Tonight, in a half hour part of their monthly meeting, the Delaware State Board of Education approved seven Delaware charter schools to be renewed. Continue reading
On December 20th, the State Board of Education will decide on seven charter school renewals at their monthly meeting after hearing the decision by Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting. Meanwhile, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education will decide on Charter School of Wilmington’s charter renewal. Two charters want a ten-year renewal. Two have submitted minor modification requests to decrease enrollment. Yesterday, the Delaware DOE’s Charter School Office released the final reports for all seven charters up for renewal through their office. Continue reading
When you have 24 charter schools in a state, 22 of which are authorized by the state Department of Education, there are going to be years where the amount of charter renewals are going to go up. This fall, the Delaware DOE Charter School Office and the Charter School Accountability Committee are going to have their hands full as seven charter schools go through their renewal process. Continue reading
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!
Every year, the Delaware State Board of Education gets to vote on charter school renewals. This year, there are seven charter schools up for renewal. I believe this is a record and will keep the Charter School Office busy from now until then. But this year could be different for these renewals because of events going on the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education that are beyond their control. Continue reading
Three more charter schools. Two in New Castle County, one in Kent. One centers around Spanish language skills. Another is a special education theme. One originally began with a theme of zero tolerance with school discipline but changed its tune. One had a ruckus last fall when their school leader was placed on leave because he wanted more pay for teachers. Continue reading
At 5pm, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will give the opening remarks at Freire Charter School of Wilmington’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Freire, who last year submitted a modification request to take away their specific interest clause in their enrollment preferences, was known for their “zero tolerance” policy. Of course, zero tolerance didn’t seem to matter to the former Head of School named Bill Porter who was arrested after assaulting a female protester last March. Members of the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhoods Association protested the school moving in the middle of their neighborhood due to changes in traffic patterns.
It is widely rumored that Markell was instrumental in bringing Freire to town. Freire has a few charter schools in Philadelphia, but they are known for counseling out students. At Freire’s formal review last Spring, due to low enrollment, special education was a main concern of the Delaware Department of Education. Freire had a plan for getting out of state services for its students with disabilities. The DOE said nope. As well, Freire never hired a new head of school. Instead the school is run by their academic heads, Paul Ramirez and Felecia Wennell.
Out of all the education events going on this week, Markell picks a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a charter school. Lame-duck indeed…
Last month at the State Board of Education meeting, former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy announced he approved many charter schools for a minor modification involving their Teacher Evaluation system. The schools are Positive Outcomes Charter School, Family Foundations Academy, Las Americas ASPIRA, Academia Antonia Alsonso, Early College High School, First State Military Academy, and The Delaware Met. Oddly enough, the only school I knew that applied for this does not have anything listed on the Delaware DOE website about this. But Freire Charter School of Wilmington is still on probation status. Family Foundations Academy had their probation lifted at the same State Board of Education meeting. Family Foundation’s alternate teacher evaluation system will fall under the Delaware Charter Collaborative system that already includes East Side, Prestige Academy, Kuumba, and Thomas Edison.
By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education does not need the assent of the State Board of Education to approve a minor modification, nor are formal meetings of the Charter School Accountability Committee or formal Public Hearings. But here’s my thing with all this. One of the questions on the application for a minor modification request is this:
The authorizer will review your most recent Performance Review Reports as part of your application. Discuss the school’s academic performance, compliance with the terms of its charter, and financial viability as measured by the Performance Framework.
Four of these charters have NEVER had a Performance Review since they either opened last year (Academia Antonia Alonso and Early College High School) or this year (First State Military Academy and The Delaware Met). Granted, the first two charters will have a performance review in the next month or so, but my point is this- should we be changing an established system in favor of an alternate system for charters that have never been put through a performance review? In my opinion, this should be reserved for schools that have some data behind them to back this up. One only has to look at the horror show of the past month and a half with The Delaware Met to know they should not be approved for an alternate system for teacher evaluation when they can’t even prove they know how to run a school! Below are all the school’s applications and the section of Delaware code that allows for this.
