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.

Rep. Paul Baumbach To Christina: “Keep Moving As Fast As You Can”

At the end of the Christina School District Board of Education meeting last week, State Representative Paul Baumbach spoke before the board.  He thanked the board and the district for the changes they implemented in the past year and “strongly encouraged” them to keep doing it.  There was a specific reason Baumbach did this.  He admitted the General Assembly doesn’t help. Continue reading

Still Breakin’ The Law: Laurel School District, Charter School of New Castle, DAPSS, DE Military Academy, Eastside, Early College High School, & Freire

Hey, I know I got some districts and charters moving last weekend when I posted how they were not following state law in putting up their board audio recordings, but some of you didn’t get the message!

So… Laurel School District, Charter School of New Castle, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware Military Academy, Eastside Charter School, Early College High School, and Freire… I will do this as much as I can until you are COMPLIANT with the law!

State law says you must record your board meetings and put them on your website within seven days.  No excuses, no exceptions, just do it!  I would have loved to go to your websites and not have to write this article.  Yeah, I know, I’m a pain.  But guess what?  I’m not breaking the law!  And until someone from the state calls you out on breakin’ the law, I’ll continue my citizen audits!  Transparency Rules!

And Laurel, you need to put up your board agenda.  That is a big FOIA no-no!

Controversial 5 Mile Radius Bill To Be Heard In Senate Education Committee On Wednesday

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 is on the agenda for the Sokola Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, June 7th at 3:30pm.  State Senator David Sokola has stuffed the agenda with six bills, but in a half-hour time span.  Most of the other bills shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows though.  The House Education Committee canceled their meeting on Wednesday.  Even though most people have their eye on the budget, it is always a good idea to see what else is going on.  Between this bill, the Coastal Zone Act reorganization, legal marijuana, death penalty, and Lord knows what else will come up, we need eyes and ears more than ever down at Legislative Hall!

I will say upfront I oppose this bill because of the House Substitute that removes the Christina School District Wilmington students from this.  This added language (which was insisted on by Senator Sokola) only serves to benefit one school: Newark Charter School.

To see what is on tap for ALL the committee meetings, this week, please go here: http://legis.delaware.gov/CommitteeMeetings

What Is Up With Prestige Academy?

A few weeks ago, I put up an article about Prestige Academy folding into EastSide Charter School’s mini-empire.  I received this information from someone who has always been a very reliable source of information.  This person earned their stripes.  Since then, I have heard nothing on this.  Not one peep.  Today, at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting, the Charter School Office will give their monthly charter school update.  According to this update, Prestige Academy will still close this year.  At the beginning of October, I broke the news that Prestige’s Board of Directors wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education which stated they would not pursue the renewal of their charter and would close at the end of this school year.

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So what happened?  Got me!  Many things could have happened: the original plan of the school closing (which looks reasonable at this point) will go through, my source got really bad information, or this merger with EastSide could still go through but they are holding their cards at this point in time.  EastSide swooped in at the last-minute and probably saved Family Foundations Academy from closing down at the beginning of 2015.  When it comes to Delaware charter schools and the Delaware DOE, you never know what deals are cooking behind closed doors.  I welcome any confirmation on what could be going on here or if, indeed, my source got bad information.  Like I said, this source is very reliable.

Breaking News: Prestige Academy To Become A Part Of The EastSide Charter Empire

Move over bacon!  Here comes something meatier!  It looks like we have a charter school “district” coming in Wilmington.  How very interesting.  Word on the street is Prestige Academy has been invited to become a part of the EastSide Charter “district”.  We will now have three charter schools in this “district”: EastSide, Family Foundations Academy, and now Prestige Academy.  Add in the very big connections between EastSide and Gateway, and we are seeing a budding school district within already existing school districts.

This is NOT a joke.  But questions are rising up faster than Buccini-Pollen apartment buildings in Wilmington!  Last month, the Board of Directors at Prestige Academy wrote a letter to the Delaware Dept. of Education indicating they would be surrendering their charter at the end of this school year and would not be attempting to renew their charter.  They based their decision on low enrollment.  So if they wrote this letter and did NOT have their initial Charter School Accountability Committee meeting, how can this even happen?  Whether they join or not, they still have to go through the charter renewal process and deal with their very low enrollment.  But once again, the word on the street is the DOE will let this go through.  Even though they haven’t changed anything on the charter renewal part of their website for the 2016-2017 year for Prestige’s renewal.  But still, Secretary Godowsky would have to give his assent to the State Board of Education who would have to vote as a majority.  I really shouldn’t predict what they are going to do.  They have their own minds.

