Innovative Schools Innovatively Closed

 

Screenshot_2019-06-24 Site Unavailable

The organization that ran a ton of back-end business operations for many Delaware charter schools is kaput.  Their website is unavailable and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2015.  While details are few about when and why they shut down, I will write more details as they emerge.

 

I’ve written about Innovative Schools many times on this blog.  They have been involved in the financial aspect of schools such as The Delaware Met and the Academy of Dover when they had their fraud there with Noel Rodriguez.  I did call their phone number which still answers as Innovative Schools but no one picks up.  You can leave a message.  Not sure what is going on there.

The company was founded in 2008 by former Christina School District Director Debbie Doordan.  Another noteworthy past President of the company was Riccardo Stoeckicht who now works at Odyssey Charter School in the position of “Global Education Campus Operations Officer”.  His name has been affiliated with recent financial misdoings at the school.  As part of a long list of reasons, Odyssey is under formal review with the Delaware Department of Education.

 

 

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Rodel’s Paul Herdman Has To Love His Insane $398,000 (And Counting) Salary! Plus: Rodel’s Friends Make Big Bucks Too!

Based on their 2015 tax filing, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Paul Herdman, makes an astonishing $398,000.  Keep in mind this was in 2015 so he is most likely well over that pesky $400,000 barrier.  Good lord!  I found lots of interesting stuff in this tax filing, signed off by Dr. Paul Herdman on May 12th, 2017.  As well, I looked up some of Rodel’s best friends and found TONS of information on them as well! Continue reading

Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning: How The Lawsuit Against Christina And The Delaware DOE Happened

On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School.  The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education.  William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.

Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”.  In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:

I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.

Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995.  But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.

Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP.  It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above.  Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS.  And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration.  The irony is still astounding!  Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:

Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”

Whatever Kendall!  Many decisions were made without full clarity.  In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers.  In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.

This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates.  Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th.  Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step.  In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.


From: May Alison <alison.may@doe.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request

Rep. Kowalko,

Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.

I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?

Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.

Please send me a timeline of events, including:

When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.

                *Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)

                *Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)

                *Christina response received June 8 (see attached)

Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE

                *David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley

When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents

                *August 8 (see attached)

When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts

                *August 12 (see attached)

When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts

                *August 16 (see attached)

When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina

                *See above dates

Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week.  Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett

As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.

This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.

And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue.  Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.

In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008.  Why 2008?  At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery.  Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education.  The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE.  Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit.  But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why.  I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe.  But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.

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

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.

Social Impact Bonds: Will They Happen In Delaware Or Are They Already Here?

social-impact-bonds

Social Impact Bonds, or “Pay For Success” programs, exist in many states around the country.  To date, Delaware has only participated in a handful of these kinds of programs and none in the education arena.  Social Impact Bonds began in the United Kingdom and since 2011, companies have slowly started bringing them to different states.  Basically, these are programs where an investor (like Goldman Sachs) decides they can change some type of society issue (like getting pre-Kindergartners the resources they need so they don’t have to go into special education programs when they enter elementary school).  They go to the state, sign a very lengthy contract, and based on the goal (like 99% of over 200 students in Pre-K programs won’t get IEPs after their investment) and they get the money back.  If they exceed the goal, they may get more (like $277,000 for Goldman Sachs in the Utah Pre-K special education prevention program).

This issue has come up a bit in the past couple months because of a few entries in the Every Student Succeeds Act mentioning Pay For Success.  Today, Diane Ravitch wrote about it again based on a recent editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune by two federal US government employees.  One of them is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education, Libby Doggett, and the other is the Director of The White House Office of Social Innovation, David Wilkinson.

Instead of tearing down new ideas and innovative approaches before they have even had the chance to be fully implemented, let’s applaud those who recognize the urgency of educating children differently and better. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s celebrate what’s working and improve where we are learning lessons.

The validity of the Utah Pay For Success program came under immediate scrutiny because of the 99% victory Goldman Sachs claimed.  Issues immediately surfaced around the reliability of the district’s data when it came to being able to identify these students for special education services.  This could never happen in Delaware though, right?  I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell is all too aware of what Goldman Sachs was doing in Utah.  In fact, he praised them for it in a joint editorial in the online magazine called Roll Call in December, 2014.  In the opinion piece, Markell and his co-contributor stated:

In Salt Lake County, Mayor Ben McAdams is pioneering a new way for government to focus on what works best. Knowing the impact that quality pre-kindergarten programs have, particularly in lower-income communities, McAdams is using Pay for Success Bonds, where private investors pay for the up-front costs of pre-school and get paid back if the programs succeed in saving taxpayers money from fewer at-risk kids using more expensive programs such as special ed. This pay-for-success model gives government the tools to fund an ounce of evidence-based prevention on the front end out of cost savings on the back end—and can be applied to a variety of social services.

The same year, a company called Start It Up Delaware formed.  Using Social Impact Bonds as their source of funding to new companies, the company was formed based on capital provided by Discover Bank.  The funding for the Social Impact Bonds came from the Delaware Community Foundation, also the chief source of funding for the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  While this particular company did not begin any education related projects, the link back to the Delaware Community Foundation and in turn, Rodel, could open this possibility in Delaware.  Markell was also well aware of this venture because he gave the opening remarks at their launch reception in June of 2014.

In 2013, Newsworks wrote about a program Delaware participated in along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.  This initiative placed AmeriCorps members in Delaware to give relief to the National Guard.  The program used part of its funding from Social Innovation Funds.  Markell, along with US Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper, was on hand for the big announcement.

Last summer, the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services met to plan a potential new program called “Healthy Neighborhoods”.  One of the potential long-term funding machines for this initiative is social impact bonds.  In fact, the Chair of the Delaware Center for Health Innovation is also the Executive Chairman of Innovative School Development Corporation, Matt Swanson.  It was his idea for social impact bonds as part of the funding for the Healthy Neighborhoods project.  In the meeting minutes for the Delaware Health Care Commission, from July 2nd, 2015, Swanson explained the concept of social impact bonds:

Dennis Rochford asked how social impact bonds work in terms of the long term sustainable funding. Mr. Swanson stated that a social impact bond is a funding mechanism that allows philanthropy. Instead of making one time grants that have an end date it is more of a renewable approach where philanthropy can come in through bond funding that will eventually be repaid through marketable innovations that have a future cash flow. Sometimes that offset of dollars is measured against social impact. Instead of repaying actual dollars on the bond there is a measurable impact that offsets the dollar repayment.

And where would these funds come from?

Mr. Swanson stated that they have state resources available and have had multiple meetings with the Delaware Community Foundation.

Not to get off point, but to read the minutes for this Healthy Neighborhoods initiative as well as the presentation on it, go here and here.

So we have the Delaware Community Foundation/Rodel connection, and now an Innovative Schools connection.  Anyone else?

There could be a very large part of the Delaware Department of Education looking to use social impact bonds in their initiatives, especially since their funding from Race To The Top expired on June 30th, 2015.  The Office of Early Learning, which oversees pre-Kindergarten in Delaware, is getting $11 million in Governor Markell’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, if approved by the General Assembly.  But I could easily see this area of the DOE utilizing the part of Every Student Succeeds Act to bring in investors to “Pay For Success” in Delaware nursery schools.  I recently attended a presentation by the Director of the Office of Early Learning, Susan Perry-Manning, at the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago.  She talked about the funding this program needs now that the feds money has dried up.  Throughout the presentation I heard the words “corporation” and “business” several times.  It wasn’t just myself that took notice of that either.

