Delaware Courts Send WRONG Message With NO Jail Time For Those Who Steal School Money

WDEL announced Dr. Tennell Brewington, the former co-head of school of Family Foundations Academy, pled guilty to her role in theft of education funds at the New Castle County charter school.  Her whopping sentence: three years in prison but it was suspended.  NO jail time.  Oh, but she will have probation.  Cry me a damn river!  You better believe if that was you or I working in the private sector, we would be doing time!  But no, not in Delaware, the first to sign the Constitution and the last to follow it.  Sorry, this really pisses me off.

As if education funding isn’t jacked up enough, now our courts are saying it is okay to steal money meant for kids.  But I guess we need to add new buckets on Delaware Online Checkbook.  You know, things like foot massages and pedicures.  Give me a friggin’ break here!  I guess Audrey Erschen and Chuck Taylor from Providence Creek Academy will get lollipops for their misdeeds there.  Or Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover will get some more Disney knick-knacks for showing a little remorse.  And the guy from Indian River, Patrick Miller, can get a new boat.  But we will throw kids down the river for much lesser crimes.  This state is so damn corrupt it isn’t even funny.

And what the hell is up with Sean Moore?  That crap isn’t even funny anymore.  He is sitting back and laughing at all this.  These people are getting away with whatever the hell they want.  It appears it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s who you know.  Whose palms are getting greased?  What political favors are going around to avoid prison time for these clowns?  These are kids that are going without.  Our courts are saying they care more about the burden of incarcerating influential school “leaders” than sending an example that it isn’t right to steal education funds.

Some lady stole a ton of money from the Cape Henlopen boosters club for baseball or something like that.  Over $20,000.00.  I can see that example really working there Delaware!  That happened after all the charter thieves got caught.  I suspect there is a lot more of this going on.  Which is why nobody wants to REALLY audit these schools.  Providence Creek didn’t learn their lesson the first time.  They just got better at hiding it.  But like most secrets, they can’t stay buried forever.  But what does it matter?   The guilty will get off easy.  Can’t have all those thieves filling up courtroom space while the courtroom is already filled up with the school-to-prison pipeline kids.  Can’t have that!

The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation

It seems random events are not so random at Providence Creek Academy, the charter school in Clayton, DE. It now appears that the audit investigation into suspected fraud by a former employee was missing a lot of information. Two other employees were also taking funds meant for students for their own personal use. Head of School Charles “Chuck” Taylor covered it all up. Continue reading “The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation”

Sean Moore From Family Foundations Academy STILL Hasn’t Been Sentenced, Plea Bargain Was Cut

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is “What is going on with Sean Moore from Family Foundations Academy?”  Today, I have some answers.  It turns out Mr. Moore is awaiting sentencing and struck a plea deal to have the charges reduced.  His next sentencing date is August 7th.  This date has changed a few times.  The other former Head of School from Family Foundations Academy, Dr. Tennell Brewington, actually had a court date today but I have not heard what happened at that one.  Once again, no word on Academy of Dover’s former financial scoundrel, Noel Rodriguez except that he was charged by the feds as well.  I also heard Shanna Simmens from Providence Creek Academy is working on some sort of “payment plan” to pay the school back in lieu of charges.  Good luck with that one!  I guess it’s okay for these people to be walking the streets when they took student money from schools.

Below are the court docs that pertain to Moore’s case.  Other documents are sealed.  If the gentleman who called me last February could please call me again, I would love to continue that conversation.  Shoot me an email at kevino3670@yahoo.com.

CRIMINAL DOCKET

UNITED STATES VERSUS SEAN MOORE

PLEA AGREEMENT

Sean Moore’s Federal Sentencing Postponed

On Friday, I pondered why former Family Foundations Academy leader Sean Moore didn’t get his federal sentencing on March 2nd.  One of my sources gave me the rundown.  Turns out Moore’s sentencing was rescheduled for tomorrow, April 3rd.  But that has been postponed without a new date at this time.  I have to admit, I’m very curious how much time a Delaware charter school leader will get for taking money meant for kids.  I guess we will find out one of these months.  Who wants to start a pool on this?  What month do you think Moore will finally go to prison?

What Happened To Sean Moore’s March 2nd Sentencing?