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I have a novel idea.  Maybe the enrollment would go up if they changed locations.  Being across from a men’s prison for an all boys school with a huge African-American population isn’t the wisest idea.  It didn’t work out for Marion T. Charter School either (they went down years ago).  But it looks like we could have a Wilmington School District in the future, just not the kind any of us expected (actually, Kavips did when the whole priority schools thing went down).  I’m sure some will say “You’ve got this all wrong”.  We will see what comes out in the wash!  How ironic that the charter school lawsuit against Christina would also coincidentally come out at the same time, which all three schools in the EastSide Empire are a part of…

EastSide Charter & Family Foundations Academy Have No Child Left Behind Goals But Plan To Leave More Students Behind

Aaaron Bass, the new Executive Director of EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy has some very lofty goals for students.  Mirroring the very controversial No Child Left Behind law enacted in 2002, Bass wants all students to be 100% proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The difference is Bass’ plans to determine how a child advances in grade levels.  And what method of teaching does Bass prefer? Continue reading

The Smear Campaign At The Delaware Auditor’s Office & What The News Journal Didn’t Tell You

Revenge is ugly business.  When it takes place at a very high state level and the object of that revenge gets a whole article about it in the state’s biggest newspaper, it is really ugly.

Today, James Fisher and Matthew Albright published an article about the Auditor of Accounts, Kathleen Davies.  The article claims Davies was put on leave over two months ago due to not using the state procurement card for travel expenses.  According to the story, sources who would only be named as “state employees” contacted the Office of Management and Budget, then run by Ann Visalli, in November of 2015.  They alleged Davies spent over $7700 in travel expenses (over four years) and received personal reimbursements instead of using the state p-card.  She did do this.  But was it wrong?  Absolutely not.  I’m not buying any of this.  Let’s take a close look at what else was going on at the time these “sources” (as the News Journal calls them) filed this complaint.

Davies had just come out with a report on many charter schools, not just Delaware College Prep (the only school mentioned in the article).  Kuumba Academy was also named in the report on personal reimbursements as using funds against the accounting policies of the state.  Two other charters did not have any inappropriate use of state funds: Odyssey Charter School and Thomas Edison Charter School.

But there was more going on at that time.  The reports on Family Foundations Academy and Providence Creek Academy had not come out yet.  The September 30th enrollment inspection was just beginning (which was published earlier this Spring and pulled from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s website after Davies was put on leave).  Another Delaware charter school, The Delaware Met, was under formal review.  Hearings and meetings with the Charter School Accountability Committee took place in November and December of 2015.  One of the big questions surrounding Delaware Met was how they were spending their money.  And by default, their operation management company, Innovative Schools, would also be looked at.

There was also an inspection released by Davies on December 7th.  This surrounded an anonymous tip about Delaware Department of Education employees abusing travel expenses.  No wrongdoing was found in the inspection report.  But why would the News Journal not mention such an important part of this timeline in their article as well as the actual inspection?  If this accusation by sources who have now become “whistleblowers” was made to the OMB in November of 2015, this would have been the same time when Davies would have been working on the DOE travel expense report which came out on December 7th.  The timing on this is uncanny!

If it took six months for Davies to be put on leave, what was the OMB doing for six months?  Why did Davies just happen to be put on leave at the same time the DOE was pitching a conniption fit about the September 30th Inspection Report written by Davies?  The report, published by Wagner’s office on May 5th, can be found here.  Why did Wagner pull the report which had absolutely nothing to do with her supposed reasons for being put on leave?  Which other pending audits was Davies working on?  I do know the answer to a couple of these, especially one that I submitted to the auditor’s office.  John Fluharty, the policy analyst from the Auditor of Accounts office, contacted me on March 17th to discuss the tip I sent that office.  I talked to him on March 18th with what I knew.  No follow-up has taken place since then nor has any report been released on my tip.  I find that to be very odd…

