2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report.  This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools.  As I predicted, special education students rose again this year.  To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide.  The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year.  Overall state enrollment went up by .9%.  Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year.  No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case.  Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters.  Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading “2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment”

Advertisements

Newark Charter School: Where Is Your Outreach Plan? We Have Been Waiting Four Years…

When Newark Charter School had its major modification for their high school approved in 2012, then Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery gave very specific conditions for the approval.  One of them was to offer free and reduced lunch for the students of NCS.  Another was to develop an outreach plan so their demographics were more consistent with that of the 5 mile radius they draw students from.  The below letter from Lillian Lowery was written about a month before she resigned as the Secretary.  But this was their approval.  Some have referred to this as “The Lowery Doctrine”.

It is obvious the Board of Directors at Newark Charter School have ignored this condition to their modification.  Four years later and a Delaware Secretary of Education has yet to see their Outreach Plan.  Lowery never got it.  Murphy never got it.  Godowsky never got it.  But here was are, as Newark Charter School has its first graduating class, and NO Outreach Plan.  As of their September 30th count by last school year, they had less African-American students than the year before.  They did go up in students with disabilities from 5.6% to 6.5%.  And their Hispanic population went up a little bit.  But that is not the same as an actual Outreach plan.  Where is this NCS Head of School Greg Meece?  For all the talk and bluster coming out of this school, no one at the top of this school has delivered what they were supposed to.  I’ve heard parents say they are attempting to rectify their demographic situation, but when they were given a direct order by the Dept. of Education, they blew it off.  For a school that seems to want others to follow their perceived notion of “the letter of the law” they sure do cherry-pick what to follow…

The Heart of the District/Charter Funding War

History will teach us nothing.  Or that’s what they say.  In this case, history is teaching us everything.  Almost three and a half years ago, Newark Charter School had a major modification approved that allowed them to open a high school.  One of the biggest concerns was the financial impact it would have on Christina School District.

During the Public Hearing for their modification request, NCS Board President Steve Dressel said the financial impact of $2.4 million wouldn’t hit Christina until year five of their expansion.

While CSD will make the claim that an NCS expansion will be “devastating”, the reality is the financial impact on CSD is quite small.  CSD estimated it to be $2.4 million…

Dressel was correct in one aspect.  That estimation was “quite small” because when you flash forward three years later, that number jumped three times the original estimate.  In their final budget for FY2016, Christina had a picture in the presentation which showed how much Newark Charter School and other charters receive from them.

CSDFY2016FinalBudgetCharterPmts

Christina had 2,008 students choice out of the district to Newark Charter School.  On the Delaware DOE website, it shows NCS had 2,140 students enrolled.  That means nearly 94% of their students come from Christina.  And that number will go up for both this year as NCS reaches a 12th grade.  How do charter payments, which were estimated at $2.4 million three years ago, jump up to $7.3 million?  And counting?  Did the formula go up that much in just three years?  Are we sure this formula hasn’t changed already without anyone knowing?  This is a huge financial impact for a school district.  This illustrates that NCS knows exactly what kind of impact this has when they get their checks from Christina.  And still, they want more.

While some called my article the other day a call for a “holy war” against charters, it was Greg Meece who once said “this is jihad against charter schools,” when the Delaware State Education Association commissioned a report on the impact charter schools have on school districts.  This came from a 2008 article in the News Journal.  Ironically enough, David Blowman talked about the impact this had on the Brandywine School District to the tune of $2.3 million going to charter schools.  Blowman was the key figure in the now-failed attempt at changing the local cost per pupil formula which would give charter schools more money.

At the time of this article, legislation was brought forth to have the State Board of Education limit the number of new charter school applications if it would have a large financial impact on the districts the charters drew their students from.  The bill did not move forward in that session, but Meece’s claims of destruction to Delaware charter schools hardly came to pass.  The report DSEA bought was released to the press by former State Senator Charlie Copeland.  Copeland later opened up a charter school called Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.

I believe history will repeat itself if this new charter funding formula goes ahead at some point.  This scenario has been proven time and time again throughout America over the years.  The price tag keeps getting higher and higher every year.  Even though there was a moratorium on new charters in New Castle County last year, that didn’t stop the State Board of Education from approving many modifications for increased enrollment at some charters.  With all the increases, that might as well have been a new charter school.  But our State Board of Education, led by an Executive Director who is definitely in bed with the Delaware Charter Schools Network, keeps remaining oblivious to the reality before them.

