with the departure of Kay Sass as the Board President last year. They had a bright moment when they wrote the Delaware General Assembly to support the House Bill 50 override AFTER they already voted on it, but aside from that, I see less transparency. I believe they think they are being more transparent by announcing things with their Strategic Plan, but I have no doubt in my mind most of the outcomes for this were already decided on a long time ago. In my eyes, transparency is announcing and soliciting community feedback before an item like BRINC is approved, not announcing it after the fact.
In the below press release from Capital, they announce what their strategies will be coming out of their Strategic Plan. While it all looks great to read, I have to wonder when they are going to announce their Early Learning Academy at Dover High School. But there are things in there that give me equal agita. Items italicized are in the report, while the red-penned comments are my own.
Students, Parents, Staff and Members of the community share through survey data a more positive reflection of our communication.
Survey data you say? Wasn’t that a very controversial insertion into House Bill 399 (the teacher evaluation bill), just last week?
Students report on surveys a more positive experience.
More surveys. From students. What are they going to judge? Administrators, the district, teachers? More information is needed. Far too much potential for bias resulting in discipline against teachers that may not even be verifiable.
Student grades, attendance and standardized test scores improve.
Grades and attendance I like. Standardized test scores…no. Just no. For the Capital Board to approve this and go along with it is a far cry from where they were a year ago. In fact, I would say it is a 180 degree shift.
Student behavior referrals decrease
HA! This is a district that has no consistency with this practice whatsoever. It was also notated at their April board meeting that Booker T. Washington Elementary School, under the leadership of Dr. Dale Brown, had NO discipline referrals for this school year up to that date. Not one student was sent to the Principal’s office. The board questioned this and I later asked Dr. Shelton about this who informed me this was correct reporting from the school.
10-15 year Facility Plan is accepted by community of stakeholders.
This is what I like to call a future referendum for capital costs!
The board gives unlimited freedom to the implementation team as long as staff complies with regulations and board policies and the approved process for defining and implementing strategic priority projects are met.
Big mistake! Very big mistake. A board needs to carefully watch things like this. If they give up their authority to stop this, aside from budget constraints or those that conflict with district policy, they are handing the reins over without any rationale behind that decision. This is just more erosion of local control from a local district. We will see more of this than we already have in our local school districts in Delaware, mark my words.
My biggest question surrounds who is actually on the implementation team which the press release, and to the best of my knowledge, and the Capital website don’t specify.
To give some background on their Strategic Plan, we have to go back to a year ago.
Prior Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas retired last year. As well, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Spangler and Director of Human Resources David Vaughn left as well. The Board of Education hired Dr. Dan Shelton last July. Shelton immediately embarked on his Strategic Plan. Shelton and Demosophia owner Andy Hegedus already knew each other. As former employees of Christina, they have connections all over the Newark area. Hegedus wrote his own biography on the website for Demosophia. He proudly lists himself as a Broad Fellow, which also has such distinguished members like Joey Wise, the former Superintendent of Christina, and Lillian Lowery, also a former Christina Superintendent and the former Delaware and Maryland Secretary of Education. Hegedus proudly boasts about participating in a plan to change the Christina schools as far back as 2006 in this document.
The subject of a new Strategic Plan for Capital first came up at the October 3rd Board Retreat. The only people in attendance at this Board Retreat were the five board members, Dr. Shelton, and Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Henderson. On their Board Docs, it clearly states in Item #2: “Capital School District Strategic Plan”. The board went into open session at 8am to discuss the Strategic Plan and then went into executive session the rest of the day to discuss contracts and personnel evaluations. At their next board meeting on 10/21/15, the minutes reflect the Retreat was seven and a half hours. In the same meeting, there is no action item to move forward with the contract for the Strategic Plan at all in the minutes. Under Delaware state law, if any state entity wants to obtain a vendor in an open bidding process, they must submit a Request for Proposal (RFP). Capital gave a very small window for their RFP. The public notice of the RFP went out on 10/30/15 and proposals were due by 11/13/15. The RFP seems to be custom designed for a company like Demosophia.
An article in the Dover Post from 1/6/16 went over the thinking behind the Strategic Plan:
“I don’t want our direction moving forward to be Dan Shelton’s direction. It needs to be the community’s direction” he said. “We’re going to use our teachers, our administrators, and members of the community who want to volunteer for different portions of this plan.”
However, this is a direct contradiction with a part of the Superintendent Update from the Board’s 10/21/15 meeting:
Reviewed long term facility plan which will be incorporated into Strategic Planning Process
If the Strategic Plan was truly represented by the community of the district, how could they have a long term facility plan that would be “incorporated” into the Strategic Plan?
In fact, we don’t hear about the Strategic Plan in the board minutes for Capital again until their 1/20/16 meeting when the board unanimously approves the $45,000 contract awarded to Demosophia. For a five year strategic plan, they sure didn’t leave a lot of time for companies to submit a bid. Almost as if it was already decided who would win the contract. However, they did have three top-ranked firms apply for the bid with a total of six interviews according to the audio recording from the 1/20/16 meeting. Board member John Martin asked how Demosophia was chosen as the vendor. Shelton explained they scored 301 on the rubric with the two other firms placing at 294 and 232 points. Board member Sean Christiansen said he was a member of the interview committee which included district staff, teachers, and members of the community. He said Demosophia means “wisdom of the people” which is exactly what they were looking for at their 10/3 Board Retreat.
In the Board Docs for this meeting, there is no contract listed as a document. In fact, the contract with Demosophia can not be found anywhere. The Awarded Contracts for the State of Delaware website only shows the award letter issued to Demosophia.