9.9.1 A minor modification is any proposed change to a charter, including proposed changes to any condition placed on the charter, which is not a major modification. Minor modifications include, but are not limited to:
220.127.116.11 In the case of a charter school which is open with students in attendance, offering educational services at a site other than, or in addition to, the site approved as part of the school’s charter, when use of the approved site has unavoidably been lost by reason of fire or other casualty as that term is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary; or
18.104.22.168 An increase or decrease in the school’s total authorized enrollment of more than 5%, but not more than 15%, provided further the minor modification request must be filed between November 1st and December 31st and, if approved, shall be effective the following school year; or
22.214.171.124 Alter, expand or enhance existing or planned school facilities or structures, including any plan to use temporary or modular structures, provided that the applicant demonstrates that the school will maintain the health and safety of the students and staff and remain economically viable as provided in 4.4 above; or
126.96.36.199 A change to the current authorized number of hours, either daily or annually, devoted to actual school sessions. Regardless of any proposed change, the school shall maintain the minimum instructional hours required by Title 14 of the Delaware Code; or
9.9.2 The Secretary may decide the minor modification application based on the supporting documents supplied with the application unless the Secretary finds that additional information is needed from the applicant.
9.9.3 The Secretary may refer a minor modification request to the Accountability Committee for review if the Secretary determines, in her/his sole discretion, that such review would be helpful in her/his consideration of the application. If the Secretary refers a minor modification application to the Accountability Committee, she/he may decide the application based on any report from the Committee and the supporting documents related to the application. The applicant for a minor modification shall be notified if the minor modification request has been forwarded to the Accountability Committee. The applicant may be asked to provide additional supporting documentation.
9.9.5 Upon receiving an application for a minor modification, the Secretary shall notify the State Board of the application and her/his decision on whether to refer the application to the Accountability Committee.
9.9.6 The meeting and hearing process provided for in Section 511(h), (i) and (j) of the Charter School Law shall not apply to a minor modification application even where the Secretary refers the application to the Accountability Committee.
9.9.7 Decisions for minor modifications to a charter may be decided by the Secretary within 30 working days from the date the application was filed, unless the timeline is waived by mutual agreement of the Secretary and the applicant, or in any case where the Secretary, in the sole discretion of the Secretary, deems that it would be beneficial to either refer the matter to the Accountability Committee or to seek advice from the State Board prior to deciding the matter.
Nowhere in this part of Delaware code is there anything about teacher evaluation systems. But that is covered under the very loose “Minor modifications include, but are not limited to” part of this in 9.9.1. That is a very major change to a school’s operations, and should be a major modification. When these schools apply, the applications go to the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit at the Delaware DOE, led by Chris Ruszkowski. Once they approve it, it goes to the Secretary of Education. But I’m not surprised the DOE and Secretary Murphy would play fast and loose with state code to get what they want with charters…
I really had to crack up when I saw this. For those of you who have never heard of Joel Klein, he is the former New York City Chancellor of Schools and currently sits as the Chief Executive Officer for Amplify. Amplify has been in the news quite a bit lately as the company tanked in spectacular fashion and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch dropped Amplify like a bad habit. Klein likes to claim credit for reforming NYC schools, but he was appointed as Chancellor without the credentials necessary for that role and no classroom experience. His huge offering from Amplify? A tablet that caught fire and only one state bought it in mass quantities.
This isn’t his first rodeo in Delaware. He spoke at a Vision 2015 gig back in 2010, also a gotta pay to get in event. Weeks prior to that, the New York Times reported Klein chickened out from speaking during a protest by parents. Why were the parents upset? New York Times wrote:
The upheaval began after Mr. Klein, among others on the stage, said that despite the drop in this year’s scores after the state recalibrated its standardized exams, students citywide were still making substantial progress, based on graduation rates and other data.
Say, didn’t we hear something very similar this month in Delaware when the Smarter Balanced Assessment results were released? But I digress…
What is Klein’s connections with Greak Oaks? Because we know there is always a connection in the corporate education reform game. He knows the Great Oaks founder, Michael Duffy, very well. Duffy ran the NYC Charter School Office from 2007-2010 when Klein was Chancellor. And Duffy probably knows Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman pretty well, because they both worked under former Massachusetts Governor William Weld back in the 1990s. I bring up Herdman because Rodel is really promoting this gig.