Former Family Foundations Academy charter school leader Sean Moore was supposed to receive a federal sentencing for his role in embezzlement of school funds.  Nothing of record shows up anywhere.  This is very puzzling.  Why wouldn’t Moore have been sentenced?  I received an anonymous tip a couple of months ago that suggested Moore may have cut a deal with the authorities.  Who these authorities may have been is unknown or what the nature of the deal was.  Moore was charged by the federal government so any deal would have been with the feds.

If Moore did cut a deal which would be unrelated to education, many Delaware citizens would be VERY upset.  This was a man who was charged with looking out for the best interests of children.  With a documented amount of over $160,000 stolen from the school, it is painfully obvious Moore had his own best interests in mind.  When the allegations first came to light, many parents from the school refused to believe the leader would ever do this, but when it was revealed he did abscond with money meant for kids, parents were disgusted.  This was just one of a few Delaware charter schools that came under the spotlight for this sort of thing but it had the biggest profile in the media.  If Moore did get a sentencing, it should be public knowledge.  He could have faced up to 30 years for his crimes in federal prison.

This saga has dragged out for years.  It finally came to light in December of 2014 during the school’s charter renewal.  Moore and fellow school leader Dr. Tennell Brewington were terminated.  Other members of the board resigned and eventually the board was reconstructed with new members.  The school entered a partnership with East Side Charter School which is now under the umbrella called Vision Academies.  Family Foundations recently changed its name to The Charter School of New Castle.

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!

 

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.

Other Ex FFA Leader Tennell Brewington Arrested And Charged By State of Delaware

It sounds like Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is finally clearing up the lingering messes from the charter school financial scandals.  Dr. Tennell Brewington, the co-director of Family Foundations Academy, was arrested and charged on October 24th according to Jennifer Flueckiger with WMDT.

A Public Information Officer from the Delaware DOJ told 47ABC that Brewington was arrested on October 24, 2016, and charged with two counts of theft greater than $1500, two counts of unlawful use of a credit card greater than $1500, one count of unlawful use of a payment card less than $1500, and one count of official misconduct.

Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice dealt with a guilty plea from the other co-director of FFA, Sean Moore.  He faces a potential prison term of thirty years.  If I had to guess, Brewington’s charges from Delaware couldn’t come until she was cleared of any potential federal charges.  Or perhaps they were waiting on Moore to give information when he was arrested in another state.

There is no word yet on Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover and Shanna Simmens from Providence Creek Academy.  State audit investigations found they too stole money from schools.  Justice may be slow at times, but it does happen eventually!

 

Ex Delaware Charter Leader Sean Moore Facing 30 Years In Federal Prison For Stealing School Funds

22 months after serious allegations arose regarding theft of school funds, justice finally caught up with Sean Moore.  The former Family Foundations Academy co-director faced a federal judge today and said he was guilty.  When any public schools gets federal funds and some of those federal funds are stolen, the feds get first dibs on prosecution.  But Moore made it easy for them by pleading guilty today.  He faces sentencing on March 2nd, 2017.

The Family Foundations Academy was probably my first really big investigative piece.  It began during their charter renewal process in December of 2014 and stretched out the next few months.  I don’t know how much my initial reporting on Moore and fellow co-director Tennell Brewington’s activities led to what happened today.  The feds rolled these charges down a couple of months ago.  So why did it take so long for Moore to enter a plea?  From what I’m hearing, they had to find him first.  That took some doing.

Moore’s fellow co-director, Tennell Brewington, is gainfully employed in Delaware.  She was terminated from Family Foundations Academy when Moore took over the school during his brief coup-detat but she too was found to have stolen money from the school.  Initial reports indicated she did not take as much money as Moore, but if she used any federal funds she too would face a federal judge.  If not, I’m still waiting on Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn to do something.  And what about Noel Rodriguez from Academy of Dover?  I guess these things take time.

From the United States Department of Justice:

WILMINGTON, Del. – Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced today that Sean Moore, age 43, of New Castle, Del., pleaded guilty to three counts of federal program theft before U.S. District Judge Richard G. Andrews.  Moore is scheduled to be sentenced on March 2, 2017.

According to court records and statements made in open court, between July 1, 2011 and January 31, 2015, while serving as the Director of Finance and Operations for the Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle, Del., Moore embezzled $161,871 from the school. 