In terms of legislation which would allow this in Delaware, it already happened when nobody was even thinking about it.  Last year, Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Bill 75 which allows more advantages to “social enterprising” companies incorporated in Delaware.  According to The National Law Review, this bill was huge:

Although not an early adopter of social enterprise legislation, Delaware has become one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in which social enterprises are incorporated, and is now home to some of the largest and best known benefit corporations, including newcomers Laureate Education, Inc. and Kickstarter, PBC.  Along with other amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), Senate Bill 75, which was signed by Governor Jack Markell on June 24, 2015, amended Delaware’s public benefit corporation law (Sections 361-368 of the DGCL), effective August 1, 2015.

While I am certainly delving into areas outside of my comfort zone when it comes to corporations, I’m seeing this as a backdoor entrance for “benefit for profit” corporations to operate easier.  Was this done in anticipation of the Every Student Succeeds Act?  It wouldn’t surprise me.  I doubt Senator Townsend was aware of this unintended consequence, but Markell signed it and it is now a part of Delaware State Code.  House Bill 235, which was recently passed in the Delaware House of Representatives, could definitely be seen as a boon to companies looking to start-up in Delaware.  This bill, introduced on January 8th of this year and shot through the General Assembly at lightning speed and signed by Governor Markell on January 27th, “reforms Delaware’s business tax code to incentivize job creation and investment in Delaware, to make Delaware’s tax structure more competitive with other states, and to support small business by making tax compliance less burdensome.”  As well as potentially being a pawn in the opt-out House Bill 50 veto override scheme, House Bill 235 would certainly benefit Markell’s education buddies in the corporate world if they planted their company flag in Delaware.

As I told folks on a Facebook thread about social impact bonds earlier today, if Delaware ever tried something like what Utah did with Goldman Sachs, I would not rest until social impact bonds were gone from Delaware.  But since many of these type of companies tend to incorporate in Delaware, we have opened up the gates for the rest of the country and the Social Impact Bond invasion.  This is just yet another example of the raiding of public education dollars in another Ponzi corporate education reform scheme.

 

 

Odyssey’s Future Tied To Their Bondholder

Odyssey Charter School looks to have their hands tied by their current bondholder.  If they do not score well on their next financial performance framework, the bondholder will step in to intervene at the school.  The school submitted a minor modification request to increase their numbers by a shade below 15%.  Normally, that type of request doesn’t require a full-blown Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) hearing, but it is at the Secretary of Education’s discretion.  Godowsky wanted that, and here we are.  Who did the school call to help them out with their struggling money issues?  Below is the initial report from CSAC.

Chaos Unleashed At Delaware Met Yesterday

Delaware-Met-2

Instead of students being somber about their charter revocation January 22nd, they decided to do something else yesterday.  This week, the Delaware Met received a new leader in the form of Denise Barnes, a former middle school assistant principal from Appoquinimink.  Yesterday, the students took full advantage of the recent decision by the State Board of Education to shut down the school by misbehaving and “jumping”, a slang term for causing fights.  The school had no clue how to handle the unruly students, so they shut down at noon.  This was not a planned and scheduled day.  They just said “School’s over, time to go home.”

Why would the charter, with a model that  focuses on personal relationships called “Big Picture Learning”, allow this behavior to continue.  And with all the problems, why would they hire a person from Appo to lead the school?  Appo and Delaware Met are two completely different worlds.  I’ve heard that even though the students had issues with former school Leader Tricia Hunter Crafton, she at least had their respect.  She knew how to connect with the students.  But as the school has gone through a few “leaders”, the students are running the school.

Delaware Met closes for Christmas break on December 22nd.  When they come back in January, they will have a few weeks before they close for good.  Who is monitoring what goes on there between now and then?  Is anyone?  It is painfully obvious that whoever the authority figures are now do not know what they are doing.  Are these students even learning anything these days?  And what about all their internships?  Is that even happening (which was the whole purpose of the school)?  The school bragged about their hiring of A.J. English and his mentoring team with English Mentoring.  What is going on with that?  What is their much vaunted “school climate team” even doing there?  The school has bragged about how things have turned around, but just this week alone there was an emergency room visit for a student who got stitches after a chair was thrown at his head, and then the mini-riot yesterday that forced the school to send everyone home without parental notification.  Apparently, the DOE was unaware of the stitches incident until well into the State Board of Education meeting the next day.  As if not telling the DOE about the stitches thing would have stopped the State Board from shutting them down!

As the Delaware Auditor of Account’s office investigates the school’s finances, many are wondering about what they will find.  I would assume they are looking at how funds were allocated, especially special education dollars.  Their budget submissions to the DOE during their formal review showed a lot of funds moving around.  And if there was any misappropriation of federal dollars, that’s big time!  I would also guess they are looking at Innovative Schools role in this unprecedented disaster.  How was money spent during the two-year planning period?  Did Innovative take advantage of the apparent inexperience of their board of directors?  And will we ever find out the mystery of the bleeding meat served at lunch to students?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the State Board of Education made the right decision in shutting them down.  But with that decision also comes the responsibility of making sure things run right until that closure.  By shutting them down, the State Board is saying they don’t trust the school to make the right decisions for their students.  So if they didn’t trust them before their decision, why would they trust them now to do the right thing?  With everything going on there, someone needs to look out for these kids.

 

Key Audio Recording Links From State Board of Education Meeting Yesterday

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Redistricting Plan.  Christina Priority Schools.  Delaware Met.  All are here.  Please listen.  Please pay attention.  Listen to the words that are said by our unelected Governor appointed State Board of Education.  This meeting touched on most of the hot education issues of our state in one form or another.  Then email your state legislator politely requesting legislation for our State Board of Education to be elected officials.

WEIC Public Comment: Part 2

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities: Part 3

WEIC Presentation to State Board: Part 5

Christina Priority Schools (about 1/3rd of the way in), Update on Opt-Out Penalties via ESEA Waiver Request with US DOE: Part 6

Delaware Met (starts about 1/3rd of the way in for Del Met) and Charter Renewals: Part 7

 

Innovative Schools Screws Delaware Met!!!

Tomorrow, we will know the fate of Delaware Met.  The odds are in favor of charter revocation effective at the end of this marking period.  The big question then becomes this: where will the students go?  The last thing these students need is more chaos and uncertainty.  But does Innovative Schools care about that?  Not at all.  They care about their bottom line, not the students.

Can someone please tell me why Innovative Schools gave a tour of the school to Las Americas Aspiras Academy during the school day?  Yes, Innovative Schools MUST get a new tenant for the building.  Regardless of the fact that students and staff in the school are probably having a great deal of anxiety and pressure over the pending decision by the Delaware State Board of Education.  Regardless of the fact that Innovative Schools is just as responsible, if not more, for what happened at this school.  For a charter school management organization, they really suck!  I will have MUCH more to say about Innovative Schools…

Delaware Met’s Final Public Hearing Brings Out The Defenders

I received an email from someone who went to the Delaware Met public hearing tonight.  They wished to remain anonymous.  They sent me a very good indication of what the crowd was saying: Save our school!

I went to the MET school public hearing tonight.

All reports I’ve heard: from the News Journal and a student there, were horrible: one kid setting another’s hair on fire; one kid’s head banged into a wall and left a hole in the dry wall; frequent police calls; etc.  In response, the Head of School quit; the Board recommended closing, and then changed their minds;  and the DOE is recommending closing the school on 1-21-16.

But tonight was a love fest.  Only one person from the school’s board spoke; though the guy from the big conglomerate was in the audience.

I was at the hearing from 5:00 – 6:30 and they were still going strong when I left. I didn’t count the number of speakers — probably at least 20.  They were mostly students and  parents.  A couple of teachers spoke, one of whom started work 6 days ago.  Several of the girls were crying; the parents were praising the school, and angry with the State Board.  All thought the school was the best thing ever!  

Most commanding was Councilmember Hanifa Shabazz, who eloquently and angrily “demanded” that the DOE let them know where these 225 students were going to school in January. She and another parent asked to at least extend the closing till the end of the school year. 