And then we have the charter school audit bill crisis.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams released three different bills in the first part of the 148th General Assembly.  The first two were stricken in lieu of the third one which passed the Delaware House on June 30th, 2015.  It’s next destination was the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Delaware Senator David Sokola.  Prior to the second part of the 148th G.A. beginning last January, rumors began circulating that Sokola was going to introduce his own charter school audit bill.  With his friends at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Sokola crafted new legislation which weakened Williams bill considerably.  Williams and Sokola battled publicly on Facebook over the bill, resulting in an eventual compromise a few months later.  They both met with Davies, who supported Williams bill, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The new legislation, House Bill 435, passed both the House and Senate and awaits Governor Markell’s signature.

But the biggest question is this: what did Davies do that was so wrong, that would warrant such a drastic action?  While the guidelines regarding travel expenses published by the News Journal said the state prefers state employees use the p-card, it doesn’t rule out personal reimbursements.  Furthermore, the article states she told employees she was doing this.  If you have something to hide, you don’t tell everyone in the office!!!  The only way she would have been reimbursed for those travel expenses is if someone approved it and saw the receipts.  Who approved the expenses?  More importantly, where is the fire here?

Davies was not put on leave over this.  This is a cover.  The whole thing reeks of corruption at a very high level.  Tom Wagner won’t talk about it because it’s a personnel issue.  So how did the News Journal get the story?  I can tell you this: I was contacted by an employee of the Delaware Department of Education who asked me if I heard about Kathleen Davies.  This was on May 26th, a week after the September 30th report disappeared.  This employee said “word is she had a falling out with Tom Wagner.  And won’t be back.”  Now I hear from sources all the time about different state employees.  But how is that a DOE employee would have intimate knowledge of a situation between Tom Wagner and his second-in-command?  And how in the world would they know Davies wouldn’t be returning?  That would indicate a conversation took place with someone from the State Auditor’s office with either an employee of the Delaware Dept. of Education or an employee of the State Board of Education for that much knowledge to come out for what we are being told is a “personnel issue”.

This is my firm belief: someone was very frightened about an audit inspection Davies was working on.  Something that would make someone or several people look very bad.  This person would have to have the power to be able to pull strings with an elected official to get Davies put on personal leave.  Because this fabricated nonsense about personal reimbursements is absurd.  Other state employees do it.  Even our own Governor was mentioned in an audit report for not following state accounting rules with travel.  Was he put on leave?  Hell no!  Was Tom Wagner put on leave when it was announced he “accidentally” let his own house go into foreclosure?  Nope.

I’ve been going through all district and charter expenses the past few weeks and I can say with certainty that any travel expense amounts incurred by Davies are a drop in the bucket compared to what they spend.  And I seriously questioned one district about an outrageously high amount in one coding area.  No response on that one over two weeks later.  So why target the one person who has the ability to produce reports that can put others in a very bad light over financial abuse?  I believe I just answered my own question.  To pull this off, that takes a serious amount of cunning and guile.  Someone with pull and motivation.  I would have to think Ann Visalli would know that other state employees use personal reimbursements for travel expenses.  I don’t know much about her, except to say she resigned shortly after Davies was put on leave.  The Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Who resigned before the budget passed.

As for Kathleen Davies, I hope she gets the vindication she deserves from this oh-so-obvious smear campaign against her.  This is a woman who has spent most of her time at the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office finding actual situations of financial abuse and scandal.  Most of them have been against charter schools.  Delaware Military Academy report in 2013.  Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep reports in 2015.  Providence Creek Academy, EastSide Charter School and Prestige Academy in 2016.  And potentially more.  But for those reading this smear article on Davies in the News Journal today, they won’t know all of this stuff going on behind the scenes.  So if you read this, please share it so all Delawareans can know that Kathleen Davies is deserving of much more respect than this.  I am positive she has enemies in this state.  Those who expose the truth often do.  Those who do wrong fear exposure more than anything.  So who did Davies frighten so much that they would go to these lengths to remove her and tarnish her good name?

Updated, 6:12pm, 7/31/16: This article has been updated to reflect there was no wrongdoing on the part of Gateway Lab School in any audit report.  This was an error on my end, and I did write an article to apologize to Gateway regarding this.