But Meece, drawing from his infamous “crab bucket” analogy from 2012, still seems to think everyone is out to destroy his “successful” school.  Christina is not paying them what they deserve and they want more!  Regardless of the consequences.  The original opinion piece by Meece is no longer available from the News Journal, but luckily Delaware Liberal saved it for all to see:

Years ago, someone explained to me a phenomenon called the “crab bucket syndrome.” As crabs are caught and tossed into a bucket, the first crab tries to climb out to save its life. Other crabs, seeing his escape plan, grab hold of the first crab’s legs, which pulls him back into the bucket. Eventually, all the crabs perish. In schools, this is a metaphor for, “If I can’t have it, neither can you.” This is what happens when a group tries to “pull down” any other school that shows success can be achieved.  This is happening in Newark, where a group is trying to stop one of our most successful public schools, Newark Charter School, from expanding.

As Pandora brilliantly pointed out in her article on this, Meece forgets about all the crabs that are killed so the few can get out as well as the fact that Meece’s actions are what happened to Christina not Newark Charter School.  For Christina, the tipping point with Newark Charter School happened three years ago.  Now it is just the spear point jabbing at an already bleeding wound.

 

State Board of Education Approved Modifications For DAPSS, DE Design-Lab, First State Montessori, & Prestige Academy

The Delaware State Board of Education approved all the major modifications that came across their table last Thursday. The charter schools involved either raised or lowered their enrollment numbers with their modification applications.

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security got rid of 8th grade and lowered their enrollment numbers to 330 for the 2016-2017 school year with increased enrollment of 375 by the 2020-2021 school year to keep them as a 9th to 12th grade school.

Delaware Design-Lab High School also lowered their enrollment, but they will be adding 11th grade next year as per their original charter application. Their growth is a bit more aggressive with 350 students in 9th-11th grade for 2016-2017, 475 for 2017-2018 when they add 12th grade, and up to 600 by 2019-2020.

First State Montessori Academy, who will be taking over the former Delaware Met building next door to them, was approved to add a middle school with students in 6th to 8th grade. Their enrollment for 2016-2017 must be 430 students in Kindergarten to 6th grade and by 2021-2022 they must have 654 students in K-8.

Prestige Academy is now a 6th to 8th grade school instead of a 5th to 8th middle school, and their enrollment has been lowered to 240 from the 2016-2017 school year and every year proceeding that.

Odyssey Charter School had a modification approved without the consent of the State Board of Education since it was considered a minor modifications. Their modification surrounded enrollment with increases less than 15%. Odyssey’s approved enrollment includes their high school which will make them a K-12 school by the 2019-2020 year. Both Kuumba Academy and Great Oaks Charter School had similar minor modifications approved in February by Secretary Godowsky with no grade level changes.

With the charter moratorium for Wilmington still in effect from House Bill 56, no new charter schools can apply for a Wilmington location. But that doesn’t seem to stop the existing schools from tweaking their numbers. Many First State Montessori parents wanted the change, but some folks submitted public comment around their enrollment preferences and were worried this could create more bias in the school. Prestige and Delaware Design-Lab were both on probation due to low enrollment figures last year. Their will still be many charter school enrollment changes next school year based on these approvals. More students in flux around Wilmington is not, in my opinion, a way to stabilize the situation with constant student movement in the city. If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan is approved by the 148 General Assembly, it will create even more flux with students as Christina’s Wilmington schools become a part of the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Charter Modification Update: DAPSS, DE Design-Lab & First State Montessori Get Thumbs Up From DOE

Grand_Central_Station_Inside

Three of the five charters that submitted major modification requests to the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education got the green light today.  The Charter School Accountability Committee held their final meetings with the three schools today.  All three received a recommendation of approval from the committee.  The State Board of Education will make the final decision at their March meeting.

Two other schools that submitted major mods have meetings tomorrow with the CSAC.  Prestige Academy has their last meeting and Academia Antonia Alonso has their first.  Another school, Odyssey Charter School, submitted a minor modification for enrollment changes but Secretary of Education Godowsky exercised his authority to give them the CSAC treatment.  They also meet with the CSAC tomorrow.

