Design Thinking Academy Next Delaware Charter School To Shut Down

Another Delaware charter school is shutting down at the end of the 2018-2019 school year as Design Thinking Academy will close.  Despite receiving a $10 million dollar grant from XQ schools and changing their name last fall from Delaware Design-Lab High School to Design Thinking Academy the five-year old charter school could not retain and recruit new students.

On the charter school’s website the following announcement appeared tonight:

Design Thinking Academy Community, it is with a heavy heart that I write tonight to inform you that Design Thinking Academy will close its doors at the end of this school year. On Thursday night, the school’s board of directors voted to relinquish our charter to the state.

This is a decision we did not take lightly. Frankly, it was not unanimous. But the simple truth is this: We have been unable to attract the number of students needed to keep our school financially viable.

For the past two years, we have worked to reverse our declining enrollment numbers, but those efforts have not resulted in the applications we need to be viable. We fell below the minimum enrollment mandated by our charter as of May 1. Due to this, we will not be able to run this school with the excellence that your children deserve.

I want to make one point very clear: We will finish this school year. Our seniors will graduate, our students will continue to attend classes, and our doors will remain open. A few school days at the end of the school year calendar may not be needed to meet state requirements. If the decision is made to cancel school on any specific days, an updated calendar will be sent out as soon as possible.

It is important that you immediately start thinking about what school your students will attend next year. We hope to provide the resources you need to find the right school for your student. Starting tonight, you can go to bit.ly/DEPublicSchools for information about Delaware public schools. Lists of schools with openings and dates for school Open Houses will be on our website and sent home with students tomorrow. In addition, the Delaware Charter Schools Network will host a school fair on campus in late May, where representatives from Delaware schools with openings for the 2019-20 school year will be available to help you through the application process. As soon as we confirm a date, we will let you know.

I understand this will be a difficult time for everyone involved – students, staff, and teachers alike. If you have any questions about the process or the reason why this decision was  made, please feel free to reach out to me at dtaboardofdirectors.com or the school at 302- 292-5450.

On behalf of the board, administration, and staff of Design Thinking Academy, I want you to know that it has been our honor to educate your students over the past four years. To our students, I wish this story could have a different ending, but as this chapter closes, another begins for you, and I have no doubt you will design a great future.

While the charter school didn’t receive the entire $10 million dollar grant from XQ it begs the question of how well they spent the money they did receive.  To see a list of the issues that plagued the school from the get-go, please go here: Delaware Design-Lab

In a school year where Delaware got a federal grant to expand charter schools this is a clear sign that being overzealous with charter school openings is never a good thing.  Following charter closures such as Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Prestige Academy, Delaware Met, and others, Design Thinking Academy follows the disturbing trend of charter closures in Delaware.

Advertisements

State Board Of Ed Puts DE Academy of Public Safety & Security On Formal Review

Last night, the Delaware State Board of Education unanimously put Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security on formal review for academic and financial reasons.  The 6-0 vote puts the New Castle charter school through a two-month review period where they have to meet with the Charter School Accountability Committee and go through public hearings.  The placement of a charter school to formal review status does not mean they are being shut down.  Putting a school under formal review is the process.  Any decision to leave a school open or shut it down takes place after a formal review and the findings that come out of that.

I knew their enrollment was low but that isn’t the only reason they went under the formal review knife.  Academics played a big part.  This is always tough for me to support because I loathe the use of standardized testing in punishing any school.  With DAPSS, they went from Smarter Balanced to the SAT in a two-year period.  In 2015, the SAT was remade to include Common Core.

Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will make her recommendation to the State Board of Education at their March 15th meeting and then the State Board votes on that recommendation.  The letter from Secretary Bunting notifying the school of their formal review status, the timeline, and their performance matrices for each category are included below.

Either the Charter School Office was ready for the State Board to vote for the formal review or they are able to predict the future, because the below PDF was created at 1pm yesterday, four hours before the State Board of Education began their meeting!  I would have to say the school’s founder, Charlie Copeland, is not happy about this!

Called It! Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security Submitted For Formal Review!

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security is in a very tight spot.  Very low enrollment is causing Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting to request a formal review of the charter school.  The State Board of Education will consider the recommendation at their meeting on Thursday, January 18th.

A formal review in January.  The timing on this is very interesting.  If a charter school doesn’t have 80% of their enrollment by the Spring, they can go on formal review for that.  They should have gone on formal review for low enrollment for a long time.  But when they failed to hit those enrollment numbers in their September 30th count, that can no longer be ignored.

