EastSide Charter School & Charter School of New Castle Break Up Partnership

Last month, the boards of EastSide Charter School and Charter School of New Castle decided to break up the unique partnership between the two schools that had been in existence for nearly five years.

In late 2015, when Family Foundations Academy was under formal review for financial and governance reasons, the Board of Directors at EastSide Charter School stepped in and essentially took over the school.  EastSide Head of School Director, Dr. Lamont Browne, took over as leader of both schools.  The former Heads of School at FFA were charged with theft of school funds.  Sean Moore served time in federal prison for his role in the crimes.

In 2016, Browne left for a position in Denver, Colorado and Aaron Bass took over the role as the leader for Vision Academies (the name of the partnership between EastSide and FFA).

In 2017, Family Foundations Academy changed their name to Charter School of New Castle.

Bass will continue as the Head of School for EastSide Charter School while Charter School of New Castle will continue to have LaRetha Odumosu as Principal of their middle school and Rachel Valentin as Principal of their elementary school.

Advertisements

Family Foundations Academy Is Now Charter School Of New Castle

Blink and you miss it.  I blinked.  On January 5th, former Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky approved a minor modification request for Family Foundations Academy to change their name.  It is probably a good name.  Family Foundations Academy, when mentioned, brings Sean Moore and Tennell Brewington to mind.  The Charter School of New Castle sounds better.

The change won’t go into effect until July 1st of this year but it is already being used for marketing purposes.  Will we see other charter schools in Delaware change their name?

Meanwhile, I have been getting tons of hits on old Lamont Browne articles in the past couple of weeks.  Browne was the Executive Director of East Side Charter School and Family Foundations Academy before he resigned and moved to Colorado.  What is Browne up to in Colorado that is garnering this renewed interest in his time in Delaware?  Aaron Bass took over after Browne left.

It has been a fairly quiet school year for Delaware charter schools.  No outright scandals have come out.  None of them, as of this writing, went under formal review.  Academy of Dover passed their renewal.  Prestige Academy announced they will shut down, voluntarily, at the end of this school year.  I am sure the Delaware Dept. of Education is hoping this trend continues with a more calm year!

 

So who is replacing Lamont Browne as Executive Director for EastSide and Family Foundations?

In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days…

Yes, in the KIPP tradition, Dr. Lamont Browne has chosen his successor from his charter school roots, the Philadelphia KIPP charter school network. Welcome to Delaware Aaron Bass! You have some medium sized shoes to fill.

Breaking News: Lamont Browne Leaving EastSide Charter & Family Foundations Academy

The Delaware exodus continues.  Next up: Dr. Lamont Browne, the Executive Director of EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy.  Browne will leave his mini charter empire on June 30th.  This hasn’t been officially announced, but it will be tomorrow night at their board meeting.  The word on the street has him going to Relay Graduate School’s Colorado program in Denver.

Browne joined EastSide Charter School in 2011 after a couple of years as a Principal in Philadelphia.  His goal was to turnaround the struggling charter school.  After a few years under Browne’s leadership, EastSide showed major gains on the former Delaware state assessment, DCAS.  As honors and kudos came to him from Governor Markell and the State Board of Education, the board of EastSide took over Family Foundations Academy after major financial fraud by the two school leaders.  Browne became the Executive Director of Delaware Charter Schools: EastSide & Family Foundations Academy.  For all the growth the students at EastSide had on DCAS, the school did horrible on the Smarter Balanced Assessment last year.  While this was consistent throughout the state, it was surprising to see EastSide near the bottom of the list for Delaware charter schools.

Many viewed Browne as a miracle worker with the growth students experienced at EastSide.  As a former member of the Teach For America Corps, Browne used many TFAers at EastSide.  But the school also experienced a lot of turnover with students so it was hard to pinpoint the exact growth at a consistent level.  For the Common Core standardized testing cheerleaders in Delaware, Browne became the poster leader for school growth in Delaware.  In March 2015, Browne was one of the five participants in the Imagine Delaware Forum.  He also served on the leadership council of the Vision Coalition, the offshoot of the Rodel Foundation.

The timing of Browne’s departure for the Colorado relay program matches with the timetable for Relay going into full operation mode in Denver this summer.  Relay Graduate School, similar to Teach For America, has what many view as very controversial teacher and leader preparation programs.  The corporate education reform movement loves them both.  Browne is a huge believer in teacher leaders elevating to principal roles in Delaware schools.