Should the State Board approve all these modifications, many students will be in flux next year.  First State Montessori will increase their enrollment significantly.  Two other charters submitted minor modifications for up to 15% increases: Great Oaks and Kuumba Academy.  They only need Secretary approval and not the State Board.  Prestige, Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, and Delaware Design-Lab will decrease their enrollment.  Academia Antonia Alonso will actually move their location from the Community Education Building.  This is on top of Delaware Met closing in January and Delaware College Prep closing at the end of this school year.  In December, Red Clay’s board approved a modification for Delaware Military Academy to start increasing their enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year.  Who needs a freeze on new charter applications when the Delaware DOE becomes Grand Central Station for Wilmington charter school students?

Academia Antonia Alonso Submits Modification To Change Location Out Of Community Education Building

Syringe

One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out.  Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School.  Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey.  So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?

After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.

Now this is some logic I can get behind!  Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays.  It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.

Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces.  Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.

Thank you!  While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!

Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.

Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!

In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time.  Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.

Wow!  How much thought went into student safety for this building?

The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision.  Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.

So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe?  Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle?  I would get the hell out of this location too!  I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…

To see the full major modification request, please see below.  For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings.  A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.

Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building?  I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!

 

 

 

First State Montessori Academy Enrollment Preference Arguments Heat Up

 

fsma-icons

On Saturday, I published an article concerning First State Montessori Academy’s major modification request to increase their enrollment and add middle school grades.  To say this has been controversial would be an understatement.  Public Comment, whether it was on this blog or through the official public comment channel on the DOE Charter School Office website.  Last night, the Public Hearing for First State Montessori’s major modification request was held.  When the transcript from the hearing becomes available I will put it up here.

At their December 2nd board meeting, First State Montessori talked about forming a committee to explore the option of increasing their enrollment and adding extra grades.  The board passed a motion to increase their enrollment by 5-15%.  School leader Courtney Fox said they would have to get a major modification request to the DOE by 12/31/15.  What is very interesting here is the school leader’s mention of the Delaware Met building next to them, at 920 N. French St.  While she doesn’t come out and say it, it is obvious the school is assuming Delaware Met would be closed.  The board doesn’t even mention the possibility of adding middle school grades at this point in time either, only adding more Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms.  As well, Fox, who is NOT a member of the board, announces a future meeting to discuss the possibility of the modification request and increasing their enrollment.  Why did the board not vote on this?  Does Fox run the board as well as the school?

On December 19th, an agenda for a 12/28/15 board meeting was put up on their website.  It indicated their would be an update on the Exploring Expansion Committee.  One would assume the board voted at that meeting on their major modification request and to add middle school grades.  By this time, the announcement by the State Board of Education over Del Met’s closure was old news.  Three days after Christmas is a very odd time to have a board meeting.  While the board did do the right thing in putting up the agenda at least a week prior to the meeting, how much ability was there for members of the public to know about this meeting and potentially weigh in on the topic?  On the flip side, the State Board voted on the charter revocation for Del Met on 12/16 so the school had to see what would happen with that decision before moving forward.  But I still find it ironic there is no definitive plan set in motion earlier in December to add middle school grades to the school and all of a sudden it materializes in their major modification request submitted on 12/30/15.

This is merely conjecture on my part, but we already know the DOE suggested DAPSS submit a major modification request instead of a minor modification request.  How much input should the DOE have in suggesting modification requests to Delaware charter schools?  And what of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network who seems to be a intermediary between charter schools and the Delaware DOE?  I will be very upfront and say something really doesn’t smell right here.  And with all these modification requests coming from charter schools how can we be sure this could not somehow influence the State Board of Education’s vote on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan?

In the meantime, check out what folks had to say about this hot topic:

“J” said:

Kevin, the interest in Montessori thing is as easy as taking a tour or even talking for a moment to someone from the school in the community. They are at the expo and other events. Have held info sessions at local libraries, etc. It’s easy. The Montessori model is very different. There are mixed grade classrooms, no traditional desks, no traditional homework packets. Very different and something that families and students should be aware of. “Interest” in this case is awareness of the differences, that’s all.
Ask about it – learn about it. Heck, e mail me. This doesn’t cherry pick anything.