A common theme was that the kids had grades of F till they came to this school, and now got Bs. There was also talk about good relationships between students and teachers at the school.  Some students said if they had to go back to a public school, they would probably fail or drop out, or get into trouble again.

None of this addressed the “crime in the school” issue, or the fact that there have already been so many transfers out that the head count is way down, and that could affect financial viability.

If the DOE can’t close a seriously struggling school like this – they can’t close anything.  

But those opposed to the closing have an excellent point – how could the school be approved and accept so many students, without the assurance from the State that it could function effectively?  Can remedial support solve these problems?  That is one of many  questions.

Thank you for sending this to me “anonymous”!  What frightens me the most about all this: no one is talking about special education and how students with disabilities are not having their Free Appropriate Public Education.  For those who don’t know, it’s called FAPE.  It means when you receive special education, you also get FAPE.  But if your IEP isn’t even done, or the school isn’t accommodating your IEP, you are not getting FAPE.  It’s very easy for a crowd to slam the DOE and State Board over “where is my child going to go now” and “this school is so much better”.  I encourage all these parents and community members to read about Delaware Met’s final meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Seriously.  Read it.  These are some key things that make a school work, and Delaware Met isn’t even doing that.  I get the whole community thing and helping each other out.  But this school is dangerous to leave open.  We don’t even know who is running things there now.  Is it A.J. English and his mentoring company? Pritchett and Associates?  Innovative Schools?  Teachers are leaving, and there aren’t many certified teachers left in the building.  It also doesn’t make fiscal sense to send all that money to the school in February when the bulk of the staff aren’t even there anymore.

I completely understand parents being worried about what happens with their child.  I’ve been there, a few times.  And it sucks.  Bad.  But I would rather move my child than keep him in a school that is falling apart.  No matter how much he may love it, I know at the end of the day I have to look out for his best interests.  Delaware Met parents, I have written about MANY schools on this blog.  Many charters.  And trust me when I say that NONE have been anywhere close to the level this school is at.  This is a tragedy beyond measurement.  I blame the DOE and the State Board for many things that I feel are wrong in public education.  But this is one time where they actually got it right.

There is a serious conversation that needs to happen in regards to what oversight the DOE has over charter schools from the time they approve them and when the doors open.  But at the end of the day, the Delaware Met’s board and staff are the ones that failed this school.  Not the DOE, not the State Board, and not the students.  They had a job to do, and unfortunately, they didn’t do it.  You can’t put band aids on a gaping flesh wound.  It may stop the bleeding temporarily, but it doesn’t heal the wound.  Your children deserve much better than this.

Delaware Met Head Of School Quits

After last week’s recommendation by the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee to revoke the Delaware Met’s charter effective January 22nd, 2016, the school’s leader has decided to resign.  Tricia Hunter Crafton submitted her resignation on December 3rd.  As well, the board appears to be in turmoil and an emergency board meeting was scheduled for 12/4/15.  Good luck finding this on their website though.  It doesn’t look like they have been doing much on there at all.  In fact, they didn’t even have a board meeting in November!  One of the board members reached out to me anonymously and explained how frustrated they are with everything going on.

This train is in motion, and barring a miracle, I don’t think anything will stop this school from closing down.  The decision will be made by the Delaware State Board of Education on December 17th.  Meanwhile, surrounding districts and charters are planning for an influx of new students.  Some schools are already balking at taking these  students, even though it is in the students’ local feeder pattern.  These students need to find a school fast, and any district or charter that receives them needs to do so with welcome arms and be very proactive in making sure these students needs are met.  For the special education students, these schools need to be on top of this.  These students have already missed a lot of time, and they need help.

As well, I am very curious what happens with the building.  Delaware Met sub-leases the school from Innovative School Development Corporation who leases it from a company called Charter School Development Corporation.  That company bought the building from the State of Delaware who had bought the building from Bank of America who acquired the building in the MBNA merger back in 2006.  This is prime real estate.  First State Montessori Academy is right next to it, and down the street is the Community Education Building, which currently houses three charter schools.  This is all in downtown Wilmington.  In fact, the building is right next door to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn’s office!  The bizarre part with this whole funky real estate deal was that Innovate Schools donated $1 million dollars to the Charter School Development Corporation prior to leasing the 920 N. French St. location from them for Delaware Met.

Hunter Crafton joined the Delaware Met last Spring.  In the third week of September, she went out on maternity leave and returned in mid-November.  She was only back at the school for a few weeks before quitting.  While she is leaving, I am hearing some of the board members are gearing for a fight of some sort.  I don’t think this is going to be as easy as the Delaware DOE seems to think.

CraftonHunter

 

Kendall Massett And I Agree On Something!!!! Del Met & Other Charter News

Just kidding Kendall!  But seriously, the more I am hearing about this Delaware Met meeting, the more I can’t wait to see the transcript!  Meanwhile, both Avi with Newsworks and Matt Albright with the News Journal covered this big news today as well.  One clarification which I am now hearing about.  The school did not have most of their population as Moyer students.  There were about ten of them I am now hearing.  According to Avi’s article, if Godowsky and the State Board shut it down, the students will have the choice to go back to their district feeder schools or other charters.  But back to Kendall, from Avi’s article:

School safety also emerged as a major theme. Wilmington police have visited Delaware Met 24 times since the school year began and made nine arrests, according to the testimony of state officials at Tuesday’s meeting. Last month, in response to a CSAC request for information, school officials said local police had only visited Delaware Met six times.

That discrepency irked Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School Network and a non-voting member of CSAC.

“It’s not the number of times the police came, it’s that they need to be honest about it,” Massett said.

Massett said she “absolutely support[ed]” the committee’s recommendation to shutter Delaware Met.

I supported this recommendation before it was even made!  One important thing to take note of is the timing.  The way charter school funding works, they get their next big chunk of funding in February.  By shutting the school down in January, this would prevent them from getting those funds and squandering them if they knew the school was going to shut down at the end of the year. Even the DOE issued a press release on this:

The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee today recommended the revocation of Delaware MET’s charter in January because of academic, operational, governance and financial problems at the Wilmington school.

A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Carvel State Office Building at the corner of 9th and French streets in Wilmington. Public comment will be accepted through December 11. After reviewing the full record, Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky will present his decision regarding the school’s future to the State Board of Education for its assent at the board’s December 17 meeting.

Issues considered by the committee include:

Educational program, specifically:

o    Fidelity to the school’s approved curriculum and instructional program, including the Big Picture Learning instructional model, use of technology, participation in various coalitions, and implementation status of project-based learning. Lessons plans submitted to CSAC also were found to be out of alignment with the state’s academic standards.

o    Special education services, including the results of a recent monitoring visit by the Department of Education’s Exceptional Children Resources staff that found the school was out of compliance with all 59 of its students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

School culture, specifically safety and discipline concerns
Governing board and leadership capacity, specifically lack of compliance with open meeting laws
Financial viability, specifically due both to decreased student enrollment and the school’s budget not reflecting full compliance with programmatic requirements, including special education

Delaware MET, which opened this fall, was placed on formal review by the State Board of Education on October 15.

Should Secretary Godowsky and the State Board follow the committee’s recommendation to revoke the charter, the school would close on January 22, the end of the second marking period. The state would assist the school’s 210 students and their families in moving to other schools for the rest of the academic year. The children may return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school that is accepting students. The receiving schools would receive prorated funding for the returning students.

As they look toward next year, families also may fill out the state’s School Choice application for another district or charter school for 2016-17. The application deadline is January 13, 2016.