Obviously, there is no word on who will take over Browne’s title.  Many of the principals at the two charter schools he oversees are new principals with very little experience.  The next few months will be interesting to watch.  Especially when something happens on Moore and Brewington, the former Family Foundations leaders…

Family Foundation’s Board Pays An Invoice With A HUGE Conflict Of Interest

In the January minutes for the Family Foundations Academy Board of Directors, a notation was made about Chairman Charles McDowell having the board approve an invoice by for a report that was done.  The invoice was provided by the Executive Director for both Family Foundations Academy and EastSide Charter School.  The invoice, for $10,500.00, was for a report on an Early Learning Academy study.  The board approved the payment.  The minutes went on to talk about the feasibility of having an Early Learning Academy in New Castle, DE.  Continue reading

Family Foundations Major Modification Approved By State Board of Education, Potential Conflict Ahead?

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!

Funding For Priority Schools Now “Short” Which Violates MOUs With Red Clay & Christina…Was This The Plan?

How about them apples?  Turns out the much ballyhooed funding for the Priority Schools initiative in Red Clay and Christina is not even going to be granted at the full amount now.  If I were a judge looking at this, I would definitely say that violates the whole Memorandum of Understanding each of the six schools had to sign.  The Red Clay and Christina boards signed those with the full intention the state would cough up the money.  So where did the promised money go?  Is this another one of those sneaky budget moves like the one Delaware Liberal just wrote about?

This news is coming from the Red Clay board meeting happening right now.  Board member Adriana Bohm just said the state should nullify the MOUs if the state can’t give the funds they promised.  I completely agree.  After all the angst and bullying and intimidation by both Governor Markell and the Delaware DOE, this is what it comes down to?  Should any of us be shocked?  I am awaiting final confirmation on how short the state is on these funds.

If I were any school designated a priority school in the future, I would never sign the MOU based on these shenanigans.  And somehow, the contract for the Priority Schools Instructional Executive contract is just showing as recently closed.  No bidders showing, and it’s not showing as not awarded either.  So which is it?  Or is this another case where the DOE can just pull contracts off this site and put them in the ether?

This is beginning to confirm my suspicion the whole priority school thing was a sham from the start.  It is my contention the whole thing was designed the get the whole redistricting of Wilmington going.  Because all the shouting that occurred from that announcement led right into the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  After the priority schools anger calmed down, the WEAC group came out with their recommendations, and voila, two bills passed by the House and Senate in a record amount of time.

Delaware gets dirtier by the day.  The amount of manipulation and lies told by our public “leaders” is deplorable and disgusting.  The secret meetings with Rodel, Mark Murphy and members of the Delaware Business Roundtable.  The things Governor Markell says a little bit too loud that others may overhear.  The whole Senator Sokola comment at the Senate Education Committee when he was rushing people through public comment on HB50 to get to SB122 (the redistricting bill for the State Board of Education to carve up Wilmington) when he said “Some people have been working on this for a couple years” when WEAC came out from an Executive Order in September 2014.  The whole budget bill and grant-in-aid shenanigans Delaware Liberal just wrote about.  The railroading of HB186 which would give financial accountability to charters while the state pours $3.8 million to them from the budget.

It is very obvious what is going on here, which I’ve said all along.  They want Wilmington to be a charter district.  When I say they, I mean the following: Governor Markell, Rodel, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Innovative Schools, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, Tony Allen, the DOE, EastSide Charter, Dr. Lamont Browne, Laurissa Schutt with Teach For America, Senator David Sokola, State Rep. Earl Jaques.  The writing is on the wall for all of it.  You just have to connect the dots.  Look at all the “teacher evaluation” consortiums going on with the charters in Wilmington.  And now I’m hearing one of their assistant principals is going to another Wilmington school that was never a part of all this.  And the whole Family Foundations Academy takeover by EastSide never sat well with me.  It seemed all too convenient with everything else going on.  They are building their network now.  The Community Education Building will fill up pretty fast.  Just remember this: Red Clay has no high school in Wilmington.  And if they can do it there, the rest of Delaware better watch out.  Next stop will be Dover, and then down in Sussex, and they will spread out from there.

Now that the bills have passed for this redistricting plan, as well as the Committee to plan the whole thing, what happens now that they have royally pissed off the Red Clay board?  Red Clay is being used by these people, and I hope they have the gumption to fight these charter lovers.  And just wait until Christina finds out about this!  If the State of Delaware does nothing about this, perhaps it’s time the FBI comes in and does a full-scale investigation of ALL of this.

There is going to be a huge war brewing in Wilmington over education.  The priority schools was a skirmish.  Battle lines are being drawn as we speak.  Is this really what we need charter schools for?  To squeeze local districts out while they take over?  Don’t think that can happen?  I posted an article last December with information I got completely wrong.  But included in the article was a link written by the Philanthropy Roundtable.  I called all of this then: the ultimate goal.  Take a look, and even though some of the details are off, look at what’s happening.  I can now see why some from that side have been coddling me lately, to throw me off their scent.  Nice try, didn’t work.