For Delaware charter schools, this school does have a very unique purpose, to promote public safety and security (thus the name).  It is such an exact niche for students.  Perhaps it was a bit too specific.  Enrollment has steadily been going down for years.  It would take a miracle for them to get their enrollment up to at least 80% in the middle of a school year.  Low enrollment causes charters to lose a lot of money to the point where they are no longer financially viable.

This will be the first formal review in two years.  The last was Delaware STEM Academy who never opened due to low enrollment numbers.

 

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Herbert Sheldon & The Board

What? Who in the world is Herbert Sheldon? Who is the Board? While you may not know this name right now unless you are very involved in Delaware education, you soon will. Why? Continue reading

Delaware Design-Lab Is Below 65% Enrollment… Time For Formal Review?

In 2016, the Delaware State Board of Education approved a major modification request to lower their enrollment.  This year, they are supposed to be at 475 students based on that approval.  Charter schools have to be at 80% enrollment to be financially viable.  That number would be 380 for Delaware Design-Lab High School this year.  They are below 300 students according to sources.  Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting recommend formal review for the struggling charter school?

The dangling carrot for Design-Lab is their $10 million prize from XQ.  The school is currently interviewing positions for their three deans.  But those funds can only be used for very specific purposes.  It is not meant for salary increases for teachers.  But according to an anonymous source, the Interim Head of School (Rebecca Collins) is promising teachers increases.  How can the school afford this with their low enrollment?  Many teachers are fearing for their jobs due to the school’s low enrollment.  Since the Board of Directors ousted Dr. Joseph Mock a couple of weeks ago, a wave of parents have pulled their kids out.  Their enrollment tally was due to the Delaware Department of Education on Friday because of the annual September 30th enrollment count.

Historically, the Delaware State Board of Education has put charters on formal review for low enrollment because below 80% charters are not financially viable.  Many charters (including Design-Lab) faced this review in 2015.  They all squeaked by with higher enrollment by the time the State Board voted that July.

For a charter like Design-Lab, they had their enrollment lowered after that and still can’t get anywhere close to their approved numbers.  Many parents don’t seem to be wowed by the XQ award.  Three different leaders have been in charge in the past nine months with another new one coming on.  I did find out Rebecca Collins did step down from the board to take the interim leader role and plans to go back on the board once the new leader is in place.  But Joseph Mock was definitely fired from his position.

At the Delaware DOE, charters are overseen by the Charter School Office.  Since Denise Stouffer replaced Jennifer Nagourney in July, 2016, no charter schools have been placed on formal review.  Will Delaware Design-Lab High School be the first?

Delaware DOE Isn’t Digging Delaware STEM Academy Right About Now

The Delaware State Board of Education put the Delaware STEM Academy on formal review at their April meeting for low enrollment and financial viability.  At their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting on May 10th, the committee said the school was out of compliance in every single area in their formal review.

The main area of concern which prompted the school to ask for a formal review (yes, they asked because the DOE was about to do it anyways) is due to low enrollment.  And it is very low.  Their approved charter calls for 250 students.  By April 1st prior to the next school year, all Delaware charters must have 80% of their approved enrollment.  Delaware STEM Academy needed 200 enrolled students.  Applications and pending decisions don’t count.  They must be enrolled.  As of April 15th, the school had 91 enrolled students.  As of May 10th, they had 113.  They aren’t even close to 80% with their current 45.2%.  And we are approaching the end of May.

In a cover letter sent to the Charter School Office requesting their formal review from 4/15, their Board President, Ted Williams, informs the Delaware DOE they have entered into a contract with Innovative Schools.  But in the initial report from the 5/10 meeting, we see something very different:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether it has a final contract with Innovative Schools. Mr. B. Taylor stated that the contract has been approved by the board but it is not yet signed.

While this may be seen as being picky on my part, “entering into a contract” would imply the contract was signed.  In the DOE’s eyes, a signed contract could be helpful in determining their decision in the school’s favor.  It would show the school has support in place to help put the foundations together by the time the school opens.  But implying a month earlier there is a signed contract only to find out there is no signed contract during their CSAC meeting probably wasn’t a wise choice from Delaware STEM Academy.

One part of the below report which I found to be a bit arrogant was this:

Ms. Field Rogers asked the school whether the grant funds would be returned if the school does not open. Mr. B. Taylor agreed that the funds would be returned to the funders. Mr. Williams added the private donations would not be returned.

This probably isn’t the best idea either unless it was explicitly told to those donating money it wouldn’t be returned in the event the school doesn’t open.  It may cause others to think twice before donating to charters before they even open.

This is the part I don’t get though.  The school wanted 250 students as their approved enrollment for their first year with students in 9th and 10th grade.  Here we are, over two years since the school was approved, and the DOE is allowing the school to submit a budget scenario where they have 105 students.  Is this even allowable as per Title 14 of Delaware code?  It is, if that is what the school applied for.