I feel bad for these kids.  I truly do.  It is one thing to have a school not service you and give you a proper education.  Delaware Met is another thing altogether!  I really hope the State Board of Education and Godowsky do the right thing here.  Perhaps the State Board won’t be so quick to approve so many charter schools all at once and will really look at the wisdom of that decision.  Perhaps it is time to take a fresh new look at the whole charter school application process.  Because it isn’t just Delaware Met.  Yes, the spotlight is on them, and they made the most unwise decisions.  But other new charters are experiencing severe growing pains.  First State Military Academy is now going on their third special education coordinator.  I’m not sure if they made their IEP compliance deadline as a new school, but I don’t like what I’m hearing in terms of the school’s issues with understanding the IEP process and what they feel are appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.

One thing that will become a huge problem in the future for all schools is the concept of personalized learning.  If you have a personalized learning program at your school, the IEP is covered under a federal program called IDEA.  For those who may not know this, the decisions of an IEP team, covered by federal law, trumps the online learning system.  As an example, if a student is required to do 15 out of 20 math problems based on their IEP, than the school needs to honor that.  You can’t say the computer score is right and you have to go by that.  Unfortunately, the state standardized assessment is another issue.  But for unit tests and quizzes, and even homework done on the computer, these schools need to contact these companies like Schoology and learn how THEIR system can accommodate students with IEPs, not the other way around.

As for Delaware Met, they had plenty of time to get it right and it comes down to very bad choices.  I’m sure they knew their head of school was pregnant when she got the job last March.  Knowing that, why would you not plan for the eventual maternity leave?  Sorry, I’m just getting really tired of hearing that excuse.  I have to wonder how much training and professional development teachers really got at this school.  Positive Outcomes has the same Big Picture Learning program, and they haven’t had the issues Delaware Met is experiencing.  And they are a school with about 60% of their population having IEPs.  I’m sure the school will play the blame game on the districts and other charters for failing to send them information about the students.  But given the issues with the staff and Innovative Schools, I have to wonder how much effort was put into actually requesting those records.  We can’t assume everything coming from the school is the Gospel truth.  I caught Innovative Schools in at least three lies at their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.

At the end of the day, it is about doing the right thing, and Delaware Met failed.  I have no doubt the intention was there with many of their board members, but this needs to be a lesson learned for those wanting to start a school without the experience to back it up.  First State Military Academy and many other schools are using models that are strongly suggested by Innovative Schools.  Perhaps it is past time Innovative Schools has a state investigation and audit to see how useful the services they are offering Delaware charters truly are and how much is wasteful.

Delaware Met’s Appalling Response To The DOE Raises Even More Questions

In spite of a very intensive hiring process, we were unable to find many teachers with urban experience or a familiarity with the local community and those that we did hire were from charter schools that had closed such as Moyer Academy. Those teachers brought with them the “alternative school” mentality, along with lingering conflicts from the past years, which perpetuated the punitive, authoritarian mindset, which is the antithesis of the BPL design. We had hoped that the past relationships with the students would have a positive effect on their relationships with students, though this was not the case.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse with Delaware Met, I ran across many updated documents on the Delaware Department of Education Charter School website regarding their formal review.  The number one issue at this point seems to be their enrollment.  If they were approved for 260 students, and they must maintain 80% of that as required by Delaware law, that would be 208 students.  As of their September 30th count, they had 215 students.  In these documents, they announced four more students have withdrawn since 9/30, and six more will withdraw from the school very soon.  This puts their enrollment at 205.  They are now completely out of compliance with their charter.

The letter from the Delaware DOE’s Exceptional Children’s Resources Group is very telling.  59 IEPs were looked at by the DOE, and ALL 59 are out of compliance.  Delaware Met’s Special Education coordinator, Sue Ogden, used to work in the Delaware prison system as a special education coordinator, so she should be well aware of DOE timelines and what is needed in student’s IEPs.  While the below documents give many reasons for the school challenges, I still can’t help but think many of the events at this school could have been avoided.  It is now near the end of November, and NONE of the IEPs are in compliance as of November 25th.  This does not bode well for students with disabilities at this school which now represent over 28% of the school population.  Furthermore, in the narrative in the documents below, there is talk about going through 80 IEPs.  Have 21 students with disabilities who had IEPs left the school?

For their in-school suspension, students are required to write the following:

DelMetBehaviorLesson

And another “behaviour lesson”:

DelMetThinkingAboutBehavior

Now, with a school filled with at a minimum, 59 IEPs, and admitted issues on teacher parts where they treated a school like an “alternative” school, are the in-school suspensions warranted?  I can’t answer that, but I do know in-school suspension does not count towards a manifestation determination hearing.  Only out-of-school suspensions or expulsion.  And is it just me, and I get the whole concept of restorative justice, but isn’t the point of school discipline already a punishment?  What could a student do to “make up to the school” for their behavior?  What if they have a disability and it was a manifestation of their disability and they don’t even realize it was a “behavior”?

This “in-school suspension room”.  I have some big issues with it.  It seems like an easy solution to stop discipline problems.  Student gets in trouble, send them to the ISS room.  The below documents also state their special education coordinator, Sue Ogden, will make sure accommodations are being followed while students are in there.  But is one of their accommodations to be sent to an ISS room if they get in trouble?  There are more questions than answers here.  Sue Ogden, as I stated earlier, used to work in the prison system.  Even with all its issues and students with potential legal issues, the Delaware Met is not a prison.

The Charter School Accountability Committee will meet with Delaware Met for their final formal review meeting next Tuesday, from 8:30-10:00am.  At this point, the committee will determine their recommendation for the school.  The Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education will decide the school’s fate at the December State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.  In the meantime, read the below documents to find out the school’s interpretation of events.  I still have this nagging feeling there is much more going on at this school…

Delaware Met response to Charter School Accountability Committee

Specific Information requested by the Charter School Accountability Committee

Exceptional Children Resources Group monitoring and letter sent to Delaware Met

Teachers Emails regarding Science and Social Studies Curriculum

Board of Directors questions to Innovative Schools with response from them

 

 

The Truth Is Out There With Delaware Met: Public Hearing Transcript Sheds Some Light

The Delaware Met had their public hearing for their formal review on 11/16/15.  Yesterday, the Delaware Department of Education released the transcript.  One thing is for sure: the words “blogs”, “blogger”, or “bloggers” were mentioned 8 times in the transcript.  I was glad to see two members of the Delaware State Board of Education attended this event.  Instead of writing about the public hearing, I’m going to let the people speak.

I feel like three months of my son’s education has been wasted because he hasn’t done much work, not many projects

I’ve tried to contact teachers with no response

…when we hear some of the horror stories that are going on with these kids, a lot of times, schoolwork might be the last thing on their mind, because a sibling was just killed three months ago, or they’re dealing with being displaced, you know, homeless.

For whatever reason, they opened the doors up and let a lot of kids in that probably didn’t fit the model and didn’t really understand what the model was.

Whatever bugs you all didn’t iron out first, go back to the drawing board, fix it.  As they say, you got a hole, plug it.

But we don’t get the connection from the people who are in charge, the charter school or whoever is in charge of the charter school, and the parents, there’s no connection.

…the biggest question is who is this management organization, Innovative Schools, and why does it seem that they have been an impediment to this process?  We know that starting something new often is a rocky start, but it seems like the people who are supposed to know about education in this case don’t know anything about education.

It is disturbing that some of the things that should have been in place from the first day still aren’t in place, and we’re still struggling to try to get some open communication.  I think it’s interesting that a lot of parents are here, but I don’t see too many of the administrators.

So I think we need to look into it further versus basing it upon opinions of bloggers and individuals who have not been to the school to visit firsthand to see exactly what’s going on versus reading the emails that are being sent.

I don’t know who blogs.  It has to be somebody in the school.  It has to be somebody in the schools that’s giving out certain information that, you know, that I know some of the students is not giving out, I’m thinking it’s probably one of the teachers that don’t like and are trying to sabotage the whole school.

And whoever the blogger is, they need to mind their own business.  We already know there’s an issue.

Do you all understand how bad that sounds to a kid when they go to school, the teacher says we don’t have to learn because they’re closing the school next year.