Great Oaks is a charter chain with schools in NYC and Newark, NJ. They opened a charter in Wilmington last month. What is Great Oaks all about? Technology in the classroom, personalized learning, and modeling themselves after a failed chain of schools from Sweden. In an article for The Spectator, Duffy wrote:
On my most recent visit to the UK, I visited a school in Twickenham run by the innovative Swedish network of schools known as Kunskapsskolan (‘knowledge school’). Their approach is to tailor education to each child, with goals set between the student, a tutor and the child’s parents.
I wrote about this huge school voucher privatization failure in Sweden last year. And take a wild guess which school chain was at the top of the list of these failed schools? Kunskapsskolan!
Klein is coming to town to promote his book, Lessons of Hope. It is all about his time as NYC Chancellor. I wonder who wrote this description of the book on Amazon?
Lessons of Hope is Klein’s inside account of his eight-year mission of improvement: demanding accountability, eliminating political favoritism, and battling a powerful teachers union that seemed determined to protect a status quo that didn’t work for kids. Klein’s initiatives resulted in more school choice, higher graduation rates, and improved test scores. The New York City model is now seen as a national standard for meaningful school reform. But the journey was not easy. Klein faced resistance and conflict at every turn.
And what of Klein’s connections with our very own Delaware Governor Jack Markell? We know they have met before and even though Klein and Markell never email each other, at least through official state channels, it’s obvious they have the same ideals. As Markell publicly stated during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “I have no problem with business executives running for office, after all, I am one.” And apparently running the schools for one of the largest cities in the country thrives on that same business executive mentality. But Klein left his role (it was rumored then Mayor Bloomberg was about to boot him out), and went to start up Amplify. And even though Amplify is in the midst of financial controversy, the Delaware Department of Education seems to have no problem handing them money. Between Amplify and their former name of Wireless Generation, Delaware taxpayers through the DOE have given this company $11,530,850.00 since Fiscal Year 2011 and it doesn’t look like that is going to stop anytime soon since many schools are currently using Amplify’s latest testing products.
Back to Great Oaks, this new charter school in the Community Education Building in Wilmington, is run by Kia Childs who was a leader at Mastery Charter Schools and Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School. Touting the school as bringing kids to success by using tutors, Duffy talks about the school here:
In a very odd coincidence, both Great Oaks and Freire opened up shop in Wilmington this year. They are both charter chains. They are both backed by some serious cash. And neither of them show up as schools on Delaware Online Checkbook. Is it because they are new schools? Nope. Delaware Design Lab High School is listed. So how can you find out how much money these schools are paying out? To do that, you have to actually go to “Dept of Education continued” to find Great Oaks Charter School and Freire. I guess that answer’s this question concerning Delaware Online Checkbook, DOE, and Great Oaks. How convenient…
But in the case of Klein’s not-so-cheap visit to Great Oaks, interested attendees have to pay the piper to hear him talk about a book about himself. But don’t worry educators, it’s only $25 for you! Should a public school be able to charge outrageous prices to hear a guy stroke his ego? And where are the proceeds going? In Klein’s pocket or into the classroom to help the children of the school? This event is to “celebrate the launch of our school”, but it sounds like what should be a free and public event is for the Richy Rich crowd.
Fellow blogger Kilroy was not happy about Klein’s first visit to Delaware back in 2010 during another Rodel sponsored event when the tickets were only $50.00. How will he react now that the price has doubled in five years? You don’t have to pay $100 to hear Klein pimp his book though. You can watch it here, if you have the stomach for it:
Hey, did you see that sign behind him? Is that the Aspen Institute? The same corporate education reform “fellowship” “think-tank” Markell, Herdman and soon to be former Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy all belong to? Yes, they all pal around together, our little destroyers of public education!
I was told last week by Alison May, the Public Information Officer for the Delaware Department of Education, that any change in teacher evaluation is considered a minor modification for Delaware charter schools. If this is the case, why are there no applications shown online? The DOE website clearly lists applications for other major and minor modifications, but for Freire and the Wilmington Charter Collaborative (EastSide, Prestige, Kuumba, & Thomas Edison), it does not show any of these. At least not for the change in teacher evaluation.
The state law is very unclear about this aspect in relation to charter schools. The code states all schools must use DPAS-II unless they have been otherwise approved for a different teacher evaluation system. A minor modification is a change in school practices that does not go against their charter. Since the DOE doesn’t list Freire’s actual charter, it is very hard to see if this meets the criteria for a minor or major modification. And still, the DOE needs to be putting any application, from any school or district, up on their website. But Freire seems to get a pass for some reason as their original application is not listed on the Delaware Charter Schools page on the DOE website.