Eve Buckley said:

The questions raised in the final comment have been asked since FSMA opened. According to DOE’s “school profiles” for this school year, FSMA students are 65% white and 8% low-income. The two districts surrounding it are 44% white, 35% low-income (Red Clay) and 32% white, 41% low-income (Christina); those figures include suburban regions with less poverty than the city. So FSMA could clearly be doing more to attract and retain a student population more reflective of its surrounding communities (or even of the countywide student population). No pressure in that direction from its authorizer?
Note that Cab and Newark Charter, also very popular “choice” options, also have low-income % around 8. That seems to be the sweet spot for appealing to middle class public school consumers in the area (if you can’t achieve the 2% attained via testing by CSW).

Mike O said:

For families who “choose not to apply” to charters such as NCS or Montessori, I am sure many don’t even realize those are public schools their child is eligible for. Which is how you get to 8% low income without testing

jane s said:

it’s especially sad to see this happening at an elementary school. the goal should be to give children the best start possible regardless of their background. this could be a place that helps children enter middle school and high school on equal ground, but instead it’s just adding to the divide. nothing will change if people don’t speak out.

Eve Buckley said:

I agree! It is really sad–waste of an opportunity.

jenn said:

hi. i think the practices of fsma are fair and comprehensive. interest becomes a priority only because the montessori method is not of interest to everyone, much like a dual-language school like aspira is not of high-priority to many families. if you are to apply to fsma, because it’s a school in your neighborhood, without carrying any interest in montessori principles, then how detrimental will that student be in the classroom? (in terms of congruence, not as a human!) i do not know why the five-mile radius is not ‘more of a priority’, but i believe the admissions process does indeed actively reach out to all areas throughout delaware. it just depends on who researches montessori/has experience with it, and who thinks it is an important addition to the learning process. shown by the small number of montessori schools across the country, and the small classroom size within those schools, one can only surmise that is it not a hot topic among majority of families in delaware or beyond, regardleses of SES, ethnicity or neighborhood. we are ultimately creatures of comfort, and stick to the path most traveled. a school like this, or any other magnet, charter, votech, etc has enrollment because of interest and the desire to trek the brambly, gravel path. please see the good nature of such schools. i know it doesn’t sell like trash-talking does, but in a society deprived of an identity, the journey to recreating one for delaware schools could stand to be a lot less hotheaded. thank you.

John Young said:

No idea who Jenn is, but maybe she should join that sorry CSAC team which appears to olnly authorize losing propositions in DE Charterland. Bet it would be a great fit for a truly dysfunctional organization.

Natalie Ganc said:

I think that a stipulation should be put on all of these charter schools claiming that their school panders to their geographical radius: They should have to go pound-the-pavement (pamphlet in hand) to educate their neighbors to inform them of all of the benefits their child will receive if they choose to enroll. I say this, because I am quite certain that the folks living in the high-poverty areas have no idea what some charter schools are all about.

And from the official public comment section on the DOE website:

 

The Marcia Brady Charter Leader & Her Swell School

The first time I experienced the Marcia Brady of Delaware was at the House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50 last spring.  She spoke in opposition to the bill to the ire of many parents and teachers across Delaware.  Courtney Fox is the Head of School at First State Montessori Academy.  As the below Charter School Accountability Committee report shows, this school can do no wrong.  Marcia Brady, the oldest sister on the Brady Bunch, could also do no wrong.  This caused her younger sisters to envy and disdain her.  Such is the way of Delaware education at times.  There is always a bright star in the crowd.  And the comments from Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network really wanted to make me heave!  But is all it appears to be at the groovy school?  Below is CSAC’s initial report, followed by a very interesting letter from a company I’ve written about before on here, and finally the public comments received for this modification request to increase their enrollment and to take over the Del Met building.  The last public comment raises some serious eyebrows, including my own…

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.

 

Downtown First State Montessori & Great Oaks Look To Expand While DAPSS & Prestige Academy Look To Shrink

Four charter schools in New Castle County submitted requests for modifications last month.  Two are looking to get bigger while two want to get smaller.  The two that want to expand are in the heart of downtown Wilmington while the two that want to shrink do not have the benefit of having the key downtown locations.