Hegedus doesn’t even talk about the Strategic Plan with the public until the 2/17/16 board meeting. So the board and Shelton knew about Demosophia’s involvement with the plan since at least 11/13/16 but this isn’t revealed until the 1/20/16 meeting. Two and a half months after the Board Retreat…
The forums were held at the end of February and the beginning of March with the one-on-one interviews taking place in March. The Capital Board was supposed to have a workshop on 4/6/16 to discuss how the Co-Labs would work, but it was abruptly canceled and never rescheduled. The Co-Labs began in April. In fact, Capital has been extremely transparent with the activities surrounding the Strategic Plan on their website.
In the Co-Labs, participants state their ideas and it is all thrown into a computer system which will generate the results based on the input. It actually records exactly what these “stakeholders” put forth. It then spews out a picture graph (as seen in the above document) of the most talked about ideas and forms a conclusion for what the main issue is. This already happened in April.
Hegedus’ company, Demosophia lists other companies as their “world-wide affiliates” based on “Structured Democratic Dialogue”. All of these companies participate in programs to “consciously design humanity’s future”. These affiliates, including companies such as Institutes for 21st Century Agoras, CWA Ltd. ( a link to their website doesn’t even work), and Future Worlds Center. These are all think tanks that want to guide a conversation toward pre-determined goals.
What are the goals of Dr. Dan Shelton’s ideal Capital School District? He wants to start a Pre-School Academy at Dover High School. Yes, you heard it right. All of the forums involving the public and this came up how much? Not much at all. So how does a Strategic Plan spit out this big idea? You have to look beyond the illusion crafted by the public forums. The true meat of this agenda lies in the Co-Labs and who was on the committee. 85% of the members were paid employees of the district. One board member, one student, one member of the district’s CBOC, two outside parents and one Dover High School PTO vice-president. However, in this document, it paints a very different picture of the representation on the committee. It overlaps many district employees as parents of students at certain schools. This is the trap.
Many task forces, committees, and advisory groups are stacked in the favor of those who want a desired outcome in Delaware. Other current or recent groups in Delaware include the Assessment Inventory Committee, the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025, and the Education Funding Improvement Committee. In fact, when the IEP Task Force was brought about by Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 in June, 2014 there were no outside parents on the group at first. I successfully rounded up people to contact their legislators to include that crucial representation on that task force. Their input was invaluable to the Task Force and helped to shape the final legislation brought about by Senate Bill #33 last year.
Make no mistake, this Strategic Plan is entirely Dan Shelton’s idea. It is comparable to many initiatives going on in Delaware right now. Governor Markell earmarked $11 million for early childhood programs in the state, but the final budget only had $9 million given to the initiative. Since the federal Race To The Top for pre-schools ended last year, the state is on the hook. The goal of these early childhood programs is to reduce the number of students who receive special education services in later years. I heard as much at a Senate Education Committee meeting this winter. That should not be a goal taking up $9 million state funding when things like the WEIC redistricting plan or basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade failed to be included in the final budget. But I firmly believe Capital wants to strike gold on this while the funding is there. By becoming the first district in Delaware to have universal pre-K services, they will increase attendance in the district which is their true objective. The district lost a ton of students the past few years. I don’t blame them for that, but the way in which they are going about it is not a long-term strategy if they don’t improve upon the basic issues in the district.
The district, like many others in Delaware, seem to have an overreliance on Response to Intervention as a cure-all for what ails the district. RtI is a failed experiment that has long since outlived its original purpose of helping children to read better. It is used as a substitute for special education services when nothing a school does or says can reduce a manifestation of a child’s neurological disability if they are not utilizing even the most basic of special education services. And if they start this at a pre-school level district-wide, I fear for the outcomes of these children. It’s almost like the district read the Every Student Succeeds Act, took the very worst parts inserted in there at the last minute by lobbyists for the corporate education reform machine, and came up with this Strategic Plan to implement it through the smoke and mirrors of community input. In looking at the picture graphs, I see very little in regards to actual improvement of the district’s special education efforts. The words special education are not even in there. I see a lot mentioned about the “whole child” and “community centers”. Many citizens in the district already feel our schools should not become all-day day-care centers. But this plan seems to call for that, using outside organizations to improve the educational outcome of students. While the district would be correct in stating they have a high population of students coming from low-income, poverty, and violence-prone communities or homes, they should not put themselves in the unsustainable position of becoming the go-to source for what affects children out of school. Wrap-around services should be directed from parents, not a school. If a parent is unable to provide those services for their child, there are already existing mechanisms by which a school district can help get those services for a child in the event of neglect. But our schools should not become a Band-Aid for students. Not to mention the already existing fears by many of state control over children and loopholes in student data privacy laws.
Full disclosure: I ran for the Capital School Board this year and I lost. I bear no ill will towards the district or the board for that outcome. In fact, I’m glad I lost and I certainly want to wish Dr. Chanda Jackson the best of luck as she is sworn in at a special board meeting tonight at their district office at 7pm. I’m quite sure the district will say BRINC is the best thing for student outcomes and will come up with some fancy way of saying so. Of that I have no doubt. What I doubt is the ability of the board to question these things anymore and just goes along with whatever Dr. Shelton wants. But the board lost a key player when former President Kay Sass resigned last year. I thought Matt Lindell was the voice of sanity on this board, but I fear I misjudged him. And who will pay for all this? The citizens of the district, that’s who. And as the Christina School District will be knee-deep in the Demosophia think-tank way of doing things with their own contract in the fall, Capital will be ahead of the game showing the residents of Dover what the eventual price tag for these plans are.