Two Truths And A Lie

This is the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing feature of this blog.  Below will be several groups of statements and facts.  Two will be true and one will be a lie.  It will be your job to guess or determine which is fact and which is fiction!  Comment away!

#1

*EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy are blaming their Smarter Balanced scores on the fact their kids are not as computer literate as their peers in other schools

*Sussex Academy won’t be able to finish their pool because of mercury in the ground.

*Freire Charter School signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Wilmington Police Department

#2

*Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick was so happy their referendum passed he was seen doing cartwheels the next day.

*Academia Antonia Alonso wants no help from the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE with their upcoming move to property at Odyssey Charter School.

*Howard High School of Technology suspended students who were in the bathroom the day of Amy’s death and kept suspending them for weeks on end without any form of due process.

#3

*Charter School of Wilmington held a legislative breakfast.

*Charter School of Wilmington wants an audit inspection to be released that has been on hold since March.

*Charter School of Wilmington will be allowing 20% of all students with disabilities who applied this year to be admitted to the school in August.

#4

*Early College High School parents are not happy about the school’s grading system since the school’s scores didn’t match up with Delaware State University’s grading system

*Penny Schwinn is coming back to the Delaware DOE.

*Dr. Lamont Browne mentioned my blog post about his resignation at a Family Foundations Academy board meeting.

#5

*Family Foundations Academy held pep rallies prior to the school’s testing window for the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment to pump up kids.

*A Delaware State Representative recently had a Facebook post titled “State Representative Looking For Beaver”.

*The same State Representative found some beaver and had a barbecue.

New EastSide & Family Foundations Executive Director Aaron Bass Meets John King…

What can we expect from Aaron Bass, the incoming Executive Director of EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations Academy?  From the picture below, it looks like he knows some pretty big education figures, like none other than United States Secretary of Education John King.  The below write-up on how Bass and King happened to meet is from EastSide’s public Facebook page.

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Aaron Bass, Executive Director – Designate of Eastside Charter School of Wilmington and Family Foundations Academy of New Castle was invited to meet with United States Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. and senior U.S. Department of Education officials, and spent a day of learning and advising, as part of the Principals at ED effort on Friday, May 20 in Washington, D.C.

This fifth meeting in the series of Principals at ED visits focused on the “Principal Pipeline, Retention and Support.” The goal of visits is to bring groups of innovative and successful principals from across the country to the Education Department to learn more about federal programs and to share experiences from their jobs as school leaders. Throughout the day, the principals will meet with senior staff from across the agency to learn about and give input on a variety of the Department’s programs, policies and initiatives.

“Great school leadership matters now more than ever. So much of the work ahead rests on the leadership of principals and educators in our schools and classrooms who make a difference in students’ lives every day,” said Secretary King. “What happens in classrooms and school buildings shapes students’ lives and opportunities—particularly for students who have the odds most stacked against them. I saw that impact not only when I was a teacher and a principal, but also when I was a student. Teachers literally saved my life, and they were the reason I became a teacher and a principal. Programs like this allow the Department to hear directly from principals across the nation and learn their perspectives on leading schools that provide opportunities to all students.”

Executive Director Bass was invited to participate in the program, in recognition of his strong work in school leadership and his broader activities around advocacy for elementary and secondary education.

The visit is coordinated through the Department’s Principal Ambassador Fellow (PAF) program. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education launched the first PAF program, modeled on the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program, in order to better allow local leaders to both contribute their knowledge and experience to the national dialogue about public education and, in turn, learn more about education policy at the federal level. Now in its third year, four highly-talented principals are continuing to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis. The PAF program is one means of recognizing the critical impact that principals have on instruction and student achievement; school climate and improvement; and community and family engagement.

Oh boy!  He isn’t even the official Executive Director and he is already hob-knobbing with John King!  Delaware has many excellent principals.  Why weren’t any of them invited to this shindig? If they were, I have yet to hear about it.  Let me know and I will write about it!

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.

Auditor Report On 9/30 Enrollment Counts Shows Inconsistency Statewide & Major Reporting Issues At 4 Delaware Charters

Four Delaware charter schools will have to return funds based on 28 students they received funding for from the state based on not meeting specific criteria for those students.  Yesterday, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the final report of a statewide audit on the September 30th Enrollment Counts which determines how many units a school gets for salaries, energy costs and equalization funds.  The report does an excellent job of describing how funding in Delaware education actually works without needing an advanced accounting degree to understand.  The report showed the biggest problem is inconsistency with the districts and charters on how to submit the data as well as no specific requirements for the school or district unit count coördinator to even attend the training offered by the Delaware Department of Education.