Moore accomplished this embezzlement in a number of ways.  First, Moore charged personal expenses to an unauthorized credit card he opened in the name of the school.  Moore also abused the State of Delaware’s voucher program, by which charter schools are permitted to submit qualified expenses for reimbursement, and the State of Delaware’s procurement card system, by which the State of Delaware issues credit cards to charter school administrators to purchase necessary school supplies.  In addition, Moore stole money from the school’s fundraising account, which consisted of money collected from parents of school students, local sponsors, and an after-school program.  Moore also took money from the school’s construction loan account.

Moore used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as retail purchases, home improvement purchases, electronics, auto loan payments, auto services and accessories, federal tax payments, groceries, entertainment, food, gas, travel, gifts and collectibles, shoes, hotels, jewelry, train tickets, and video games. 

During this time, the Family Foundations Academy received significant federal funding, which provides the basis for the federal program theft charges.  The maximum penalty for each count is ten years in prison followed by a three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Education – Office of the Inspector General, and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, with assistance from the Delaware Office of Auditor of Accounts.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth L. Van Pelt is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

I would like to know how Moore could settle with the Board of Directors at FFA over stolen funds.  If he stole $161k in funds and settled with them for $67k, as per WDEL, that is $94,000 in lost education funding for Delaware kids.  That is some serious coin.  And Moore only paid back $13k of that settlement amount.  But he will face jail time.  That is all but a guarantee.

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.

giphy-facebook_s

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

Which Charters are Suing Christina and the Delaware DOE?

Yes, a group of Delaware charters are trying to strike gold over the charter funding issue.  Which charters?  Newark Charter School, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy, Academia Antonia Alonso, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, EastSide Charter School, Family Foundations Academy, First State Montessori Academy, Freire Charter School of Wilmington, Gateway Charter School, Great Oaks, Kuumba Academy, MOT Charter School, Odyssey Charter School, Providence Creek Academy, and Thomas Edison Charter School.  As well, there are a handful of parents suing on behalf of their minor children.  Below are the complaints filed against Christina and the Delaware DOE.  There is also a motion to expedite proceedings.  I have not had time to fully read these, but I will after the ESSA Discussion Group meeting tonight.  This is going to turn Delaware education on its ear!

Former Family Foundations Academy Sean Moore FINALLY Gets Fed Charges!!!!

moorebrewington

It’s about time!  After almost two years of waiting for Sean Moore to get charged with something, information comes out that he is being charged by the feds for theft.  This very quick blurb in the News Journal states Moore has three federal counts against him.  As most folks in Delaware know, Moore, along with his co-charter leader/co-conspirator Dr. Tennell Brewington, both formerly with Family Foundations Academy in New Castle, DE, got busted after a forensic audit showed they spent over $150,000 in school funds for personal use.  They were terminated and the school could have closed if a nearby charter school didn’t essentially take them over.

I was curious why Moore was charged by the feds and not Brewington.  Either they haven’t announced anything for her yet or her theft of taxpayer money for personal use didn’t involve anything with federal dollars.

Now we just have to wait for the other former charter thieves, Noel Rodriguez of Academy of Dover and Shanna Simmens of Providence Creek Academy, to get their charges.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn hinted to me almost a year ago that “other parties” were looking at these situations.  As I waited and waited, with nothing coming out, I took it upon myself to contact the FBI about this earlier in the spring.  I imagine Denn’s hands were tied once the feds became involved and he obviously couldn’t say anything concrete about it.  I’m glad he was on the up and up about it though.

This is the only information I could find on these charges, but it looks like the Associated Press picked up on it because the same story appears in the Washington Post and many other media outlets.  There is an important lesson here: don’t steal from kids.  This is what happens when you get caught!  As more information on this becomes available I will certainly give updates.  I can’t find the actual court filing yet, but once information becomes available, you will know!

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.

Beneath The Happy Face Of Providence Creek Academy…

ProvidenceCreekAcademy

On a Facebook page called The Unofficial PCA, about Providence Creek Academy, the host put up a post on Monday about a large exodus of teachers from the Kent County charter school.  The post disappeared, but a more watered down version of the question showed up Wednesday night on the page.  As well, students in Kindergarten to 2nd grade took a standardized test that actually caused some parents to pull their children out of the school.  Questions are beginning to mount concerning the “interim” Head of School, Chuck Taylor, who has filled this interim position for a year and nine months.

In terms of the teacher exodus, it was confirmed at PCA’s board meeting on Tuesday that twelve teachers left this year.  The average is three to five.  But the school insisted this is “in the norm” according to the new Facebook post on The Unofficial PCA.

Are Teachers Leaving PCA?

Notes from 7/26 board meeting.