FIRST STATE MONTESSORI ACADEMY

First State Montessori Academy wants to become a K-8 school in 2016-2017.  The shocking news in all this?  They wrote about their intention to use the building Delaware Met resides in until January 22nd.  The location is actually perfect if their modification request is approved.  Aside from boiler issues, the building is already conducive to older students.  The school is currently K-8, but they found they were losing a lot of 5th grade students so they could acclimate to the middle school environment.  By going through 8th grade, this would eliminate that problem.

GREAT OAKS CHARTER SCHOOL

Great Oaks submitted a minor modification request to increase their enrollment by 25 students for the 2016-2017 school year.  Their request shows that interim Smarter Balanced Assessments given to students are showing modest gains for students.  The school is reporting NO violent incidents at the school whatsoever.  In their application, Great Oaks indicated they are only using half of their designated space in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.

DELAWARE ACADEMY OF PUBLIC SAFETY & SECURITY (DAPSS)

The Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security submitted a major modification request to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office on December 10th.  They want to decrease their enrollment from their charter approved 480 students to 375 students, a reduction of 22%.  What makes this very interesting is the fact other charter schools in Delaware have been placed on formal review for not having 80% of their approved enrollment in their charter. DAPSS has not met their approved enrollment figures for the past two years.  The DOE looks at formal review status for charters if they fall below 80% of their approved enrollment based on the financial viability of the school.

According to the information submitted by DAPSS to the Charter School Office, their enrollment last year was 363, which put them at 76% of their approved enrollment.  This year, the school lost 60 students and currently stand at 303 students.  This is less than 64% of their approved enrollment.  My biggest question would be why they were not put on formal review last year or this year based on this information.

For their performance framework, the school was labeled as “Does Not Meet Standard” for their organizational framework three out of the last four academic years, in 11-12, 12-13, and 14-15.  For their financial framework, they were labeled as “Falls Far Below Standard” in 11-12, 13-14, and 14-15 and “Does Not Meet Standard” in 12-13.  Once again, they have not been placed on formal review for their very negative ratings on the State Board of Education approved Charter School Performance Framework.

PRESTIGE ACADEMY

Like DAPSS, Prestige Academy wants to lower their enrollment, but they were put on formal review for this last spring along with academic concerns.  As the only all-boys charter school in Delaware, Prestige Academy appears to be have been held under the microscope by the DOE quite a bit compared to DAPSS.  The charter school is looking to drop 5th grade and would be middle school only, serving students in 6th-8th grade.

IMPACTS

All of this charter shuffling, if approved by Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and the State Board of Education at their March meeting, comes at a curious time.  With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Wilmington students (aside from Colonial) into Red Clay, this is a lot of movement for one city’s students.  While House Bill 56 put a freeze on new charter applications in Wilmington for a few years or until the state can come up with a plan for all the charters in Wilmington, the existing ones look to capitalize on this and change their enrollment numbers to maximize the benefits for their growth (or shrinkage in two of these situations).  It is actually very strategic on their part.

The downside to this would be the effect it has on the surrounding school districts, especially in the case of First State Montessori Academy.  As a school that gets the bulk of their students from Christina School District, this could have a very debilitating effect on the already struggling school district.  It is my contention House Bill 56 should have put a freeze on modifications like this as well, but at the same time preventing any charter school from going on formal review for low enrollment due to so many changes going on in Wilmington education.

The 920 N. French Street building is certainly up for grabs.  I wrote a post last month that Las Americas ASPIRA Academy was looking at the location last month as well.  First State Montessori would be using part of the building next year.  Innovative Schools would be in some deep financial straits if they didn’t line up a tenant for this property right away.  I have to wonder how that works with rent for Delaware Met.  I assume they signed their sub-lease with Innovative Schools for a designated time period.  Will that contract cease as of January 22nd or in the weeks afterwards as the school closes down operations or are they on the hook until June 30th?