The question now becomes this: What do we do about it?

Correct The Blogger Challenge: “EastSide Charter’s Proficiency Gains Have Nothing To Do With Attrition”

In the first “Correct The Blogger Challenge” email I received, an anonymous individual under the pseudonym “Education Opinions” wrote to me about my article on EastSide Charter School from last week.  They wrote:

This is in response to your  3/10 post “The Recipe Behind the ‘Pixie Dust’ at Eastside Charter: Very High Attrition Rates, Part 1.” I want to start by saying that I don’t work at Eastside, I’m not on their board, I don’t have any kids at the school, I don’t work for the DOE, and I am not related to anyone who meets any of those qualifications either. I am just a community member concerned about the way data (for both traditional and charter schools) is sometimes utilized to make points that might not be completely accurate.

In your post, you state,
Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote speech, and left immediately afterwards for another engagement.  He spoke about Eastside Charter School’s great job with closing proficiency gaps, and stated “they have gone from only having 15% of their 5th graders scoring proficient in reading to 66% in just three years.”  If only this were true…”. You then go on to post the number of students in each K-6 grade from the year 2009 until the current year, citing high attrition as a reason why this proficiency statistic can’t be true. 
Continue reading

Eastside and Family Foundations Overlords Getting Rather Snippy With DOE, Overreaching A Bit…

The Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee made it’s final recommendations in regards to Family Foundations Academy.  Their decision: the charter school stays open with a probationary status for one year.  I think that is more than fair given that the EastSide takeover is an untried experiment in Delaware.

This is a school that had it’s fair share of issues prior to the takeover.  Ex Heads of School Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington collectively embezzled over $100,000 from the school and lest we forget, there were many cultural and academic events going on.  The Delaware Department of Education and State Board of Education received many complaints about FFA, including special education issues, discipline problems, and staff complaints.

For it’s part, there are several board members at FFA who also serve on EastSide’s board, and many staff members serving dual roles, including the financial director and head of school.  Running essentially three schools could be stretching anyone to the max, but EastSide does appear to walk on water.

Given the circumstances with an untested arrangement, what went down at FFA, and the fact that this school was very close to getting shut down, you would think Dr. Lamont Browne and Charles McDowell would be grateful for the reprieve.  But no, they have to be arrogant about the whole thing.  The fact they would have an issue with the CSAC requesting a different auditor at the end of this year is testament to this fact.  The school hasn’t (as of this letter) even had a first meeting with their Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, and there is little proof FFA even had one prior to last fall.  And given what I’m hearing is going on in charterville with money matters, they should count themselves lucky.

The letter also reported Moore and Brewington reached a settlement agreement.  Who was this settlement with?  Cause the last I heard the duo were heading to the Attorney General’s office!  That would be a criminal matter.  Browne and McDowell need to check their egos at the door when they go to the State Board of Education meeting this coming Thursday, March 19th.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education will render their final decision on the long, bizarre FFA saga.

 

The Recipe Behind the “Pixie Dust” at Eastside Charter: Very High Attrition Rates, Part 1

The magic of East Side Charter School is not magic, but merely a carefully crafted bit of smoke and mirrors.  It’s an illusion, not what the citizens of Delaware think it is, but the oldest trick in the book.

Last night at the Imagination Delaware forum, held at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware, a crowd of over 700 people listened to a panel on not only Wilmington’s education, but all of Delaware.  The forum turned into a debate about charter and traditional schools in the state with the two main members of the panel.  Mike Matthews, the President of the Red Clay Educators Association and a special education teacher at Warner Elementary School on the side of the traditional schools and Dr. Lamont Browne, the head of school of both Eastside Charter School and Family Foundations Academy.

Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote speech, and left immediately afterwards for another engagement.  He spoke about Eastside Charter School’s great job with closing proficiency gaps, and stated “they have gone from only having 15% of their 5th graders scoring proficient in reading to 66% in just three years.”  If only this were true…

I will definitely say Eastside Charter does not perform in “cherry-picking” their students.  They seem to enroll anyone who applies.  I have never heard of a lottery for this school.  They have a very high population of minorities and their special education populations are in line with the traditional school districts around them.  So what is the issue?  Continue reading

Big Question Raised Regarding East Side Charter & Family Foundations Academy “Arrangement”

If East Side Charter School had no board meeting in December, and their January board meeting didn’t occur until January 28th, how in the world did their board approve the loaning out of four board members, their head of school, funds, and teachers to Family Foundations Academy?  Why has nobody else even brought up this question?  By the time the State Board of Education and Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy decided on the fate of FFA, the East Side board took over the FFA board and had their arrangement in place, with Dr. Lamont Browne serving as Executive Director of both schools.  But if the Board never voted on it, who made the decision?