I hadn’t planned to attend last night’s board meeting.  But the day before, I ran into another parent at the store asking if I had heard about the rumors.  People had been saying that a large portion of the teachers were leaving PCA out of frustration with Head of School Chuck Taylor and Principal Audrey Erschen.  My friend didn’t have much details so I canceled my plans and went to the meeting.  I was expecting a huge turnout from parents but there was only one other parent attending (other than the parent board member) and she hadn’t heard the rumors.

I relayed as much of the rumors as I could, without revealing names.  This year, there are about 60 on staff and about a dozen teachers left PCA; some to other positions, some for family, and a couple that were dissatisfied.  In an average year, 3-5 teachers leave PCA but this year is not too far out of the norm and certainly not as severe as the year in which 21 teachers left.  All but two of the teaching positions have been filled.  Ms Erschen assured us that they are in no rush to fill the position and are being very selective.  She is confident that the two positions will be filled well before school starts.

As far as any issues teachers may have had with Mr Taylor or Ms Erschen, they never were clearly defined.  Mr Taylor has been the interim Head of School longer than intended as that the last candidate selected was not able to take the position.  Another candidate is being considered and Mr Taylor is planning to go back to retirement in January.  On the couple of occasions that I have heard someone complaining about Mr Taylor, it usually stemmed from a misunderstanding.  I do not envy Ms Erschen for the balancing act she does every day.  She deals with a whole lot of problems and somebody being dissatisfied is inevitable but she always maintains professional composure.  Every morning, no matter the weather, they are out in front of the school to greet students and talk with parents.  I’ve always found them to be very approachable and the kids (including my daughter) think well of them.

Greater transparency and addressing issues before they become rumors would help to put parents at ease.  Board meetings include an “Opportunity to Address the Board” and it is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions and raise concerns.  PCA is considering putting the ‘Head of School’ and ‘Principal’ reports in the webpage ‘news’ in addition to already being in the ‘Board Minutes’.  They are also considering providing staff bios so that parents know more about the staff.

I intend to follow up with any more details that I come across and certainly welcome any input.  Rather than passing along rumors, it’d be helpful to discuss these things in an open format (you can message me if you’d like to remain anonymous).  I requested a list of the teachers that left (elsewise, we could always figure it out through the process of elimination).  Arguing the validity of an individual complaint may not be as useful as keeping an open eye for trends.  PCA isn’t perfect (no school is) and we should all strive to make things better and that depends on parents being involved.

Other items:

-Director of Curriculum Danielle Moore wants to go back to the classroom and work with kids.  She has been replaced by John Epstein who had been working for the Delaware Board of Education.

-‘Special’ classes will no longer be on a six day rotation because the classes were too far apart. So this year, students will have two special classes each trimester with the same amount of time give to each class.

I would not say 12 teachers leaving out of a staff of 60 is “in the norm“.  That is 20% of their staff.  Charter schools do tend to have higher turnover than traditional public schools.  But that is an alarming number, in my opinion.  While it isn’t the exodus of 21 teachers that happened at one time, it should be a matter of concern for other teachers and parents.  My biggest questions would be how seasoned the departing teachers are.  Will their replacements be more experienced or less?  That could have a big impact!

In their latest posted board minutes, for their June 21st board meeting, I found several items that were somewhat odd which have my comments under each one.

Mrs. Erschen reviewed the placement of appropriate employees to be included in the Consolidated Grant FY 2016-2017.

What does “appropriate employees mean?

PCA will be the only charter school involved in a new DPAS study.

Which DPAS study is this?  The only public DPAS study I have seen is the pilot program which will come out of House Bill 399, which changes Component V for teacher evaluations.  Senator David Sokola was really promoting his “pilot program” amendment.  Sokola and Chuck Taylor worked together on the charter school audit bill.  But what makes this very interesting is House Bill 399 didn’t pass until July 1st.  Eleven days after this board meeting on June 21st.  So how could PCA have been picked for this program if this is the DPAS program they are talking about?  And Markell hasn’t even signed the bill yet.  Unless there is some other DPAS program that hasn’t been revealed.

There were some issues with the implementation of the new grading policy for grades K-2. This new policy created some confusion with parents. With help from Mrs. Erschen and Mr. Taylor the concerns were addressed and professional development will be provided to the teachers at the beginning of the school year to ensure that there is consistency among teachers.

