Exclusive: The Truth Behind The Closure Of Design Thinking Academy

Urban

Shocking documents, never seen before by the public, give a shocking look at what led to the closure of Design Thinking Academy.  As usual, it is not based on academics but adult decisions and a corrupt board of directors. Continue reading

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Design Thinking Academy Next Delaware Charter School To Shut Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Trouble At Gateway Charter! Executive Director Resigns At Board Meeting!

Tim Griffiths, the Executive Director of Gateway Lab School, resigned last Wednesday night at their board meeting.  The Wilmington charter school, which caters to students with disabilities and struggling students, has been up and down in terms of success over the years.

Griffiths’ resignation comes on the heels of their Board President, Nate Schwartz, resigning a few weeks ago.  The school is facing what many charters in New Castle County are going through these days- declining enrollment.  But Gateway is a school that has a particular niche.  Many parents chose Gateway because of that niche.  If enrollment is going down, that means a few things.  Either the districts and other charters are doing a better job with special education or Gateway is struggling in that area.

Because there was not a quorum of the board at their meeting last week, the board will meet this week to officially vote on accepting Griffiths’ resignation letter.

As of today, their board consists of Vice-President and Acting President Jon Fletcher, Treasurer Henry Clampitt, Community Director Geoff Grivner, Community Director Joyce Henderson, Teacher Director Drew Keohane, Parent Director Tina Horgan, and Community Director Kenyatta Austin.

Gateway made major news in Delaware in the Fall of 2014 when their charter renewal was in doubt.  Due to a groundswell of support from parents, legislators, and advocates for students with disabilities, their charter was renewed.  But enrollment was not an issue at that time.

The audio recording from their February 20th board meeting is not on their website as of this writing.

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

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

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

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

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

Despite Getting Ten Million Bucks From XQ, Delaware Design-Lab STILL Can’t Get Their Enrollment Up!

Delaware Design-Lab High School submitted a major modification application to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office to lower their enrollment again!  This time they want to lower their enrollment by 26%.

I admire their tenacity, but sometimes you just have to realize there are too many charter schools in Northern New Castle County!  I’m not saying they should give up but how long is this going to go on for?  By failing to capitalize on their million dollar prize from XQ, they allowed their enrollment to drop to unsustainable levels.  They just got a major modification approved two years ago to lower their enrollment and now they want to do it again.

They were supposed to be at 475 students this year.  That was lowered from 600 students in 2016.  Instead, they had 298.  There is a reason no new charter applications have come in for New Castle County in three years.  They couldn’t even get to their magic number of 380 students to be at 80% enrollment based on their September 30th count.  They should be on formal review.  They were before they even opened for low enrollment but they managed to squeak by.  The only reason they aren’t is because of their XQ Super School prize.  I’m sure they are planning to spend those funds wisely but if their aren’t enough students there, what’s the point?  Apparently ten million bucks can get you a great many things except for actual students.

The rumor mill in Philadelphia is hearing Design-Lab wants to expand to the City of Brotherly Love.  I wouldn’t call their original in The First State a resounding success if they can’t get the students.

In their application, the school has projected enrollment for the next four years.  Their numbers don’t make much sense.  As an example, they are looking to raise this year’s ninth graders (69) to 75 during their sophomore year.  But then that jumps to 85 their junior year (because so many students transfer out junior year- insert sarcasm here).  But then during their senior year, it dips back down to 75.  For freshmen next year, they are projecting 100 students for that year.  But that will drop down to 95 the next year.  But inexplicably, the next year’s freshmen are projected at 100 but their sophomore year they will drop down to 90.  I guess you have to make the numbers fit somehow.  This is a far cry from their original charter application which was approved with 600 students by year four.

To see the major modification application, please see below:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delaware Design-Lab High School Also Lost Their Leader This Week!

The Head of School for Delaware Design-Lab High School, Joseph Mock, resigned after holding the position for less than six months.  I saw no notification on their website or social media pages.  This happened the same day Dr. Salome Thomas-EL was ousted from Thomas Edison Charter School.