Only one new approved charter school will open up in the 2016-2017 school year, Delaware STEM Academy.  They will begin with 150 9th grade students, hoping to reach 600 students a few years after that.  I am not aware of their current enrollment figures for their first year.  The school choice window closes tomorrow.  As required by state law, the school will need to be at 80% of their enrollment by April 1st to prevent a formal review for financial viability.  While they escaped from formal review status last Spring, Delaware Design-Lab High School and Freire Charter School had major issues with their enrollment figures.  They eventually met the 80% figures but not without some major angst along the way.  Wilmington is a hot mess with far too many schools, in my humble opinion.  I would have to think this was not State Rep. Charles Potter’s intention when he submitted the legislation for the charter school application freeze…

Mapleton Charter Withdraws Modification, Has To Start Over With New Application

Mapleton Charter School has withdrawn its major modification request to move to Dover and change their name to Discovery Charter School according to David Paulk with the Dover Post.  I have to give the board a heads up for recognizing they were not prepared to open up in the 2016-2017 school year and avoiding some of the huge mistakes like Delaware Met this year.  I admit I was concerned when I looked at their modification request and only saw a budget for one special education teacher with an anticipated 200 students.  You know at least 30 of them would be students with disabilities, if not more.  But perhaps they recognized this along with other matters and they are being proactive.

Allison May with the Delaware DOE said:

“If Mapleton decides to withdraw its modification application and forfeit its charter, then the school approved to open in Middletown next year will not open,” she said. “The involved parties could submit a new application for another school, including one in Dover as their modification application suggested. If so, that would go through the entire application process again just like any other new applicant.”

But not so fast, because House Bill 56 with Amendment #1 states no new charter schools shall open in Delaware unless they were previously approved until June 30th, 2018, or until the State Board makes a better plan for all of this.  From HB56:

Section 2. There shall be a moratorium on all new charter schools opening until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State, whichever occurs first. The aforementioned strategic plan shall be based on a systematic evaluation of educational needs using national models and best practices that align with the public education system, such as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers guidelines.

This strategic plan is the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities currently under review by the State Board of Education and the Delaware Department of Education.  While I am sure they will be completed with this prior to 6/30/18, how does that work with applications?  If they can’t approve a charter for opening in 2017 if the review isn’t done, how can this school open in 2017?  This will be one to watch.

The legislation passed last year which placed a moratorium on new charter schools applies to Wilmington

Why Doesn’t The Delaware State Board of Education & The Secretary of Education Approve Minor Modifications?

The Delaware DOE must love charter school minor modifications.  An approved charter school can request a one-year delay or even choose an alternative educator evaluation system with a minor modification request.  But why doesn’t the State Board of Education have any say with minor modifications?  They used to.  This was changed with Regulation 497, which went into effect on November 1st, 2013.  Prior to that, both the Secretary and the State Board had approval authority.  The Secretary would make their decision and then submit it to the State Board for concurrence:

Decisions for minor modifications to a charter may be decided by the Secretary[, with the

concurrence of the State Board of Education,] within 30 working days from the date the

application was filed, unless the timeline is waived by mutual agreement of the Secretary and the

applicant, or in any case where the Secretary, in the sole discretion of the Secretary, deems that it

would be beneficial to either refer the matter to the Accountability Committee or to seek advice

from the State Board prior to deciding the matter.

Regulation 497 did away with this.  It allowed Mark Murphy, in one of his final acts, to approve many charter schools for an alternate teacher evaluation.  It also allowed charter schools that were approved to get a one-year delay in opening to get a stay of formal review by Mark Murphy.  The Delaware Met used this “get of jail free card” in April 2014 because they didn’t have sufficient enrollment to open by August, 2014.  The Secretary is one person.  One person should not be deciding “minor” decisions which can have a huge impact on students and staff at a school.  I think the 148th General Assembly needs to clearly definite what is considered a major and minor modification for a charter during their next legislative session.  And they should also realign this so the State Board of Education also has to approve both a major AND minor modification.

Mapleton Charter School A No-Show At Their Own Major Modification Meeting Today

When you submit a major modification to the Delaware DOE, you would think you would have the good sense to show up at your own Charter School Accountability Committee meeting to present your case.  This was not the case for Mapleton Charter School of Whitehall.  They sent an Innovative Schools representative to read a brief statement.  The rep asked for a continuance which the CSAC granted.