Help us out.  Give the school some funding.  You all keep talking about you don’t have money, or whoever, they don’t have money to put this in, put that in.

When you open something up, if you put a different animals in one cage, you’re going to have problems until you get somebody in there that knows how to train everybody.

And again, the story writers, the bloggers, whoever is doing this, saying what they want to say to make it, solidify what you’re trying to do, if you’re trying to close the school down, I mean, of course.

What kind of school around here has a mentoring program?

And I went to Mr. A.J. and he told me that, you know, I can guarantee you the school is not going to shut down and everything like that.

I got at least three trays in one day for lunch, and all the meat was bleeding, but I couldn’t get nothing brown bag.  I don’t understand.  These teachers going out, buying McDonald’s and all that, but we can’t do that because of other stuff.

And we have some teachers that don’t even come to school, and I don’t even know how my report card going to look.  I’m not a bad kid.  I know my report card going to look okay in other schools, but this school, I don’t know.

Okay, what is up with the “blame the blogger” game for a school going on formal review?  Trust me, the Delaware Department of Education is not going to put a school on formal review because of information I write about.  By the time I’m writing stuff, they most likely already know a great deal of the information.  The things I’ve heard coming from this brand new school, that had two years to work out all the kinks, disturb me on many levels.  This is a school that stated their budget for food is going to be over-budget.  If they aren’t cooking the meat correctly and students keep going back for non-carcinogenic food that is actually cooked all the way through, I can see why that would be.  If teachers aren’t showing up or they don’t know how to teach the curriculum, that is troubling.  What kind of school lets other students show up to the school without any type of security system to prevent that?  This school has already received plenty of funding, from the state and from the Longwood Foundation.  Throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve anything.  They will find some way to squander those funds.  Plenty of schools have mentoring programs, and A.J. English knows that.  I am always suspicious of anyone that may have a financial motive to keep a school open.  The school may know about the issues, but parents and the public may not.  That is why I blog.  Do you want to know the words I was looking for the most in this transcript and I didn’t see mentioned anywhere? Special Education, IEP, and disability.  How can you defend a school and not even talk about their biggest problem?  Innovative Schools is in way over their head across the entire state.  Other new charter schools that relied on them are having issues as well.  I don’t want any school to shut down unless it is bad for students in the short-term and the long-term.  I believe Delaware Met fits in both of those categories.

I know some people think I just write whatever I want and call it a day.  That is not the case.  There are things I could write about this school but haven’t yet.  The assumption that I haven’t been in the school must mean I don’t know anything about it.  Wrong.  I know plenty.  I went to their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.  I heard the many questions Delaware Met and Innovative Schools couldn’t answer.  These are key and essential questions that need to be answered AND fixed, or they should close.  But let’s get one thing straight, unless the school is posing an immediate health risk or students are in danger, the DOE and State Board of Education don’t just shut a school down.  They go through the process, and the likely options are: probation, revocation of their charter at the end of the year, or they rule the school is doing just fine.  I’ve taken other steps as well in light of things I’ve heard about this school.  It is obvious Delaware Met has sent information out saying “Don’t believe the blogger.”  That is their prerogative.  I just ask folks to keep an open mind and ask the questions.

To read the entire transcript, please read below.

Delaware Met Students Speak Out About Teachers Smoking, Taking McD’s Breaks, & Not Teaching

Last night, the Delaware Met had their formal review public hearing at the Carvel Building up in Wilmington.  About six students and four parents showed up.  The school’s acting head of school, Teresa Gerchman with Innovative Schools, didn’t show up.  Two students gave public comment about their teachers not giving instruction, and frequent “breaks” including smoking, ordering McDonalds, and leaving the school to go to the store.  One parent asked the Delaware DOE to shut the school down, and two others want them to stay open.  I think the students win this one, and I’m glad they had the bravery to speak up about their concerns with the school.  I can’t wait to see this transcript!

The Official Delaware Met Formal Review Meeting Report

The Delaware DOE Charter School Accountability Committee released the initial report of their formal review.  This meeting took place last Wednesday, 11/4/15.  It is a long read but chock full of information.  I do see areas where I was not able to get everything when I wrote my article based on the meeting.  As well, there are some items I may need to clarify a bit from my article, but I’m tired and I’m going to bed!

Is Delaware Met And Innovative Schools Offering Hazard Pay For It’s Executive Director Job?

Delaware Met, the story that never stops.  The latest?  Turns out Innovative Schools is recruiting for an executive director.  And the starting salary?  $100,000.00 for the job.  That’s a lot of money for a brand new charter.  Is this in addition to the principal position, held by the returning Tricia Hunter-Crafton?  Because in their budget submitted for their formal review, it only shows $100,000 for school leadership and that is under the title of principal.

Some highlights for the listing, with my thoughts below each line in red, include:

Demonstrated ability to build school culture that will enhance student achievement

You might want to have an architect background for this one because you would essentially be rebuilding a school from the bottom up.

•Demonstrated ability to build effective school systems that support safety, and establishes coherence of policies amongst staff, students, and parents

Being that this school is NOT safe at all and there is no coherence of policies at all at this school, I would also suggest you hire two full-time State Resource Officers at this school as well.

Oversees daily operation of school, ensuing a safe and positive school culture

If you have the ability to clone yourself as well, this will be a must.

Keeps the Board informed of all aspects of school operations

Because the board has vast amounts of experience with this kind of school, culture and population…

Manage day-to-day activities of all staff

I would make sure an adult is present anywhere students are present and install security cameras there.

Successful leadership experience in a public or non-public school serving diverse and low- income student populations, with significant results in closing student achievement gaps

Before worrying about the student achievement gaps, I would work on closing the calls to the Wilmington Police Department.  And I would reach out to the local businesses in the area who are making the vast majority of the phone calls to the police.  Over 30 calls in two and a half months…

Ability to lift up to 50 pounds

I would go beyond this and perhaps suggest an ability to lift a few tons because that will be the weight on your shoulders when you take this job.

Ability to hear within normal range, with or without amplification

I sincerely hope you are from the planet Krypton and have super-hearing cause you are going to need it!

Ability to sustain a calm, reasonable approach, and communicate effectively in stressful or problematic situations

I would enroll in a daily 3 hour yoga class right away and practice meditation techniques now.

Salary Range:
Baseline of $100,000 — Negotiable and commensurate with education and experience

I would ask for double based on the hazardous working conditions…

I did want to add a few other qualifications the executive director of Delaware Met will probably need…

Ability to become best friends with the Wilmington Police Department

Forensic auditing experience

Crowd Control techniques

Have a Bat-phone installed in your office

Were The Initial Stories Concerning Delaware Met True Or False?

On September 25th, I wrote the first Delaware Met article concerning the problems at the school. Many doubted the veracity of the article at first. I thought now would be a good time to give it the “separate fact from fiction” test.

Today, I got an email from someone about The Delaware Met closing next week. 

The school did not close the last week of September, but their board considered it at their 9/28 board meeting.  The board voted to keep trying.

I’m hearing about multiple incidents of violence at the school…

This is definitely true.  The Wilmington police were called to the school numerous times.

…a student brought a gun to the school on the very first day…

We learned at their formal review meeting yesterday a student brought a “weapon” to the school.  It was not named as a gun, but it was not named as anything more than a “weapon”.

…students leaving the school in mass quantities…

Their opening enrollment on August 24th was 260, and by September 30th they were down to 215, and more have left.

I’m hearing their relationship with Innovative Schools has soured to the point of breaking…

This has not happened, although many are questioning their role in all of this.  Their board president talked yesterday about the great partnership Delaware Met has with Innovative Schools but not all board members are on the same page…

I’m hearing many of the students were at-risk students who were facing issues at other schools including potential expulsion and suspension issues.