Delaware Design-Lab has faced low enrollment woes since before they opened.  Further complicating matters is the ongoing legal matter with the former Head of School, Christina Alvarez.  They even have a new website.  They do have a board meeting tomorrow night.  They held an emergency session on September 13th to discuss “personnel and contract negotiations”.

Not much information to report, but this DID happen.  That I can say with 100% certainty.

What in the world is going on with our charter schools in Delaware?  It is not good for any school’s stability to play musical chairs with their leaders.  It certainly isn’t good for students!  I would think the school would make an announcement somewhere.  At the very least, I hope parents received an email from the school.  Or perhaps I am breaking this news to the public for the first time…

All the Design-Lab schools run out of Philadelphia.  This is the first (and only to date) Design-Lab school in Delaware.

State Board of Education Renews Charter For Academy of Dover

The Delaware State Board of Education renewed the charter for Academy of Dover.  This will give the school a period of five years, as every established Delaware charter gets, until their next renewal.  But there were some concerns from the State Board of Education.

The topic of Academy of Dover’s enrollment was the talking point for the State Board in discussing their charter renewal.  Their numbers, as I reported a couple of months ago, have been declining.  If those numbers don’t start increasing, they could face the unfortunate prospect of dipping below the state required 80% of their enrollment.  By state law, all charters must be at 80% of their approved enrollment by April 1st for the next school year.  If a Delaware charter does not meet their numbers, they are placed under formal review with the Delaware State Board of Education.  That process is somewhat similar to the charter renewal process but focuses more on the subject that places them under that review.  But it is still a daunting task.

For now, I’m sure Academy of Dover is celebrating their renewal but with a bit of apprehension.  As Capital expands their programming, which is the main feeder pattern for Academy of Dover, the charter school will have to step up their game to compete with Capital and Campus Community School, their main charter school competition in Dover.  Time will tell!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

asdf

Will Prestige Academy Survive Charter Renewal?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Breaking News: Delaware STEM Academy Considered For Formal Review

Another Delaware charter school is getting the formal review recommendation at the State Board of Education meeting tomorrow.  Delaware STEM Academy did not meet their 80% enrollment numbers required under state law and their own charter.

DelawareSTEMAcademy

I’ve seen this happen before with a few of the other new charters before they opened.  They don’t meet the enrollment numbers by April 1st, but they will probably meet them by the time this comes up for State Board action, most likely June the way these things go.  It happened last year with Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School of Wilmington.  Without knowing what their current enrollment numbers are, it would be hard to say what their situation is though.  The simple fact is this: we have too many charters in upper New Castle County.  The State Board should have considered this when they had their charter approval party two years ago this month.  This is what happens when you have too many schools and too many seats in those schools.  With some of the problems the newer charters had this year, such as Delaware Met closing mid-year and Delaware Design-Lab High School, Freire, and First State Military Academy experiencing opening struggles, I can picture many parents reluctance to send their kids to an unknown and unproven charter school.

 

Did Prestige Academy Lie In Their Major Modification Request?

It is modification mania at the Delaware DOE this month!  Prestige Academy submitted a major modification request to reduce their enrollment to 240 students, and two minor modification requests: one to drop 5th grade and the other to decrease their instructional days from 194 to 184.  In the Charter School Accountability Committee initial report, the DOE flat-out says information they provided in their major modification request is not true.  Also included are parent complaints.  There aren’t as many as Delaware Met 2.0 Delaware Design-Lab High School, but the main one troubles me quite a bit.  Where is the due process for suspended students at Delaware charter schools?  Does it even exist?  Students should not have to face over a month of suspension.  That is ridiculous!

 

Is Delaware Design-Lab High School Del Met 2.0?