What is this new grading policy?  How did it create confusion for parents?  If professional development is needed so teachers can understand a grading system in the next school year, there is something not right about this.  More on this later.

Approval of Employee Bonuses: Lisa Moore made the motion, Chris Craig seconded. All in favor? Motion passed.

PCA consistently gives out “academic excellence” payouts every single month.  But are all teachers getting them?  The average monthly employee bonus is $466.

And from their May 24th Board minutes:

Head of School Search Committee: One candidate was interviewed. Board of Directors are still narrowing candidate pool for more candidate interviews.

Can someone please tell me why the Interim Head of School, who has been in this “interim” status for 21 months, is on the search committee for this new head of school?  How many candidates have interviewed?  It looks to me like Chuck Taylor is using his position on this committee to secure continued employment for himself.  Because this is how I see it.  He left PCA under very vague circumstances in the Spring of 2013.  He wound up at Campus Community School where he became their interim Head of School after Trish Hermance resigned in the Summer of 2013.  In September of 2013, their board voted unanimously to keep him on as the permanent Head of School.  By December, they hired a new Head of School.  Chuck joined their board and six months later, he resigned from their board.  In October of 2014, Chuck came back to PCA during the Audrey Erschen odd relative/employee shenanigans going on at the school.  As the interim Head of School.  A few months later, the Tatnall leader who was supposed to become the new Head of School was poisoned in the Caribbean.  That was over a year and a half ago.  What qualifications does a leader need to become their Head of School?  This looks like a lot of stall tactics by Chuck Taylor.  I don’t buy him wanting to retire.

For a guy who wants to fade into obscurity, he sure does place himself in very important charter school positions.  As well as his “interim” duties at PCA, he also has a slot on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) at the Delaware DOE and is the President of the board for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  He was present at the Senate Education Committee for legislation surrounding charter school audits.  While this may not seem to be a big deal, it is important to know that PCA used the same auditor for their annual audit as Family Foundations Academy for many years.  Both PCA and FFA had major investigations from the State Auditor of Accounts that led to findings of severe financial abuse and theft.  During FFA’s charter renewal, Taylor served on CSAC.  When questions arose among the committee about FFA having a bizarre number of fraternity brothers on their board, Taylor actually defended the FFA board even though it was painfully obvious there was a major conflict of interest at play.  During this time, FFA’s leader, Sean Moore, was the Treasurer for the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  Moore embezzled over $100,000 from FFA according to the inspection report that came out last December.  The State Board of Education placed FFA on probation when it became public about the financial fraud.  Moore was terminated by the re-structured board which eventually removed the fraternity brothers.

All K-2 end of year assessments were created and given to the teachers who are working on administering them to the students. After all tests are complete teachers will submit them to so that data can be gathered on the assessments and determine if any changes need to be made for next school year.

PCA created assessments for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd year students?  Yes, they did.  Who created these assessments?  And if a child failed these tests, the parents were told the student had to go to summer school for a fee of $350.00.  It didn’t seem to matter what their classroom grades were.  Six different parents of first graders received a letter the second week of June indicating their child had failed the reading assessment part of this assessment.  PCA highly recommended sending these kids to summer school.  This is actually a step up for the school, because the original intention was to keep the kids in the same grade if they did poorly on this self-created assessment.  At least two parents pulled their children out as a result.  Was this the intention?  Let’s see: students do bad on an assessment, school tells parents they want the kids to go to summer school for a rather steep fee (told to parents days before this summer school was supposed to start), and parents pull kids out.  I see it as a way to get rid of low-scoring assessment takers without regard to their actual capabilities.

For the Smarter Balanced Assessment results, PCA did rather well on their scores compared to the state average.  They went from 66% proficiency in English/Language Arts to 74%.  In Math, they went from 43% to 55%.  Those are huge gains which will cause the Delaware DOE to award the charter school the token “reward school” status next fall.  I have to wonder how much of these gains and “growth” are engineered by the school in advance.  For the surrounding districts where PCA draws its student base from, the Smyrna School District went from 59% to 66% proficiency in ELA and 45 to 46% in Math.  Capital went from 48% to 50% in ELA and 32% to 36% in Math.  Campus Community School went from 62% to 60% in ELA and 37% to 40% in Math.