This is definitely the case.  Many of the students came from Moyer.  As indicated by Innovative Schools CSO Teresa Gerchman yesterday, many of the students are “comfortable” with the chaotic environment at the school.

I have no idea how many students at this school are students with disabilities.

We know there are 62 “official” counts of IEPs for students with disabilities at the school.

…how prepared was the school to handle these issues?  If the allegations are true, not prepared at all. 

This school did not prepare for this at all.  According to their board president Nash Childs, they were more concerned about the facility and their enrollment and they did not dig in to the school curriculum and the school climate.  Innovative Schools missed the boat on fulfilling the promises made in their application and didn’t do anything about potential issues with culture and discipline.

Delaware Met And Their Train Wreck Of A Formal Review Meeting At The DOE Today

The Delaware Met is drowning.  I don’t know any other way to put it.  If this school is open for the 2016-2017 school year, I will be completely shocked.  The Delaware charter school had their first Formal Review meeting today at the Delaware Department of Education, where they faced nearly two hours of questions from the Charter School Accountability Committee.  The answers, when they provided them, caused great concern with the members of the committee, members of the audience, and myself.

To start, let me name all the players in today’s meeting, because there were many.

Charter School Accountability Committee: Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman, Exceptional Children Resources Group DOE Employee Barbara Mazza, Associate Secretary of Adult Education & School Supports Karen Field-Rogers, Educator Effectiveness & Talent Management Atnre Alleyne, Community Representative & Former DOE Employee Paul Harrell, Education Associate at DOE for Science Assessment and STEM April McRae

Staff To The Committee: Charter School Office Director Jennifer Nagourney, Deputy Attorney General & Consul to the Committee Catherine Hickey, Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson, from the Charter School Office: John Carwell, Michelle Whalen, & Sheila Kay Lawrence, from the DOE Finance Office: Brook Hughes

Delaware Met Representation: Innovative Schools Chief School Officer Teresa Gerchman, Delaware Met Board President Nash Childs, & Innovative Schools Financial Services School Support employee Karen Thorpe

The meeting began at 1:30pm with a roll call of the participants.  While the exact wording may not be exact in all conversation, I did my best to type notes as fast as I could.  If there is a specific quote, I will highlight that.

Blowman: purpose of meeting is to discuss and review relevant material to see if remedial measures against the school need to be taken, there will be no specific recommendations coming out of this meeting.  This is a preliminary discussion.  The initial report will be out by November 9th and Delaware Met has 15 days to review and comment on the report.  The grounds for formal review were outlined in the letter sent to the school, including potential violations of the school’s charter in respect to the school’s educational program, school culture, board and leadership capabilities, and financial viability.  On November 1st, the Delaware Met submitted documents to the DOE and the committee will consider any documents and discussion at the meeting to determine if charter holder is compliant in these areas and the committee will let the school know if they need additional information.

There was some initial confusion right off the bat as Blowman wanted to discuss the educational program, and Gerchman mentioned something about the Code of Conduct being included in the formal review, to which Blowman responded he was more concerned if the procedures were followed with fidelity.

The first conversation surrounded the technology and computers at the school:

Teresa Gerchman: In addressing computers at the school, she said the school has a firmer grip on what is needed and the school is having meetings with parents so students and parent can understand the computer policy.  The school is working with Positive Outcomes which has the similar Go Guardian software which tracks the computers students have, websites students visit, and any connections for safety of students.  They will be handing out computers on 11/12, will be used starting in the 2nd quarter.

Jennifer Nagourney: At the 10/12 Del Met board meeting, it was discussed there was damage to the computer lab.

Gerchman: The school had a brownout but it was not the one-on-one technology the students will be using

David Blowman: Was the plan for computers to hand them out in mid-November or was that reflective of enrollment?

Gerchman: It was planned for 1st quarter but discipline issues came up and wanted to make sure parents understood the computer policies.

Donna Johnson: How can students check out computers each morning in a personalized learning environment?

Gerchman: Advisors help with that.

Johnson: (Asks same question again, Gerchman interrupts Johnson as she is asking her question)

Gerchman: We will be using the computers to set up internships and to do blended learning in the classroom.

Johnson: How will the computers be used outside of the school?

Gerchman: Students will be using other materials for outside work and by the 3rd quarter students will be able to take computers outside of school.

Johnson: What about teacher training for the technology (for some reason it was difficult to hear this part)

Gerchman: Training was done last summer.

Johnson: Is there after school or extended day to use computers?

Gerchman: Not now but the school will be able to do that.  Basketball starts soon so students involved will have 4-5pm study hall but right now there is no afterschool transportation.

Atnre Allyne: What determines readiness (for computers)?

Gerchman: It is intership readiness.

Johnson: What type of digital citizenship are students taking?

Gerchman: Not sure.  That is with Big Picture (model for school).

Johnson: How long is advisory each day?

Gerchman: 90 minutes.  Charly Adler with Big Picture Learning is involved.  He is providing training and hands on coaching for teachers and for advisory curriculum.

April McRae: What is the ratio of advisors to students?

Gerchman: 17:1

McRae: If advisors are also teachers, liaisons, and internship counselors how does that work?

Gerchman: They work with students during advisory period to go over personalized learning.

McRae: How long was training over the summer?

Gerchman: One month.  Charly was there to help there to help trouble shoot.

Blowman: Was there an awareness teachers weren’t ready?

Gerchman: No, teachers felt like they were prepared.  What they were not prepared for was what it took to engage students in advisory.  They thought the kids would be ready to jump in and they were not prepared for what happened.  Many kids were not engaged in the Big Picture Model.

Karen Field-Rogers: Was there something else that could have helped?

Gerchman: The Summer Institute was not required but going forward they will make it required.  Less than 50% of the students participated.

Blowman: Is there a difference in retention performance for students that went through the Summer Institute?

Gerchman: Yes.  The advisors are determining which students are internship ready but they do not have a percentage calculation.

Blowman: The model was always Big Picture.  The school had four years from the beginning of the application process.  I’m wondering how much planning and implementation was done by the ??? (couldn’t understand)

Gerchman: No.  We clearly stated what it was.  The majority of students who applied or went to open house knew it was clearly defined.  I don’t know if application fully embraced the model when students applied.  Big Picture was not (created?) for an urban setting.  We did not have right connection with the right school models (named schools from California)

McRae: That surprises me because the whole model is based on an urban setting.  I would have assumed Charly and his trainers would have based it on that.  This is a big disconnect.

Gerchman: The Providence schools were the foundation for this.

McRae: I have great concern.

Gerchman: We never heard this till after they opened.

At this point, DOE employees were passing out Halloween candy in Carmike Cinemas popcorn bucket

Gerchman: We are about to start matching potential careers in advisory.  We are having parent meetings and both parents and students will sign off on those.

Blowman: When does the internship program start?

Gerchman: It will vary by student.  Every student will be in one by the 3rd quarter.  The plan was never for 9th graders to start on 9/1.

Blowman: There is a big gap between 9/1 and the 3rd quarter.

Gerchman: It was always the plan to have 10th graders start within 10 weeks.  Not all students are ready.  We will be doing internal internships instead of external for kids with a disciplinary record.  They will stay at school to learn expectations for the workplace.

Alleyne: How do you know they are all going to be ready?

Gerchman: When we say internship ready we mean external.  We have a lot of resources coming into the school to help out, and the internal students can do IT at school.

Barbara Mazza: What training have you given teachers for students with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)?

Gerchman: We are having meetings with parents for one hour instead of a half hour.  All teachers have been given student goals and have a spreadsheet with all the goals.  Sue Ogden, the head of Special Education, is driving those meetings and she has worked w/teachers.

Mazza: Is she working with teachers on professional development for instruction?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden was not there during the summer.

Blowman: Do all eligible students have approved IEPs?