Four charter schools were specifically called out for not having the proper documentation for early Kindergarten entrance students.  This is for students who are considered gifted and talented and are not the age of 5 by August 31st, as required by state law.  The Auditor of Accounts found 28 students at these four charters should not have been counted in the unit count and the schools should return the funding they received for those students.  The charter schools were EastSide (11 students), Family Foundations Academy (12 students), Kuumba Academy (3 students), and Delaware College Prep (2 students).  Given the fact that EastSide and FFA are run by the same executive director, Dr. Lamont Browne, and that over 82% of these unlawful unit count claims are occurring at the schools he runs is very troubling.  As well, the Board President is the same at both schools: Charles McDowell.  FFA already had an audit report released late last year based on the prior school leaders massive fraud and theft of school funds.  Kuumba Academy was spotlighted with irregularities based on an inspection report released last year.  Red flags came up over unauthorized compensation for the Head of School and a custodian.  Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed by their authorizer, Red Clay Consolidated School District, and will close at the end of this school year.  They were also mentioned in the same audit inspection as Kuumba with unauthorized reimbursements to their Board President.

One thing the report showed, which I was not aware of, was the role special education service providers play in the unit counts.  According to the below report, providers such as speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists and other providers are based on the following:

1 unit per 57 Regular Education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, Basic Special Education students 4th-12th grade, and Regular Education students 4th-12th grade

1 unit per 5.5 Intensive Special Education students

1 unit per 3 Complex Special Education students

If there is one thing I have heard in Delaware it is how schools are unable to provide these services consistently, especially for basic special education students.  This is an even bigger problem with having the unit formula be the same for Kindergarten to 3rd grade basic and regular students.  But all students in basic special education from Kindergarten to 12th grade are not given any advantage over regular students in receiving these services.  This is a major problem and I would urge any legislator to remedy this problem immediately!

The report also highlighted the role Innovative Schools plays in enrollment counts.  The Auditor of Accounts felt Innovative Schools should not be the agency conducting the enrollment counts but the school unit count coördinator.  They advised either way the accountability falls on the school leader.  Several charters and a scattering of traditional public schools were mentioned in the report in various sections covering details such as training participation for the unit-count system and having a clear policy manual on the process.  The full report is below.

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 Foundations Academy Off Probation Status

Yesterday, at the State Board of Education meeting in Dover, it was announced Family Foundations Academy met the conditions of their six month probation and are now released from that status.  Jennifer Nagourney with the Delaware Charter School Office did tell the state board that “we continue to be concerned about all the things we need to be concerned about and we are taking a heightened look at board governance and financial management.”

Family Foundations Academy terminated their former heads of school last winter after it was revealed they embezzled funds from the schools through use of procurement cards and other cards in the school’s name.  As a result, the school went on formal review during their charter school renewal process.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation when they emerged out of formal review status.  Members of the board from EastSide Charter School joined the remaining FFA board, and EastSide’s Director, Dr. Lamont Browne, took over as school leader for FFA.

The school was approved for a major modification to move into the former Reach Academy for Girls building, and will transition their middle school to the other portion of those buildings next year.  They were also approved for an alternate educator evaluation system, separate from the DPAS-II system.  If I had to guess, I would assume they joined the Delaware Charter Collaborative, comprised of EastSide, Prestige Academy, Kuumba Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School.  But this has not been confirmed.

The last remaining business from the controversy caused by the former leaders will come in the form of the Delaware State Auditor’s report on the investigative audit that began last December.  The school’s forensic auditor determined Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington absconded approximately $90,000 in school funds, but what the State Auditor’s office finds is up in the air and until the report is released.

Family Foundations Academy: Where Is The Investigative Audit? Are They Still On Probation?