So the unanswered question is this: Can Mark Murphy, in one of his last acts as Delaware Secretary of Education (his last official day is September 30th), approve an alternate evaluation system for Freire without consent from the State Board of Education? I would assume a teacher evaluation part of a Delaware charter school would be embedded in their actual charter. And was the approval for the Wilmington Charter Collaborative legal as well? If anyone has the answers to this, with actual state law to prove it, please let me know. I have searched extensively for this but I am unable to find it. And it’s not like the DOE is actually being proactive and forthcoming with information these days, unless it’s to cover their own ass. And the even bigger question, if it is proven this is a minor modification, should it be considered a major modification?
I reached out to Alison May at the Delaware Department of Education about Freire getting their own teacher evaluation system and I was informed this will be announced at the September 17th State Board of Education meeting. Apparently, Freire Charter School of Wilmington jumped the gun a bit in announcing this at their July board meeting.
As May explained to me, if a charter school request this, it is considered a minor modification which means it does not need State Board of Education assent, just Secretary of Education approval. It first goes through the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit (TLEU) at the DOE, and then to the Secretary. The TLEU approved it in July, which was announced as an approval at their board meeting, but Secretary Murphy had not approved it at that point. He has since, and this is what will be announced at the meeting next week.
I am curious though, with all the emphasis the DOE puts on teacher effectiveness, why this would only be considered a minor modification. Something that big SHOULD have State Board approval as well. What do you think? Not that the unelected State Board ever differs from a Secretary suggestion!
The Delaware State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday June 18th at 1pm. Not only do we have four charter schools awaiting the final decisions of their formal reviews, but we also have more teacher regulations again and more information on the State Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO). The last is an initiative announced by Governor Markell back in March.
The four Delaware charters under formal review are Academy of Dover (Financial and Academic), Prestige Academy (Enrollment and Academic), Freire Charter (Enrollment, became review of their special education services as well), and Delaware Design Lab High School (Enrollment). Freire and Design Lab have met their enrollment figures. Academy of Dover has entered into a settlement agreement with Mosaica who they owed a $2 million judgment to). The academic portions will need to be satisfactory to Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board when they make their decision. The Charter School Accountability Committee recommended probation for all four schools.
You can read all about the meeting. Just click on certain items, like the regulations, and you can see all the pdfs for them. One of them has numerous letters from teachers. All can be seen here: https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=190001&MID=388
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education will make their final decision on Freire Charter School of Wilmington, along with three others, on Thursday at the State Board meeting. But did the Charter School Accountability Committee look the other way for Freire? It is well-known in many circles that Governor Jack Markell wanted Freire in Delaware. But why this school?
In my FOIA request to Markell’s office for emails between the Governor and Dr. Paul Herdman of Rodel fame, I got a very weak response. However, certain things I read in there wound up giving strong hints of later stories. Take, for example, this email from Herdman to Markell in February 2010 concerning Race To The Top. Herdman was attempting to get Markell to meet with “top” policy leaders. Included in this was one Bill Porter, a consultant for the Gates Foundation. Yes, this is the same Bill Porter who was the former Head of School for Freire when he was ousted last month due to being arrested for assault and menacing charges concerning the March incident when he scuffled with some protesters outside the school. (As well, this email also has Herdman wanting Jack to meet another “top” advisor, someone named Mark Murphy)
This is Delaware, so chances are the DOE can break the law and no one will care. However, one of the Midtown Brandywine residents that is protesting the school opening in their neighborhood, had the following public comment at their public hearing the other night:
Below is my final Online Comment regarding Freire Charter School:
This has been a long and difficult seven-month struggle for me and many of my neighbors, in our efforts to be heard and responded to by CSAC and the State Department of Education. I, and many others opposed to the location of Freire in our small neighborhood, have submitted many online and US mail comments; we have also spoken at several CSAC Public Hearings; so far, to no avail.
It is my hope that CSAC, DOE, and the State Board of Education will pay careful attention to our neighborhood’s plea to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter due to non-compliance with the City of Wilmington’s Zoning Code, as well as with Charter School regulations. (Our issues re: the Zoning Code are being handled by our legal counsel, Richard Abbott, Esq.)