Delaware Design-Lab High School is having some major issues.  While they are struggling with enrollment, it appears their school model isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Parents and students saw right through this based on some of the parent complaints below.  One parent went so far as to say they weren’t releasing her child from the one-year contract until after the September 30th counts.  Citing a lack of supplies, and even cafeteria food by one parent, this brand new charter school looks to be having some of the same issues as the recently closed Delaware Met.  While it doesn’t appear to be having the extent of the issues Del Met had, there is a pretty clear and consistent pattern here.  Their enrollment is so bad they want to decrease it.  Below is the Charter School Accountability Committee report from last week, along with information the school provided and parent complaints that came into the DOE.

 

Can Charlie Copeland’s First Responder School Knock My Socks Off?

I have never heard of a charter school basing their model solely on first responders.  I’ll just get that out in the open.  It is a rather unique model, but for a secondary school model?  I don’t know if I would choose to send my child there, even if he wanted to be a first responder.  Apparently, many parents agree as the school’s enrollment is precariously low.  Even though the Charter School Accountability Committee thinks things are on the upswing, it is based on estimates.  If their current trends continue, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security will be on life support very soon.  The DOE will be on them, STAT! (Sorry, had to do it!)

The Delaware GOP Chairman, Charlie Copeland, is also the President of DAPSS Board of Directors.  When I posted an article about the school’s low numbers the other day, Mike Matthews shared the article on Facebook which drew Copeland to the school’s defense.  He responded to my many questions about their enrollment issues and the timing of their modification request with the following:

Just simply call the school and take a tour. You can get answers to all your questions. Be prepared to have your socks knocked off. Life is so much simpler if you just do the right thing rather than join the wackos who make up conspiracies.

I may just take him up on it!  I’ve never had my socks knocked off!  In the meantime, take a look at the Charter School Accountability Committee’s initial report on their major modification request to officially lower their already low enrollment.

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.

Rumors Swirling About Prestige Academy Closing In January 2016

I had heard a few rumors that Prestige Academy wouldn’t make it past this school year based on their academics and enrollment, but could it be even sooner than that?  Tonight, a commenter posted the following on my “Ask Dr. Godowsky a question post” from a few weeks ago:

Good evening sir, My son is in the eight grade at Prestige Academy and I look forward to him graduating from there. He’s been there since five grade. I feel if the State wants to close at school they should at least wait til the end of the school year instead of the middle. Think about the students that have worked hard to achieve their goals and look forward to graduating from a school they been at since 5th grade. This is the only all boy school in DE. Mr. Greenlea didn’t even get a chance to prove what he can do because of factors that have spread structured before he even came there. So as a parent that works with children as well, I say to you sir please look at the situation and over turn the matter of closing Prestige Academy at the end of year and give Prestige Academy the same time as Academy of Dover til next year. I welcome you and I thank you for listening.(REMEMBER ITS ABOUT THE CHILDREN)

I am very curious about this.  Will the next State Board of Education meeting have some type of announcement?  For their Smarter Balanced scores, the top proficiency ratings were both in 5th grade with 21% for ELA and 18% for math.  But the DOE has already stated they won’t judge schools based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores from the 2014-2015 school year.  So what could possibly cause them to shut down in January?  It could be their enrollment.  If the numbers are below 80% they will go on formal review very fast.  They are already on probation.  If they closed in the middle of the school year that would have to be a decision by the school board unless something very serious is going on there.

If anyone knows anything about this, or if any letter has gone home to parents, please let me know!  All the Delaware charters should have their performance frameworks coming out in the next couple weeks as well so perhaps something came up with that.  This school fell off my radar, but it looks like something could be going on there.

Governor Markell To Attend Freire’s Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony Later Today

At 5pm, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will give the opening remarks at Freire Charter School of Wilmington’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Freire, who last year submitted a modification request to take away their specific interest clause in their enrollment preferences, was known for their “zero tolerance” policy.  Of course, zero tolerance didn’t seem to matter to the former Head of School named Bill Porter who was arrested after assaulting a female protester last March.  Members of the Midtown Brandywine Neighborhoods Association protested the school moving in the middle of their neighborhood due to changes in traffic patterns.