Family Foundations Academy, a Delaware charter school in New Castle, DE, formally requested an end to their six-month probation.  But their investigative audit may come out at the same time.  Last December, Delawareans were treated to a month long ordeal surrounding Family Foundations Academy.  During the school’s charter renewal, allegations came out against the co-leaders of the school for financial mismanagement.  It was also revealed the State Auditor’s office was going to investigate the school’s finances. By the end of the month, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington were out, and the board was radically changed in the first month of the year as members of EastSide Charter School took over.

The State Board renewed their charter but put FFA on formal review.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation for six months.  This will end later this month if the State Board agrees to it.  But in the meantime, while on probation, the school submitted and was approved for a major modification concerning the location of their elementary and middle schools.  And the Auditor’s report hasn’t even come out yet.  When can we expect this?  Given the timing for Academy of Dover’s similar situation, I would say sometime in the next month to month and a half.  It took the State Auditor’s office about ten months to complete their investigation on Academy of Dover, and that report came out on 6/24/15.  The State Auditor opened their investigation into FFA sometime in December, 2014, so we should expect the report this month or next month given the same trajectory.

Has FFA satisfied the terms of their probation?  That will be up to the State Board of Education to decide, but the school seems to think so if you read the below letter.  A frequent commenter on this blog raises a very serious question though about overall board membership at Delaware charter schools: Should board members reside in Delaware?  This is mandatory for traditional school boards since they go through the election process.  I would think it would be in our best interests to have the same for charter schools.

Smarter Balanced Assessment in Delaware…What’s Next?

The shot heard round Delaware went off yesterday, and most citizens don’t know what the hell any of this means!  Half the kids aren’t proficient in English/Language Arts and 61% aren’t proficient in Math.  But they did better than what they expected, or at least that’s what the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell are spouting.  But here’s the crucial truth: nobody knew what to expect with any of this.  I’ve heard from more than one source the DOE just kind of picked a number for proficiency and above.  But this is the nature of standardized testing.

With high-stakes assessments like this, not everyone can be proficient.  And not everyone can be failing.  There will always be that bar.  It is set up like that for a reason.  The DOE can’t label and punish if everyone is doing great.  With all the talk of poverty schools, which are Title I schools, the system is specifically designed to punish those schools.  The ones who promote getting these schools the resources they need to succeed (Markell, DOE, Rodel, Delaware Business Roundtable, etc.) are the exact same ones pushing the standardized testing agenda.  And parents and citizens buy into it hook, line and sinker.  The State Board of Education and Rodel have reached the point where it is hard to distinguish one from the other.  In an email sent out today from Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board, she cites Rodel’s huge help in getting resource material on the State Board website to “help” parents.  Dani Moore is the Administrative Secretary for the State Board of Education.  The key part is bolded for emphasis.


From: Moore Dani <dani.moore@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Thursday, September 3, 2015 8:15 AM
To: Moore, Dani L. (K12)
Cc: Johnson, Donna R (K12)
Subject: Additional resources available on SBE website, please feel free to link to your site and share with others

Dear Educational leaders, Policy makers, and Community Partners:

In recent weeks we have developed and finalized additional materials to assist with the Smarter Assessment Score release and continue to provide information and resources to our educators, parents, and community partners. 

Our website (www.destateboarded.k12.de.us) has several new tools and resources that may be of interest to you.

1)      Two one page documents that provide an overview of Smarter Assessments as well as an big picture overview of the shift to new standards and assessment. I have also attached them here as pdf’s.  (I greatly appreciate the help from our SBAC partners in WA, CT, OR, and WV as well as the huge assistance from Rodel and DOE in pulling these together)

2)      Two short videos – one is a 30 second overview of why we shifted to these assessments and what it means for students, the other is a little over 1 minute description of the Smarter Balanced assessment suite and how it can be used as well as some big ideas about the summative assessment

3)      A link to a table of resources that provides additional tools and resources for educators, parents, and the community (this is also given as a word document so that others can utilize it directly in case that is more useful)

You will see throughout all of these resources we prominently link and direct people to the DelExcels.org website, which is the existing partner site for information regarding Standards and Assessments.  That site is a partnership of DOE, DSEA, PTA, and Rodel. 

We have an additional video that should be available soon.  It is a narrated Prezi, in video clip format, that talks you through the components of the Smarter score report and basically verbalizes much of what is explained in written form within the Parent guide that will accompany the report. I will post this to our website as well as provide a direct link when it is ready to go live.