We have been requesting that the Department of Education require Freire to submit a Request for a Major Modification to their Charter (BASED ON CHANGE OF LOCATION) since the end of last year. This Request should be reviewed CSAC, DOE, and the State Board Of Education. On December 28, 2014 a letter was sent to Secretary Mark Murphy by our Neighborhood Association President, Ben Cohen. That letter was never answered. Nor were letters and requests at CSAC Public Hearings by several neighbors.
This past Monday, I again made this request at the CSAC Final Public Hearing. I also submitted paper copies of all the oral testimony, online comments, and exhibits that our neighbors and local elected officials have provided to CSAC since February 2015. In addition to a copy for CSAC, I submitted a hard copy for the State Board of Education. That paper testimony fills a 2-inch loose leaf binder.
Here is a brief summary of why we are asking for this Major Modification Request:
Freire’s original Charter specified that they would be in a “Flagship” Building at 920 French Street, and everything from square footage to programs was written around that premise in their Charter application. Apparently, a Public Hearing was held about that location, which is more than 8 blocks from our neighborhood, but we had never heard about it. Then, Freire was rejected for that location, and chose our neighborhood. We were never given the opportunity to attend a Public Hearing or object to the location before CSAC made a decision.
There is supposed to be Community Representation on the Charter School’s Board. There are no members of this neighborhood on the Board. There are only 5 Freire Board members, none of whom have attended any CSAC or School Board meetings, or responded to neighbors’ letters, until just this past Monday. Freire refers to “community involvement,” but it has been non-existent.
On the Department of Education’s Website you will find the “Delaware DOE Charter School Modification Application” form. That document clearly states and requires that Charters submit a Request for a Major Modification due to Change of Location. This was actually required of the Design Lab Charter, but not of Freire.
Section H-2 of that form requests information about changes in siting; space availability; cost differences; safety; co-locating of programs, etc. I can’t fully address all of those topics in detail here. They should have been addressed in a Public Hearing re: the appropriate Major Modification Request that was never submitted by Freire.
Here are some of the changes that have resulted from the Change in Location:
The school has a single small entrance on a narrow, one-way street.
Traffic is already congested, and child safety will be a concern.
There is no transportation plan; buses cannot fit down our small street. Freire relies on DART dropping students off blocks away from the school.
There is insufficient parking, as required by City Code.
The school now has $2 million dollars in loans (Barclay’s Bank and McConnell/Johnson developers) and a $800,000 Line of Credit (Barclay’s Bank).
There is no longer a Gym as specified in the original application.
There is no longer a Physical Education program or teacher, till year #3.
There is no longer a cafeteria — but a lunch room and boxed lunches, instead.
There is a business located on the 2nd floor (Freire will be on the 1st and 3rd floors). They will be sharing an entrance, an elevator and a staircase.
There is no longer a Head of School; instead, there are two “Academic Heads,” each with only 4 years of teaching experience, and none in leading a school.
Once again, I urge CSAC, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education to revoke or delay Freire’s Charter.
Marilyn J. “Lyn”) Doto
Say, isn’t physical education a mandatory course in Delaware schools? If the State Board and Murphy actually don’t honor the state regulation in regards to charter modification and change of location, I hope these feisty residents sue the hell out of not only Freire, but the DOE and the State Board of Education. What a crock! And William Porter… a zero tolerance school and that… yet he still works for the organization. Bill Gates would be so proud!
The formal review public comment period for the four Delaware charter schools officially ends tomorrow. You can email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and they must have them by 5pm est. This is your last chance to get your say on the formal reviews for Academy of Dover, Prestige Academy, Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School. Good or bad, this is it.