It is widely rumored that Markell was instrumental in bringing Freire to town.  Freire has a few charter schools in Philadelphia, but they are known for counseling out students.  At Freire’s formal review last Spring, due to low enrollment, special education was a main concern of the Delaware Department of Education.  Freire had a plan for getting out of state services for its students with disabilities.  The DOE said nope.  As well, Freire never hired a new head of school.  Instead the school is run by their academic heads, Paul Ramirez and Felecia Wennell.

Out of all the education events going on this week, Markell picks a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a charter school.  Lame-duck indeed…

Formal Review for Freire, Prestige Academy, DE Design Lab & Academy of Dover

At the State Board of Education meeting today, four Delaware charters, two of which have not even opened yet, were all put on formal review.  Two were for enrollment, one was for enrollment and academic issues, and the last was for academic and financial issues.

Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School were put on formal review for low enrollment.  As per Delaware state code, an approved charter school must have 80% of it’s fall enrollment by April 1st.  Freire had a major modification approved to reduce their enrollment cap from 336 to 224 at last month’s State Board meeting.  As of April 1st, they were at 78 and today they are at 92.  Delaware Design Lab is going through the same growing pains as well.  Other charters scheduled to open next year have the following enrollment percentages- Great Oaks: 100%, First State Military: 94% and Delaware Met: 81%.  Freire could ask for a one-year extension to open, but they would have to do so by 5/12.  Delaware Design Lab already was granted a one-year extension last year, which can only be done once.

Prestige Academy was placed on Formal Review for low enrollment as well as academic reasons.  Out of their 225 enrollment cap, they were at 59% as of 4/1 with 186 enrollments, and today they are at 190.  Their academic percentage of proficiency also went down 17% between the 2012-2013 year and the 2013-2014 year, from 56% to 39.1%.  What muddies the waters on this formal review is the framework for Smarter Balanced won’t be available until January for all schools.  For all three of the enrollment formal reviews, Executive Director of the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education Jennifer Nagourney said “Funding drives academic programs.”  And the schools funding is based on enrollment figures.

Academy of Dover, also in the hot seat for academic reasons definitely has some major financial issues going on.  Like Family Foundations Academy, they are being audited by State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  This also explains why the financial part of their performance framework has not been updated on the DOE website since last fall.  The school’s auditor noticed some financial irregularities and it was sent to Wagner’s office.  They couldn’t put anything up while the audit investigation was going on.  Nagourney did share there is a litigation matter going on with the school but she was unable to give any details.  I asked her specifically if the litigation had anything to do with former Head of School Noel Rodriguez resigning last fall, and stated she wasn’t sure of that.  She did state the auditing issues began an the same time Rodriguez resigned.  I’m sure there is much more to the story about Academy of Dover than what we are hearing, and I’ve already put some feelers out there.

Academia Antonia Alonso was taken off probation status, Odyssey Charter is complying with their required meeting with the Public Integrity Commission and will meet with them later this month, and Family Foundations Academy submitted their first monthly report to the charter school office as a condition of their probation status given by the State Board of Education last month.

After the meeting, I spoke with Nagourney and David Blowman, the Deputy Secretary of Education, along with Matthew Albright of the News Journal, Avi Wolfman-Arent with Newsworks/WHYY and Larry Nagengast with WDDE for a q and a on these issues.  The big question which the DOE was not able to answer was why these enrollment figures are so low.  The question was asked if the charter market in Wilmington is saturated.  but the fact that two other charters opening next fall makes this a difficult issue.  Blowman explained that a change in enrollment deadlines coupled with a first count of funding based on enrollment figures based on a 5/1 count seems to be causing problems this year.  When asked by Wolfman-Arent about any “ghost” schools, where an approved charter never opened due to low enrollment, Blowman and Nagourney did not know of any.

And yes, I was shocked to be invited to this impromptu media gathering!