Gerchman: I can’t answer that.  I don’t know.  We are having meetings and they all have to do with transitional (not sure of next word after that)

Mazza: It has to be done within 60 calendar days of the schools opening date.  When did the school open?

German: 8/24.  Sue Ogden has a chart she is following closely.

Blowman: How many are handling special education?

Gerchman: 62.

Blowman: No, teachers.

Gerchman: We have Sue Ogden and two paraprofessionals and outside services for counseling, occupational therapy.

Blowman: That is equivalent to 4 units.

Mazza: How many unit counts did you estimate based on 9/30 student counts?

Karen Thorpe: 4 complex, 39 basic, 17 intensive.

Mazza: That is more than 4 units.  We want assurances every student had an IEP meeting before the 60 day mark.

Editor’s note: It got very quiet at this point.

Gerchman: Do you want a breakdown of service related hours?

Mazza: Not just that.  Also any behavioral needs being met.

Gerchman: We have social workers.

Mazza: You have 8 students identified with a disability?

Gerchman: That is where the mentoring team comes in.  We have a social worker, a psychologist to do the functional behavioral analysis and create the BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan).  Sue is involved in deciding if the behavior was a manifestation of the disability.  When a student brought a weapon to the school, we did a full manifestation determination hearing with the psychologist.

Blowman: Are you pushing inclusion?

Gerchman: Yes, and pull-out groups.  Classes are co-taught with special education teachers and there is time allotted  for pull-out services.

Blowman: How are you implementing RTI (Response to Intervention)?

Gerchman: We are utilizing intervention blocks of times. Students will be pulled for 45 minute times based on tier 1 or tier 2 services.  We are using pevious years of DCAS and Smarter Balanced scores and looking for kids that were consistently low.  Sue did additional testing to get to current levels.  Students get those additional services in addition to special education.

Johnson: Funds generated for special education students must be used for those students. I want a follow-up on how much money is being spent on special education currently and how much is for unit counts and staffing.

April: Science & Social Studies.  I have questions.  The school provided a curriculum outline, but I have concerns.  You also provided 1st quarter objectives and they not in compliance with the science coalition that was provided.  It is not compliant, and it almost feels like you will join the social studies and science coalitions but the application stated the school would be members of that coalition before the school opened and the school year started.

Gerchman: In my role now I can’t explain what happened.  When we saw we were put on formal review we reached out to those coalitions.

Nagourney: Is there anyone in this room that can explain this? Any board members?

Gerchman: I can’t explain it.

Nagourney: Is there anyone here that can answer this?

NO ONE IN ROOM THAT CAN ANSWER!!!

Johnson: Delaware Met had an additional year of planning to get ready.  The charter was approved by the Secretary and the Board (State Board) did not go through the exact science and social studies curriculum because they were joining that coalition.  I see them joining now because they are on formal review. I don’t see this matching to state standards and don’t see teachers have already gone through training to understand current state standards.

Nagourney: Who was responsible for overseeing this process?

Johnson: I don’t care who was responsible.  I want to know what happened and why because they had an additional year.  Those are basics and that’s very concerning.

McRae: Kind of what Donna (Johnson) said but since you are not currently members of the coalition we would like to see lessons aligned to state standard to see students are getting that curriculum.

Blowman: How long into the school year before that impacts students?  A lot of what should have been done over the past two years is being done once the school opened.  It is sacrificing instruction.  You had two years. (Blowman goes over everything discussed up to this point)

Johnson: I have a question about the 1st week of school plan.  Was that week considered an on-ramp to high school or are those hours including instructional hours for the school year?

Gerchman: It was considered on-ramp for Big Picture Learning.  It was also an on-ramp to high school but more Big Picture.

Johnson: That does not count towards instructional hours.

Gerchman: We will subtract them out.

McRae: What does it mean to be intern ready?

Gerchman: Charly has worked with advisors to understand this.  It means the student is ready to go external: they will be ready with how to dress, language, behavior and expectations.  For students we feel are not ready to go external we will give internal (internships).

Paul Harrell: How often does the school psychologist visit the school?  3, 4 days a week?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.  I don’t have that information.

Harrell: The mentoring program, who does it?

Gerchman: It is run by AJ English, it is called English Lessons.  He has two other people for three total.

Harell: Are they local?

Gerchman: It is a local mentoring business, one is a licensed social worker.

Harrell: Does anyone else in Delaware use AJ English?

Gerchman: I’m not sure.

Nagourney: We would like a list of external internship partners.

Gerchman: We don’t have that because no one is in an internship yet but we do have have interested parties.

At this point, the CSAC dove into what everyone wanted to hear: School Culture!

Gerchman: My assessment on the school culture is it is not what is was supposed to be.  This is not a surprise to anyone walking through the door.  AJ English was supposed to be an after school program but we saw the need for additional support for students, a need to understand what is triggering behavior and not just punishing behavior.  They have a rubric.  Some mentors know students.  We added a school climate officer who was hired before the start of the school year.  I was not part of the process for hiring him.  I’m not sure why he wasn’t there the first week of school.  He was given additional support and we brought people in: An In-School suspension person with experience at that to make it more effective- consequences when they are there, doing school work.  He worked in the Philadelphia school system (Note to self: but is he credentialed in Delaware?).  We brought in Rob Moore who works in the community and runs a basketball program and knows students and families.  He is a climate monitor and he can remove students from class with a goal of getting them back into class.  Mr. Wilson has enough people on his team, a one-person team can not handle it.

Blowman: How is the current climate?

Gerchman: Not where it needs to be.  Teachers need to do a better job of fully engaging all the students with instruction and professional development, and using the Teaching for Excellence framework.  I just got to the school on 10/27.  That was always the plan and teachers trained on this in August.  With Tricia Hunter (the official Head of School, out on maternity leave until mid-November) going out on maternity leave those were not fully taking place but since she came on they are.  When my kids are better engaged they are learning.  When we determined the 4-5% of students causing problems, we do check-in and check-out with their advisor or mentor, we are using behavior intervention plans, and we are trying to stop what is going on outside of school from coming into school.  The school is implementing Teaching for Excellence and teachers got training over the summer.

Johnson: That was a minor modification and that didn’t happen until after school year started.

Gerchman: I was mistaken.

Mazza: How is ISS (In-School Suspension) handled?

Gerchman: Sue Ogden administers that.

Nagourney: When was the last time a police officer was called to the school?

Gerchman: The Mayor (of Wilmington, Dennis Williams) came last week.  We have a police officer there every day for 2 hours at dismissal.  Kids come from other high schools to meet friends or for other reasons.  Yesterday we had a student that was suspended come back to school to start a fight with another student.

Blowman: How many times have the police been called in?

Gerchman: I don’t know.

Nagourney: Are those incidents being recorded?

Gerchman: Yes.

Harrell: When was the code of conduct issued?

Gerchman: The beginning of school.

Harrell: Wouldn’t it have been better to send during summer given the population at the school?

Gerchman: We wanted to review it with the students instead of just giving them a document.

Blowman: What plans do faculty have in place to engage students? Are teachers fully able to get engaged with students?

Gerchman: They have lessons plans and they are giving feedback on lesson plans.  We are making sure teachers know who to put out and we are working with those teachers first.  This is not a kid issue, it’s an adult issue.  We need to help teachers get stronger with that, have better relationships with the students.

Harrell: How is the morale of the teachers?

Gerchman: Not great.

McRae: It sounds like you are having an issue with fighting.  A student came back to finish fighting…

Gerchman: We suspended the student for a vocal altercation.

McRae: Have adults been trained to handle physical altercations?

Gerchman: No, not all

McRae: You have 62 IEP students, THAT IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST,  AN ABSOLUTE IMPERATIVE

Gerchman: I just found out AJ English has programs in two other schools.

Johnson: Can you provide an outline of how school board and staff used the additional year to plan?