Last month, Mapleton submitted an application for a Major Modification to change their name to Discovery Charter School and move their school location to Dover.  They had a huge application for the modification, and over the summer they had a very large and extensive community survey they sent to numerous residents, churches and organizations in the area where they want to move.  Why in the world they would drop the ball and not show up to one of the most important meetings for their cause is beyond me.

It seems to me like charters are relying on Innovative Schools to run everything.  Innovative Schools is just a management organization.  They are NOT the actual school.  This school knew about this meeting for weeks.  I would have not granted a continuance to them.

Mapleton Charter Wants To Open Discovery Charter School In Dover

Get ready Dover!  Mapleton Charter School of Whitehall wants to change their name to Discovery Charter School and open up in Dover, Delaware.  A decision will be made my the December State Board of Education meeting on December 17th.  This would be the 4th regular charter school to open in Dover if approved, following Campus Community, Academy of Dover, and Early College High School.  They also want to lower their enrollment from 600 to 450 because of the demographics of Dover.

Serious Questions About Delaware Secretary of Education & Charter Modification Approvals

I was told last week by Alison May, the Public Information Officer for the Delaware Department of Education, that any change in teacher evaluation is considered a minor modification for Delaware charter schools.  If this is the case, why are there no applications shown online?  The DOE website clearly lists applications for other major and minor modifications, but for Freire and the Wilmington Charter Collaborative (EastSide, Prestige, Kuumba, & Thomas Edison), it does not show any of these.  At least not for the change in teacher evaluation.

The state law is very unclear about this aspect in relation to charter schools.  The code states all schools must use DPAS-II unless they have been otherwise approved for a different teacher evaluation system.  A minor modification is a change in school practices that does not go against their charter.  Since the DOE doesn’t list Freire’s actual charter, it is very hard to see if this meets the criteria for a minor or major modification.  And still, the DOE needs to be putting any application, from any school or district, up on their website.  But Freire seems to get a pass for some reason as their original application is not listed on the Delaware Charter Schools page on the DOE website.

So the unanswered question is this: Can Mark Murphy, in one of his last acts as Delaware Secretary of Education (his last official day is September 30th), approve an alternate evaluation system for Freire without consent from the State Board of Education?  I would assume a teacher evaluation part of a Delaware charter school would be embedded in their actual charter.  And was the approval for the Wilmington Charter Collaborative legal as well?  If anyone has the answers to this, with actual state law to prove it, please let me know.  I have searched extensively for this but I am unable to find it.  And it’s not like the DOE is actually being proactive and forthcoming with information these days, unless it’s to cover their own ass.  And the even bigger question, if it is proven this is a minor modification, should it be considered a major modification?

Family Foundations Academy: Where Is The Investigative Audit? Are They Still On Probation?

Family Foundations Academy, a Delaware charter school in New Castle, DE, formally requested an end to their six-month probation.  But their investigative audit may come out at the same time.  Last December, Delawareans were treated to a month long ordeal surrounding Family Foundations Academy.  During the school’s charter renewal, allegations came out against the co-leaders of the school for financial mismanagement.  It was also revealed the State Auditor’s office was going to investigate the school’s finances. By the end of the month, Sean Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington were out, and the board was radically changed in the first month of the year as members of EastSide Charter School took over.

The State Board renewed their charter but put FFA on formal review.  In March, the State Board put the school on probation for six months.  This will end later this month if the State Board agrees to it.  But in the meantime, while on probation, the school submitted and was approved for a major modification concerning the location of their elementary and middle schools.  And the Auditor’s report hasn’t even come out yet.  When can we expect this?  Given the timing for Academy of Dover’s similar situation, I would say sometime in the next month to month and a half.  It took the State Auditor’s office about ten months to complete their investigation on Academy of Dover, and that report came out on 6/24/15.  The State Auditor opened their investigation into FFA sometime in December, 2014, so we should expect the report this month or next month given the same trajectory.

Has FFA satisfied the terms of their probation?  That will be up to the State Board of Education to decide, but the school seems to think so if you read the below letter.  A frequent commenter on this blog raises a very serious question though about overall board membership at Delaware charter schools: Should board members reside in Delaware?  This is mandatory for traditional school boards since they go through the election process.  I would think it would be in our best interests to have the same for charter schools.