Here are links to the videos directly that are posted on our home page:

–          SBA 30-sec Promo   http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/Domain/170/033115_SBA_National_30sPromo.mp4

 –          SBA system overview  http://www.doe.k12.de.us/cms/lib09/DE01922744/Centricity/Domain/170/PFL_National_Short_English.mp4  

I hope these resources are helpful to you, again please do not hesitate to give me feedback or suggestions that could improve upon these items and again please feel free to share these with others.

All my best,  

Donna


In terms of the DelExcels website, I have heard from quite a few people the Delaware PTA does not have an active role in this and haven’t for a long time.  But the DOE will get their name out as much as they humanly can just to attach Smarter Balanced with the Delaware PTA.  The PTA was very active in getting House Bill 50 to pass, and were instrumental in the legislative sessions surrounding it.

The key part of all this is the scores this year don’t matter…for this year!  They will be huge NEXT year though.  This is what all the growth measurements will be based on, this year’s scores and next year’s.  For a school like Eastside Charter School, who performed horribly on this test (if you count SBAC as a valid measurement of student performance which I don’t), they are pretty much set up to show huge growth gains based on their scores this year.  Most schools are, especially the Title I schools.

What is very telling is the fact DOE did not release the sub-group data.  They have it, because all states do.  States like Connecticut already released their statewide sub-group information.  There is no reason the DOE could not have.  I’m sure they will come up with some reason, like they are still aggregating the data and whatnot, but I believe they did not want this information out yet.  The DOE and the State Board are masters at using timetables to their advantage.  They will only release information on their timing, so it can serve them best, not the true stakeholders: students, teachers, parents, schools, districts.  But you better believe Rodel was probably one of the FIRST organizations to see the Smarter Balanced data.

The State Board of Education meets next on September 17th.  They will release the sub-group data and come up with a shock and awe strategy to cover up the simple fact that the Smarter Balanced is a BAD test.  It’s what they do.  Meanwhile, schools don’t know what to do with all of this.  Parents are wising up faster than I anticipated them to and are asking if we even need this.  Yesterday, 105.9 covered the Smarter Balanced results and asked the audience if they felt Governor Markell should reverse his House Bill 50 veto.  When we are at that point, and the entire state knows what a colossal waste of time, money, energy and resources this has been, all involved in this assessment need to suck it up and say “Yeah, we need to admit failure and move on for what’s best for Delaware students.”  But that won’t happen, instead they will keep trying to fix what is irreversibly broken.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it.  Last year, at a Christina School District Board of Education meeting, member John Young said “You want to know who needs great leaders? The Delaware DOE needs great leaders.”  Never has this been more true!

And DOE, stop calling it Smarter.  It sounds stupid, because we all know now the test is DUMBER than any test ever created!

Delaware Charter School Compliance and Transparency Report 2015

“Head of School Report: School is completed for this year.  This year should go down in the history books as gone for good and never have history repeat itself.  We need to learn from the past.”

The above quote was found in a Delaware charter school’s board minute notes recently.  About a year ago, I went through all the charters websites and graded them on certain things: board minutes up to date, agendas for next board meetings posted, and monthly financial information posted.  I will be grading each charter based on this information again this year, but I am adding in Citizens Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) notifications and minutes.  I’m not including charters that haven’t opened yet or charters who got shut down this year cause really, what’s the point?

I can say a lot of the charters have become more compliant and transparent with these in the past year.  But some have not.  I gave a little bit of slack on the board minutes.  A lot of them had a meeting in the past week, so I don’t expect them to get the June minutes up right away.  If you see red, it’s not a major thing, but they need to fix it.  If it’s in BOLD red, they are majorly breaking the law and they need to fix that ASAP!  State law mandates charters put up their monthly financial info up within 15 days of their last board meeting.  As well, you have to have a CBOC committee and meetings.  Two of the charters on here with some big dinks are on probation already so they need to get on that.  Two others are up for charter renewal, so they definitely need to jam on it!