Secretary of Education Mark Murphy will issue his decision on the recommendations of probation by the Charter School Accountability Committee for all four charters next Thursday at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting. The meeting starts at 1pm, but based on their schedule, I can’t see the charter part happening before 2:30pm. You can give public comment at State Board of Education meetings, but not about the four charters. These are the State Board guidelines for public comment:
Time has been allocated at the beginning of the meeting for individuals or groups to address the State Board on general issues and on agenda items at the time they are before the Board for discussion. Board Agenda items with formal comment periods or discrete identified records, such as Charter School applications or renewals, Department of Education and Professional Standards Board regulations, and student disciplinary appeals, are not open for comment at the Board meeting at which action is to be taken. At least 15 minutes prior to the meeting being called to order, persons wishing to address the Board should sign up on the appropriate form, giving their name and topic they will address. Comments should be limited to five minutes and each group should choose one representative to speak. Speakers will be recognized by the Board President in the order their names appear on the sign up list. As circumstances require, the Board President may at his/her discretion, limit the number of persons allowed to speak, as well as designate the time for comments.
Please Note: Normally, the Board will not respond to questions by or engage in a dialogue with those offering comments during the Board meeting, but may respond in writing to a person or group.
The Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Department of Education is holding the final Public Hearings for Freire Charter School, Prestige Academy and Delaware Design Lab High School tonight in the 2nd floor auditorium at the Carvel Building in Wilmington at 5pm. Academy of Dover will have their final public hearing tomorrow night at the main Delaware DOE building across from Legislative Hall at 5pm tomorrow in the 2nd floor Cabinet Room.
These are not public hearings where the schools are on trial. Rather, it gives the public time to give comment on these schools official formal review proceedings. There is a transcript which is put on the DOE website a couple days after.
I anticipate quite a few of the community members near the new Freire sight to protest this school’s location again. For Academy of Dover, God only knows what will come out at this hearing!
On Wednesday, June 3rd, at 1pm, the four Delaware charter schools under formal review will have their final Charter School Accountability Committee meetings. The meeting will be held at the Townshend Building in Dover, home to the Delaware Department of Education.
It remains to be seen if Academy of Dover will be able to overcome the odds and save itself. The key for Delaware Design Lab and Prestige Academy will be their current enrollment figures. Freire has already met those figures, and at last count was at 93%. All they needed was 80%. Prestige will also need to prove if they are worthy enough academically.
This is the major problem with the DOE holding any school accountable for academics at this point in time. DCAS is over, and Smarter Balanced is here, at least for this year. Schools should not be double penalized for last year’s DCAS scores. They shouldn’t be punished at all for standardized test scores.
Academy of Dover has to prove they are financially viable with a $2 million dollar judgment staring them in the face. They face the academic battle as well. But the even more dangerous threat for them is one student. One student with autism who represents the severe danger of this school staying open. One student whose mother will stand up for him and reveal all. Blue Ribbon status won’t be enough to save Academy of Dover. But one student…one student could shut them down for good.
The fate of them all will be decided on June 18th, at the State Board of Education meeting…
Below are the public hearing from the Academy of Dover and Freire Charter School’s Public Hearings, required as a part of their formal review.
Last night, at the public hearing for Freire Charter School in Wilmington, several citizens from the Midtown Brandywine neighborhood in Wilmington spoke in opposition to the school’s move to the middle of their neighborhood. This group has been protesting since last fall when the school announced the change in location. It was announced by the Assistant Head of Academics last night that Bill Porter, the Head of School for Freire, was removed last week as head of school. This was also talked about at the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) for Freire’s initial formal review meeting last week.
No reasons were cited for Porter’s removal, but at the CSAC meeting, representatives from the school did say he is still with the Freire organization. Two months ago, there was a very awkward conflict with the school’s neighbors in this situation. The police were called, but no charges were pressed.
The controversy concerning Freire doesn’t stop with concerned neighbors. The school’s zero tolerance policy is cited as a specific interest for choice applicants, but in March the school was approved by the State Board of Education to have this removed from their enrollment preference. Up until recently, the school had a “10 Things To Know” page on their website which had the zero tolerance policy and a statement telling parents if their child is not going to college to take them to a different school.
During the CSAC meeting last week, a representative from the school told the committee about their plans for students with disabilities. One of the attendees wrote on their Facebook page:
The CSAC notes are basically correct, though sketchy. They leave out things like, Ms. Davenport’s telephone response re: Freire’s plan for Intense and Complex students was, “We see nothing wrong with sending them over the State line into Chester Couny” to a private special needs school, as is their practice in Philadelphia. Mr. Blowman, wisely, stopped that conversation; and I presume a new, more-informed response will come forward from this ill-prepared school.