Family Foundations Major Modification Approved By State Board of Education, Potential Conflict Ahead?

On Thursday, the Delaware State Board of Education approved the major modification Family Foundations Academy submitted on June 30th.  Following the Charter School Accountability Committee’s final meeting on August 7th, a public hearing occurred on August 10th.  On August 20th, the CSAC approved the major modification.

The modification was approved for FFA to move it’s elementary school from it’s present location at 1101 Delaware Street in New Castle to 170 Lukens Drive in New Castle.  The 170 Lukens Drive has been home to the recently closed Reach Academy for Girls as well as the Pencader Business School which was shut down by the state two and a half years ago.  In addition, they will move their middle school from their former location in Newport at 1 Fallon Avenue in Newport to the former FFA elementary school location.  In the 2016-2017 school year, FFA will move it’s middle school to 160 Lukens Drive, the  other building where Reach and Pencader used to be and will sell the 1101  Delaware St. building.  If they sell the building sooner, the middle school will move to 160 Lukens Drive shortly afterwards.

The goal of the modification is enrollment expansion.  Currently both schools have enrollment up to 800 students.  This would allow them to expand to 1100 students.  Where this gets somewhat sticky is House Bill 56, passed by the 148th General Assembly in April of this year, and signed by Governor Markell on May 5th.  While this law put a moratorium on any new charter schools until 2018, it does not specifically mention major modifications with existing charter schools.  If a charter school is expanding, it may go against the law because the law specifically states:

“There shall be a moratorium on all new charter schools opening until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State, whichever occurs first. The aforementioned strategic plan shall be based on a systematic evaluation of educational needs using national models and best practices that align with the public education system, such as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers guidelines.”

By expanding their enrollment, FFA is throwing off the dynamic of existing charter schools and traditional school districts enrollment figures during this crucial time of transition with the current redistricting effort in Wilmington.  If Red Clay Consolidated takes Christina’s City of Wilmington schools, those schools may suffer from a decreased enrollment based on the actions of FFA.  The current Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities initiative, suggested by Governor Jack Markell in March, is enacting the Strategic Plan called for in House Bill 56.  The Delaware Department of Education must submit this report to the Governor, and they are anticipating its completion in November.

It would not shock me to see more charters submitting major modification requests in an effort to increase their enrollment before all is said and done.  At Gateway Lab School, the new principal and interim head of schools is a former assistant principal from East Side Charter School, Rebecca Brookings.  When FFA was under formal review last winter, East Side essentially took over the school from its prior leadership team and board.  With one of their key employees overseeing Gateway, some have expressed concern about the East Side Board of Directors and Dr. Lamont Browne beginning a charter consortium in New Castle County.  East Side, Kuumba Academy, Prestige Academy and Thomas Edison are all part of what is known as the Delaware Charter Collaborative, a consortium of charters that have their own teacher evaluation method outside of the DPAS-II used by every other school in Delaware.  How long until FFA and Gateway become a part of this consortium?  And what does it all mean for WEAC’s recommendation of a group to help manage the Wilmington charters?  The mysteries continue….

Updated, 10:03pm, 8/22/15: This article has been corrected to clarify Family Foundations Academy is NOT selling their 1 Fallon Ave. location because they do not own it. This is owned by St. Matthew’s Church.  But they will be selling the 1101 Delaware St. location.  Sorry for any confusion folks!

Community Education Building Deferred $250,000 In Rent For Academia Antonia Alonso

According to Academia Antonia Alonso’s board minutes for their December 2014 meeting, the Community Education Building sent the school a letter agreeing to defer another $50,000 in rent, bringing a total of $250,000.00 to date.  As well, it appears enrollment is down and they have applied for a major modification based on these lower numbers.  This was at an emergency board meeting on 12/26/14.  In addition, I reported in early January that Head of School Peter Barry “resigned”.  The DOE Charter School website currently shows Teresa Gerchman as the Interim Head of School, who also serves as the CMO for Early College High School at Delaware State University (at least as of their November board meeting).

I really wish my mortgage company would keep deferring my mortgage!  Hell, if they deferred a percentage of that, I’d have my house paid off!  Is it the CEB deferring the rent, or the Longwood Foundation?  Read about it below!