Academia Antonia AlonsoAgenda: no (only has two agendas for two board meetings in past year listed), Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: has meetings listed through end of 2015, Grade: C-

Academy of Dover– Agenda: Yes, Board minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: July 30th, Grade: B

Campus Community School– Agenda: July 2015, Board minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: March 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, Grade: D

Charter School of Wilmington– Agenda: Yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: not listed, but does indicate no July meeting, Grade: B

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & SecurityAgenda: no, website gives generic agenda for every meeting, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade: F

Delaware College PrepAgenda: no, Board Minutes: April 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: April 2014, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: none listed, last shows June 2015, Grade F- for Formal Review

Delaware Military Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: Yes, CBOC Minutes: January 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Monday of the month, Grade: D

Early College High SchoolAgenda: no, Board Minutes: May 2015 (states June meeting had no quorum which is majority of board members present to approve items up for action), CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: no, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed but states meets 4th Thursday of the month, Grade: F

Eastside Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: Shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A

Family Foundations Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 26th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A

First State Montessori AcademyAgenda: no, Board Minutes: February 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 4th Thursday of the month, Weird Fact: Uses WordPress as their website, the same as Exceptional Delaware…, Grade: D+

Gateway Lab School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: shows anticipated board meeting dates thru June, 2016, Grade: A+

Kuumba Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: B

Las Americas Aspiras Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: yes*, next board meeting: none listed, states meets 4th Thursday of each month, *Superstar: Monthly Financial report is excellent, shows both what the DOE wants AND what state appropriations and codes are needed!!!!, Grade: A+

MOT Charter SchoolAgenda: no, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: not sure, shows agenda for June 2015 meeting but last meeting was in May 2013, CBOC Minutes: May 2013, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: none listed, Grade: F

Newark Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 18th, Bonus: board meetings listed through June, 2016, Grade: A+

Odyssey Charter School– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: May 2015, next board meeting: August 12th, Grade: A-

Positive Outcomes– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 19th, Bonus: board meetings AND CBOC meetings listed through June 2016, Grade: A+

Prestige Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: no, CBOC Minutes: none listed, website only shows members of CBOC, Monthly Financials: April 2015, next board meeting: none listed, shows meets 3rd Tuesday of each month, Grade: F

Providence Creek Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: April 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 25th, Bonus: does have all future board meetings through June 2016 on school calendar, Grade: A+

Sussex Academy– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: May 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: May 2015, Monthly Financials: February 2015, next board meeting: September 16th (no meetings in July or August), Grade: C

Thomas Edison Charter– Agenda: yes, Board Minutes: June 2015, CBOC Meetings: yes, CBOC Minutes: June 2015, Monthly Financials: June 2015, next board meeting: August 17th, Bonus: Has all board meetings listed through June 2016, Grade A+

There you have it.  The Exceptional Delaware July 2015 Charter School Compliance and Transparency Report.  8 out of 22 need to do some serious damage control quick.  Because once DOE Jenny (as Kilroy calls her) reads this report, she’s going to have some serious questions for some of you!

Oh, I forgot one thing.  The quote up above will be shown later today as part of another article.  Because even though that school wants to forget about the past year, the past is knocking on their door!  More later!

Delaware Charter School Leadership Changes

As the new school year approaches, there is movement afoot among Delaware charter schools.  Some are coming from different states, while others are transferring between different Delaware charters.

William Bennett, a former principal from an elementary school in Media, PA has taken on the role of principal at Delaware Design Lab High School after a shocking exit and settlement from his former school.

Rebeccah Forrest, an assistant principal at EastSide Charter’s middle school is taking over the principal position at Gateway Lab School as Stacey Solomon heads over to St. Ann’s, a parochial private school.

At Providence Creek Academy, Chuck Taylor resumes his former role as head of school due to the bizarre illness Steve Esmond contracted in the Bahamas shortly before he was scheduled to start at PCA.  Taylor left PCA in 2013, went to Campus Community for about six months, and returned to PCA to serve as interim head of school.

Dr. Evelyn Edney, former Dover High School principal, became the principal at Early College High School in Dover effective July 1st.

Former executive director Jack Perry of Prestige Academy in Wilmington has landed a new job as deputy chief of academic enrichment for the Philadelphia School District according to an article in Philly.com.  Cordie Greenlea is the new executive director at Prestige after previous stints in Christina School District and most recently Delcastle Technical High School.

One thing you can say for Delaware charters, they certainly like to mix things up!  As long as we don’t get more like Noel Rodriguez, Sean Moore, or Dr. Tennell Brewington.

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?