Nash Childs: It was difficult since we didn’t have a building.  We acquired the MBNA building bought by the state.  It took a long time.  We didn’t know we had the building until before the school year started (Innovative Schools officially purchased the building in November 2014).  We had to get a certificate of occupancy for the building.  The board was so focused on facilities and student recruitment that they lost valuable time working on the educational program and the code of conduct.  We had a school leader acquired but didn’t have the  money to pay her.  We had all these financial issues come together.

Johnson: What was relegated to the CMO (Charter Management Organization, in this case Innovative Schools)?  It seems to me they should have been working on those aspects.

Childs: As far as facilities that was the board.

Johnson: That makes sense.  How did the board hold the CMO accountable?

Editor’s note: No one answered this question.  I am guessing here, but I believe at least two board members were sitting in front of me but they were not a part of the response team. There was quite a bit of whispering between the two women at this point.

Childs: We work as a team.  I’m not an educator, but we have a lot of passionate volunteers on the board that love this model.  We thought this was perfect for downtown Wilmington but it is obvious we could have spent more time on the education program and climate.  The board didn’t know they were going to be faced with these issues.

Johnson: What are the current responsibilities the board is putting on Innovative Schools?

Childs: They have been a great partnership and the board is not throwing blame.

Johnson: What role is the board having on Innovative Schools?

Childs: We gave them a list in September 2015.  Our contractual agreement was not 100% implemented until after May of 2015.  They were doing work and not getting paid a dime for a while.

Gerchman: We are currently in the school and not charging the school for that.  Hodges (another Innovative Schools employee) is in the school and we are not charging for that.  We are working on filling gaps with no additional charge.

Blowman: Is that a deferral, cause we had that situation last year…. (I would love to hear more about that one!)

Gershman: It is not a deferral, when we looked at the numbers we rearranged their plan and how we could support them.

Johnson: In response towards the school leader, it says Innovative Schools additional roles would incur greater expense. Is the school having additional costs to cover your (Teresa Gerchman’s) primary duties?

Gerchman: I am working nights and weekends, no.

Johnson: Are you still CSO of Innovative Schools?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: I am concerned about the capacity to serve all these schools.

Johnson: You are serving more schools now.  That was a concern last year and it is now.  I have questions around board governance training, due process training, and financial training.

Childs: We had training that started over a year ago. I can’t say who got what but I can get that list.

Johnson: How many board members have been on the board since you started the training process?

Childs: The majority.

Johnson: For new board members training?

Childs: Yes.

Gerchman: The entire board received DANA training and repeated this in September.

Kendall Massett: I was there and everyone did.

Gerchman: Not everyone got budget training.

Blowman: Financial Viability…

Thorpe: The current student count is 215. We have contractors in place for services, transportation, staffing in budget, our financial goals were not to draw any outside credit, to be able to reserve summer pay as required, as well as instructional goals to provide one on one technology.  The budget you received  was for 218 enrollment.

Nagourney: They submitted a new budget two hours ago.

Thorpe: We submitted a budget before the 9/30 count, but since we have had additional special education and what services are needed, and trying to get all the right people together for the budget.

Field Rogers: The budget submitted did not show funding streams.

Thorpe: It does now.

Gerchman: I was on leave when the letter came out so that is why we didn’t submit a budget.

Field-Rogers: The summer pay is part of a budget.

Thorpe: Those are in-school expenses

Field-Rogers: It shows a surplus of $10,000. Is this through 6/30?

Thorpe: It is a 12 month budget. This is before encumbrances, expenses from encumbrances are in current year budget.

Field-Rogers: This says there was a $65,000 line of credit was drawn in June.

Thorpe: Some bills did not get paid until July.

Field-Rogers: Are there any outside bank accounts?

Thorpe: None.

Field-Rogers: There were 215 students by 9/30. Have any students left since then?

Gerchman: Yes.

Blowman: How many students left since 9/30?

Gerchman: I am not sure. We sent four students back to Red Clay. (Discussion around working plan out with Red Clay to send the funding for those students to Red Clay)

Blowman: Were they special education?

Gerchman: No.

Nagourney: We received complaints as of this morning that students were not released for good cause.

Blowman: How is the school providing related arts: phys ed, fine arts, drivers ed, health? Cause you have a budget of that for $35,000.

Gerchman: We have a person doing phys ed and health, and some drivers ed.

Field Rogers: I’m confused cause revenues received doesn’t match the budget recieved, as well as transportation eligible students.

Thorpe: The local revenue matches what is on the DOE website. The state revenue is a little bit higher because we  have some teachers that will be credentialed.

Blowman: Page 3 says Academia. Is that correct?

Thorpe: That is correct. I will be more careful of that in the future.

Field-Rogers: Cafeteria funds of $189,000 seems really high…

Thorpe: That is correct, but that is what we are trending at.

Field-Rogers: Special Education is nine units and I see two teachers (paras) and one coordinator.

Mazza: Is Sue Ogden the Educational Diagnostician?

Gerchman: She is the Special Education Coordinator. (believe this to be the title that was said)

Nagourney: Are you planning for next year yet?

Gerchman: I don’t think my being the actual leader is effective. We are waiting on the school leader (Tricia) to come back on 11/19.

Massett: I want to point out this isn’t required.

Nagourney: We are looking at long-term financial viability.

McRae: I’m concerned with students leaving the school because of bullying, seven students left with good cause, police reports… do you feel students are safe on your campus?

Gerchman: More students feel safe now. Four bullied students left but one parent has expressed interest in returning.  The parents are concerned about retaliation for coming forward about bullying.  We have lots of students where that level of chaos is comfortable for them but for students not from those environments it is very hard.

Blowman: Do you believe students are safe in the school (looked directly at Gerchman)?

Gerchman: Yes. (long pause) We are reviewing applications for special education staff and having interviews tomorrow.  Sue is the specialist and we want to make sure she is comfortable.

Johnson: Can we get detail around engagement of parents and students with addressing culture, when the application was in process and when the school opened, with other Met schools, and the steps taken to engage parents and plans to move forward?

Nobody answered.

Blowman went around the committee asking members and staff to state what information was needed from Delaware Met.

McRae: Calendar of instructional hours and social studies and science lesson plans, units, and alignment to standards.

Mazza: We need confirmation they have reached out to John Sadowsky (Climate and Discipline Director at DOE, who did attend the meeting but left early, was not announced) for physical restraint training.  We want a list of IEPs and the 60 days, we aren’t seeing it in the system.

Gerchman: We got some expired IEPs, and we had problems with IEP Plus since 10/1.

Michelle Whalen: Please make sure all private information is redacted.

Mazza: If we find services were not being met what is the plan for making up time so services are met? And for the internships, we want to make sure these don’t provide barriers for students with disabilities.

Gerchman: We are using Positive Outcomes as a resource.

Harell: I want to know what other schools AJ English has a mentoring relationship with. Two teachers have left, I want to know of any other teachers leaving.

Johnson: I’ve asked for a lot. I’m asking for Schoology training, prior training, current use, additional follow-up on training for teachers, the training teachers got for social studies and science, the units are aligned to state standards, specific financial information about how much money receied for special education and how funds are being used and special education units staffed with  those funds, documentation on board docs to CMO, board training, detailed information on how board and staff utilized the additional planning year, and board engagements with parents and family members for school culture before school opened and after.  How many times have police been called?  Are there costs for Wilmington police to provide services?

Gerchman :Yes, $100 for two hours. This just started yesterday.

Field-Rogers: This isn’t budgeted.

Gerchman: We gave all the discipline information to John Sadowsky and the charter school office.

Johnson: (directed to DOE). I would like that information provided to our office (State Board of Education).

Blowman: The goal today is to assess where the school is today with concerns and to determine if there are still areas of concern. Meeting adjourned.