I’m not sure sure why this school thinks they could have circumvented around Delaware law with regards to special education, but I certainly hope the CSAC and the Delaware DOE take this arrogance into account when they make their decision.
What do these Delaware Charter Schools have in common: Academy of Dover, Freire Charter School of Wilmington, Prestige Academy and Delaware Design Lab High School? Not only are they all under formal review, but the Charter School Accountability Committee came out with their initial reports in the last hour!
We start the show with Academy of Dover. Having attended this meeting, it is missing some crucial moments, but that’s okay. I’m sure it will all come out in the wash!
Next up is Freire Charter School of Wilmington. Not even opened yet, and they are already up for formal review. But they do have a get out of jail free card if they decide to use it….
Prestige Academy sure does have a lot going against it right now. Academic and enrollment are not good reasons to have a formal review placed on your school!
Last, but not least, is Delaware Design Lab High School. They already received a new lease on life last year with a modification to reduce their enrollment. They can only use this trick once. Will they get their enrollment up?
It’s very sad when 18% of the charter schools in the state are under a formal review. Actually, make that 23% if Red Clay puts the formal review screws on Delaware College Prep. The final reports, after public hearings tomorrow and Wednesday will be issued two days after the final committee meetings on June 5th.
At the State Board of Education meeting today, four Delaware charters, two of which have not even opened yet, were all put on formal review. Two were for enrollment, one was for enrollment and academic issues, and the last was for academic and financial issues.
Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School were put on formal review for low enrollment. As per Delaware state code, an approved charter school must have 80% of it’s fall enrollment by April 1st. Freire had a major modification approved to reduce their enrollment cap from 336 to 224 at last month’s State Board meeting. As of April 1st, they were at 78 and today they are at 92. Delaware Design Lab is going through the same growing pains as well. Other charters scheduled to open next year have the following enrollment percentages- Great Oaks: 100%, First State Military: 94% and Delaware Met: 81%. Freire could ask for a one-year extension to open, but they would have to do so by 5/12. Delaware Design Lab already was granted a one-year extension last year, which can only be done once.
Prestige Academy was placed on Formal Review for low enrollment as well as academic reasons. Out of their 225 enrollment cap, they were at 59% as of 4/1 with 186 enrollments, and today they are at 190. Their academic percentage of proficiency also went down 17% between the 2012-2013 year and the 2013-2014 year, from 56% to 39.1%. What muddies the waters on this formal review is the framework for Smarter Balanced won’t be available until January for all schools. For all three of the enrollment formal reviews, Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education Jennifer Nagourney said “Funding drives academic programs.” And the schools funding is based on enrollment figures.
Academy of Dover, also in the hot seat for academic reasons definitely has some major financial issues going on. Like Family Foundations Academy, they are being audited by State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office. This also explains why the financial part of their performance framework has not been updated on the DOE website since last fall. The school’s auditor noticed some financial irregularities and it was sent to Wagner’s office. They couldn’t put anything up while the audit investigation was going on. Nagourney did share there is a litigation matter going on with the school but she was unable to give any details. I asked her specifically if the litigation had anything to do with former Head of School Noel Rodriguez resigning last fall, and stated she wasn’t sure of that. She did state the auditing issues began an the same time Rodriguez resigned. I’m sure there is much more to the story about Academy of Dover than what we are hearing, and I’ve already put some feelers out there.
Academia Antonia Alonso was taken off probation status, Odyssey Charter is complying with their required meeting with the Public Integrity Commission and will meet with them later this month, and Family Foundations Academy submitted their first monthly report to the charter school office as a condition of their probation status given by the State Board of Education last month.
After the meeting, I spoke with Nagourney and David Blowman, the Deputy Secretary of Education, along with Matthew Albright of the News Journal, Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks/WHYY and Larry Nagengast with WDDE for a q and a on these issues. The big question which the DOE was not able to answer was why these enrollment figures are so low. The question was asked if the charter market in Wilmington is saturated. but the fact that two other charters opening next fall makes this a difficult issue. Blowman explained that a change in enrollment deadlines coupled with a first count of funding based on enrollment figures based on a 5/1 count seems to be causing problems this year. When asked by Wolfman-Arent about any “ghost” schools, where an approved charter never opened due to low enrollment, Blowman and Nagourney did not know of any.
And yes, I was shocked to be invited to this impromptu media gathering!