…and enrollment of no less than 200 students at full enrollment and no less than 100 students during the first 2 years of operation…

The school didn’t submit a modification request to change their enrollment numbers.  This charter school was approved back in April of 2014.  They already got a one year extension from Mark Murphy.  Delaware Design-Lab High School faced this scenario last year, but their enrollment numbers weren’t at the danger levels Delaware STEM Academy is at.  You can only use that get-out-of-jail-free card once in Delaware.  Here we are over two years later and they still aren’t even close to being ready to open.  Granted, between Delaware Met’s closure this year and what I dubbed Wilmingtonitis yesterday with an overabundance of charter schools, it is obvious we are way past the saturation point in Northern New Castle County for charter schools.  This is not looking good…

asdf

Will Prestige Academy Survive Charter Renewal?

The outlook for Prestige Academy is not good in my opinion.  Like I just posted in the Academy of Dover charter renewal article, one of the biggest factors going against the school is the state assessment which is extremely dangerous to any public school in Delaware.  But the biggest danger this school faces is a case of Wilmingtonitis.  There are just too many charter schools in Wilmington and Prestige faces serious enrollment issues.

Despite their recent modification, Prestige still faces enrollment issues.  All Delaware charter schools are required to meet 80% of their enrollment by April 1st before the next academic year begins.  The school was placed on formal review along with two other Delaware charter schools last year.  They barely got their enrollment up by the time they were put on probation as recommended by then Secretary of Education Murphy and passed by the State Board of Education.  According to the Charter School update presented to the State Board of Education in April, Prestige Academy was at 76% of their enrollment for the 2016-2017 school year as of April 19th, with 182 students enrolled based on their approved charter enrollment of 240 students, thus putting them ten students shy of meeting the mark.

The most startling part from the Delaware Department of Education charter renewal report is the following:

Should Prestige Academy Charter School not make a deposit of funds sufficient to cover the school’s end of year expenditures in May, the Department of Education may take measures to freeze the school’s spending and establish payroll reserves.

That is NOT a good place for any school to be in.  It means there are very serious concerns about their financial viability.  In the below response to the DOE charter renewal report, the school does not even address their enrollment and financial issues.  That is not a good start to what will be a long seven months until the State Board of Education issues its final recommendation about Prestige Academy’s charter renewal on December 15th of this year.  With that being said, can Wilmington take yet another charter school closing down and the instability this causes for the students who have to transition to another school?  With no less than four charter schools closing down in upper New Castle County in the past three years (Pencader Business School, Moyer, Reach Academy for Girls, and Delaware Met), most of these schools serviced high populations of low-income and minority students.  While they obviously didn’t get a lot of things right, it still contributed to some of the current problems we are seeing in Wilmington education.

 

 

Delaware Met Under Consideration For Formal Review At State Board Of Education Meeting This Week

The Delaware Met certainly got the Delaware Department of Education’s notice, and not in a good way.  This was just updated on the agenda for the State Board of Education meeting this Thursday.  Now how this works, this is just a recommendation.  It is presented to the State Board.  The Acting Secretary of Education (Dr. Steven Godowsky) and the State Board have to give assent.  I have a strong feeling this will happen.  Here we go again…

The DOE Charter School Office is seeking to submit  the charter of The Delaware Met to formal review to determine whether the school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures under the Delaware Code. 

 

The issues for formal review include, but are not limited to, concerns about the school’s compliance with its charter, financial viability, policies regarding student conduct and discipline, and appropriate strategies to accommodate the needs of at-risk students and those needing special education services.

 

In accordance with the requirements of 14 Del. C. . § 511(c), the Department is seeking the assent of the Acting Secretary and the State Board of Education to the formal review of The Delaware Met.

I’m hearing two founding members of The Delaware Met’s Board of Directors resigned from the board last night. As well, Innovative Schools is telling the board everything is going great, but the reality on the ground is vastly different. Parents want out, but they are being told the students can’t leave because it is after the September 30th date when schools in Delaware get their funding.

To anyone wishing to leave Delaware Met: You have something called “Good Cause”. If the school isn’t living up to their obligations in providing even a basic education and can’t get the school climate under control, you can present a case to the DOE. Call the Charter School Office tomorrow at phone number 302-735-4020. Let them know what is going on there and why you want to transfer your child out. This is a very unique situation with this school, and I can’t recall this happening before.

Delaware DOE: I’m not sure it is safe to keep this school open all year long. You may want to take a drastic step here for the benefit of all the students…