Charles McDowell is the Board President of East Side Charter.  He is now the Board President of Family Foundations Academy.  He is also on the board of Early College High School in Dover.  That’s three charter boards he sits on.  Is he the one calling the shots?  If you read the last Early College High School board minutes (November 2014), it seems like he is in charge even though he isn’t the board president.

While the East Side/FFA arrangement is unprecedented in Delaware, I would think the East Side Board would have to approve a reallocation of funds of that magnitude and what amounts to a loan.  But that is nowhere to be found.  And how did the East Side board members take over?  Was there a quorum of the old FFA members?  Did they vote to add the new members and then resign?  Don’t new board members have to wait a month to vote on new items?  Hmm, more than meets the eye here.  And lest we forget, Kendall Massett at the Delaware Charter Schools Network set up this deal…

Say What? Sean Moore and Dr. Brewington Want Their Jobs Back at Family Foundations Academy

In the initial formal review report for Family Foundations Academy, there was a brief notation on the former heads of school, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington.  Despite allegations of fraud and embezzlement, as well as a report sent to the Attorney General’s office, they have appealed to get their jobs back.  Yes, you heard that right.  I’m sure it will happen, as sure as I am that Republicans will win every seat in the House and Senate in Delaware in the next election!

There are many very interesting tidbits to read in this report, but two notable absences not mentioned in the report are Monique Dolcy from FFA and Charter School Accountability Committee member Chuck Taylor.

 

UPDATED! Family Foundations Academy Fate Decided: Handed Over To Eastside Charter, Placed On Formal Review

Today at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, it was decided the school would be handed over to Eastside Charter School.  The 6-1 vote by the Delaware State Board of Education renews the embattled school’s charter but does place them on formal review.

The room was packed with new board members and supporters of the school.  While the State Board did discuss many of the financial problems with the school, they did agree to give this new board a chance.  Board member Whittaker did not vote for the charter’s renewal.

The Formal Review is based on the charter’s Organizational and Financial parts of their framework.  State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office has not released their official audit at this point which could conceivably shed more light on the financial mismanagement at the Wilmington charter school while under the leadership of ex-heads of school Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington.

Updated: A lot more information behind the collaboration between the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Family Foundations Academy and Eastside Charter School can be seen here by the awesome WHYY/Newsworks education reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent: http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/77394-delaware-spares-troubled-charter-school?linktype=hp_topstory

I’m guessing the State Board of Education gave the charter a sixty day formal review for a couple reasons. 1) To see what may come out of Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office, and 2) To see if the Eastside crew can actually manage to do double the work for two schools.  None of the standardized test cheating I have written about, which has been reported to me by more than one source, was even touched upon by the State Board of Education.  Nor was the special education issues brought up by the prior board.  I guess since Markell’s Charter Love Child, Eastside Charter, swooped in and saved the day all is forgiven.  Don’t get me wrong, I would hate to see any child sent to a new school if they don’t have to.  But the charter system in Delaware has so much rot and corruption at so many of it’s schools, or just plain incompetence.  In FFA’s board minutes for 12/31/14, one of the board members actually asked about getting a Staples card to help with the technology to pay all the outstanding invoices.  It’s called a clue buddy…  I’m sure this Eastside board is much more experienced with these types of things, but I remain unconvinced that some of the administration will be able to carry the weight should Eastside ever exit this partnership.

Big Changes At Family Foundations Academy: Moore & Brewington Terminated With Cause, Board Members Resign

At the Family Foundations Academy Board meeting last night, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington, previously suspended with leave, were terminated by the board.  This ends their long tenure with the school amidst allegations of financial impropriety and mismanagement.

Two other board members, Byron Brooks and Gregory Smith resigned.  Out of the original board, only Monnica May and Rayne Fletcher remain.  There were five new additions to the board: Jocelyn Stewart, Faculty member Jason Casper, and three Eastside Charter Board members are coming over to the FFA board- Charlie McDowell, Thomas Humphrey and Charles Tolliver.  Sadly, I was not given any consideration in my bid for a board seat.  I think I’ll be okay.

With the new board, there is much more diversity.  Previously, the board had been all mostly all male African-Americans, but now there are four Caucasian and three African-American members with two of them being female and five male.  Dr. Lamont Browne from Eastside Charter will be supervising the situation at Family Foundations for the foreseeable future.

The big question will be if these changes are enough for the Delaware Department of Education, who will decide on the embattled school’s charter renewal this Thursday, January 15th, at the State Board of Education meeting.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board will determine if the school will remain open after the end of this school year.