A few years ago, one parent pulled her child out of PCA.  Her child, according to the mom, was brilliant.  This student had some minor attention deficits, but was able to get straight As at the school.  PCA insisted on placing the child into a lower-tiered classroom as a 4th grader.  At that time, there were three levels in classrooms: lower, middle, and high.  I would have to assume this was due to Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies for lower grade students when they attended those grades.  But placement in RtI groups usually isn’t based on actual classroom grades.  It is based on how they do on standardized tests.  For this child, being placed in a lower-tier was not a good thing.  The child did not feel challenged.  Many children who are very smart put in this position will tend to act out.  As a result, the school started putting the “bad behavior” label on the student.  Teachers agreed with the mom that the student should not have been at that level.  By the time the school finally put him into the higher level, it was so late in the school year (and after the 2nd wave of DCAS testing) the mother had already decided her child would not attend the school the next year.  The mother stated that the new school had none of these issues and her child has thrived ever since.

Last weekend, I posted an article about Newark Charter School and what I see as “social engineering” to drive up their test scores.  Many of the most fervent charter school supporters are parents of children who do well on these types of tests.  In my opinion, far too many Delaware charters drive their enrollment based on this flawed idea.  When you compare PCA’s demographics to surrounding districts and their closest competition with an area charter school, we see startling changes.

PROVIDENCE CREEK ACADEMY

PCA15-16demographics

SMYRNA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Smyrna1516Demographics

CAPITAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Capital1516Demographics

CAMPUS COMMUNITY SCHOOL

CampusCommunity1516Demographics

The students who score the lowest on the state assessment are special education students.  This has always been the case.  By driving out students with special needs, the overall scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment will automatically go up.  If you have a low population of these students to begin with, which is the case with PCA, it is a guarantee.  Many Delaware charter schools that begin with Kindergarten have screenings with potential applicants.  These screenings, which are meant to show a school where a student is at, can also serve as a way for schools to look for characteristics which could ultimately lead to perceived lower state assessment scores.  I have no doubt this practice takes place at some Delaware charter schools, and I believe PCA does this.  To further muddy the waters of this social engineering practice, PCA came up with some type of assessment for students in K-2 (who do not take the state assessment) to see how they may do on Smarter Balanced, and came up with a way to tick parents off enough they would pull their child out of the school.  Whether by design or unintentional, this is a discriminatory recipe for disaster.  Any school is only as good as the populations it serves.  We know this.  We know the Smarter Balanced Assessment changes constantly and the cut scores change from year to year.  The test is not designed to have a great majority of students showing proficiency.

In a charter school that bases everything on state assessment scores, it can become a pressure cooker for students, parents, and teachers.  This drive to perform on a once-a-year test is everything that is wrong about Delaware education.  And it is becoming clear that this is the environment at PCA.  I have no doubt they have many very positive attributes.  I am sure they do a lot of good things for their students and have a very welcoming community.  But that is the surface.  Underneath is a testing regimen that overshadows everything else.  If you are a smart kid, you will do great.  If you struggle, in any way, there will be issues.  When you look at the school’s Facebook reviews on their page, you see many 5 star designations.  Many of these reviews are from teachers and even the Principal, Audrey Erschen.  Even board members review this school.  When any rating system is purposely stacked toward a certain goal, the perception is deceptive.

While the school appears to be doing better financially, nothing happened with the terminated employee who embezzled large amounts from the school.  The Delaware Attorney General’s office has yet to file charges against this perpetrator.  But that might change.  Earlier in the Spring, state agents were in the school issuing subpoenas for financial records.  Will they find anything more than what already came out from the State Auditor of Account’s inspection released earlier this year?  Time will tell. Providence Creek Academy is the 7th largest charter school in Delaware out of 27 charter schools.  But for their expenditures divided by the number of students, they come in at 26th place.  We know they don’t pay their teachers huge amounts as well compared to surrounding districts.  So where is all their money going?

These are my biggest concerns with this school, and for perspective parents looking at this Delaware charter school, they should be seen as potential red flags.  For those who want to claim I hate charter schools, I don’t.  I think some of our charters do a great job.  I recognize no school is perfect.  But far too many use tactics like this which lead to a type of discrimination, particularly against students with disabilities.  That is intolerable.  But because our state DOE and Governor base everything on test scores on high-stakes tests driven by corporate education reformers, they look the other way.

To view past articles on Providence Creek Academy on this blog, please go here.  To view their board minutes, please go here.  The picture of the Providence Creek Academy campus came from a website belonging to Nickle Electrical Properties who renovated the school six years ago.

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.

BassKing

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…