Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum In Newark Taken Over By Students And Teachers

Delaware’s budget deficit hit a new stage last night when Christina School District students took over State Rep. Paul Baumbach’s Education Forum at Newark High School. As well, Senator David Sokola said the issue with the 5 mile radius bill was about transportation. It was an evening full of dodged questions and skirting around the issues.  It was a night when things were as confusing as Twin Peaks and the Mighty Thor put her hammer down! Continue reading

Why Should Red Clay Get $6 Million In Funding For Things All Delaware Schools Need & Deserve?

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It struck me last night that if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan does pass the State Board of Education, the 148th General Assembly and the Governor that Red Clay will benefit immensely while every other district and charter school in the state will suffer.  The plan calls for Red Clay to get all these perks starting out.  I’ve heard Tony Allen say the redistricting is the “price for admission” to all the great things WEIC will offer.  But why in the world should Delaware taxpayers pay for one district to receive $6 million while the others have to wait?  We hear a lot of talk about how Wilmington needs less governance.  Allen and Dan Rich talk constantly about how there are 17 governing education bodies in Wilmington between the districts and charters.  So going down to 16 is the answer?

I was unable to attend the WEIC meeting last night, but I did communicate with some of the members through Facebook during the meeting.  My whole beef with this initiative is the lack of basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  For these students, this is their foundation, the building blocks of their future education in Delaware.  These students cannot afford to wait through the Response To Intervention process to “determine” if they should get special education services or not.  You can’t fix disabilities.  While Tony Allen did say he is working on getting this implemented into the state budget, I commented on this Facebook post that it should have ALWAYS been there.  The WEIC plan calls for this to start in Red Clay.  Sorry Mr. Allen, but what about all the other students with disabilities in the state?  Why should all those students be slighted so one district can get millions of dollars for taking $2500 more students, on top of the large increase in regular school funding they will get anyways just by having those 2500 students come into their district?

The biggest disappointment in WEIC for me thus far is their complete and utter failure to look at the elephant in the room: standardized testing.  This has done far more damage to Wilmington schools than anything else since The Neighborhood Schools Act.  And as we have advocates like Dr. Michael Lomax from the United Negro College Fund playing the civil rights and race cards to make sure Wilmington citizens continue to believe the lies about education in our state through the News Journal, the rest of the state has to wonder how much we can afford to “fix” the problems in education while ignoring the biggest problem of them all.  We have a gushing wound here folks, bleeding out faster than we can stop it.  Putting a Band-Aid on part of the wound while the rest bleeds out is not going to do anything.  Nobody wants to make the head-on charge against Governor Markell.  They believe he is infallible.  This ignorance is killing us in Delaware.  This blind loyalty to a man who continues to lead our children into menial jobs with their Common Core foundation is a disaster in the making.  There would be no need for opt-out at all if we can make the changes our state needs in education.

The fact WEIC is even considering making changes to their “final” draft based on the State Board’s cowardly no action is an injustice.  The State Board is going way beyond the scope of the legislation surrounding this, and there are a considerable amount of legal questions surrounding their vote of nothingness.  Forgive me for saying this, but Dan Rich’s voice in Delaware education for well over fifteen years is enough.  What has he done to improve education?  Who is he loyal to?  University of Delaware or Rodel or WEIC or Tony Allen or Wilmington or Governor Markell or the DOE?  See what I’m saying here?  So WEIC changes their “final” draft again, do they allow the local school boards a chance to vote on it or do they just say “Here you go State Board, this is what we came up with.”  Having one member of the Wilmington school boards on the commission does not give those people the power to speak on the board’s behalf with constantly changing plans.  Or maybe this has been the plan all along and we will see the true motivation behind WEIC in these new “final” plans.

If we want to fix Wilmington schools, this is how we do it.  About 8% of Delaware’s education funding comes from Federal dollars.   But 100% of the current problems are coming from their mandates.  Let’s dump the federal funding.  Completely.  Say bye-bye to it and all the poison and vitriol that comes with it.  We are talking about $80 million dollars we just don’t give to our schools.  In return, we also say goodbye to state mandated high-stakes assessments.  That will save us well over $20 million a year.  Since the DOE makes everything about the results of this testing, we would also no longer have a need for all these outside companies coming into Delaware to do their expensive research that tells us nothing new or twists data to make it look like our schools are worse than they already are.  This includes many programs through the University of Delaware.  This saves us another $30 million or more.  The DOE needs some massive trimming.  Since there are so many positions there tied to assessments, teacher evaluations, and professional development, we can easily save about $10 million right there alone.  Since we don’t have this fed money anymore, we get rid of the labels: priority, focus, focus plan, reward, recognition, etc.  All the money that the state ends up paying for that: $2.5 million a year.  The next part is a bit trickier and more complicated.  We need to recognize which legislators are riding Markell’s gravy train to destroy public education in Delaware.  We label them and do everything in our power to make sure they are NOT elected again next November.  Many of these legislators allow all the loopholes in the state budget that benefit charter schools and education reform companies.  We don’t need Longhurst’s ridiculous SAIL program for our kids after school.  We don’t need $11 million going to Delaware STARS for the early childhood education scams.  No more charter school transportation slush funds.  No more charter school “performance” awards.  No more minor capital funding for charter schools.  We rewrite the laws and get all this pork out of our state budget.  Now we have a surplus from this loss of federal funds.  We have more money.  This is where we reallocate this money to all our schools.  We write our own state standards, as far away from Common Core as we can get, and have true stakeholder input to determine what our children need to know.  We find ways to strengthen our teachers by giving them the resources they need: smaller classroom sizes, more support for special education students, and less administrative oversight.  We eliminate the biases for charters and get rid of enrollment preferences.  We take a strong look at our district formation in Delaware and consolidate many of them.  We redraw lines all over the state, not just in Wilmington.  We trash the current concept of school choice and disallow students from travelling out of district to go to different schools.  We find the flaws in our special education and we plug those holes.  We get rid of the cash going to all these administrators whose very jobs were created so students in their districts do better on the state test.  Teachers get to actually engage more with their students.  Students will care more about their education when true equity is realized.  Students who care more will know more and will do better.  That is the goal, not forcing them to care.

If companies like Rodel don’t want to play ball with the way things are done, we just don’t listen to them anymore.  We bite the bullet and call their bluff and say no to the privatization of our schools.  Because that is the end result.  All privatization does is give us more charters who perform the same as the deceased traditional school districts, or ones that are essentially free private schools who cherry-pick their way to the top of the school rankings.  Kind of like the class system in our country: the lower class, the middle class, and the wealthy class.  A lot in the bottom, some in the middle, and very few at the top.  This is the end goal with everything going on in education.  And as that middle class of education shrinks away, we are left with many at the bottom and a small percentage at the top.  This is playing out all over our country, in every single state.  The likelihood of your child getting a good education from the way things are now is getting slimmer by the day.  It isn’t just African-Americans.  It is whites, Hispanics, students with disabilities, low-income/poverty students, all of them.

All of this takes ignoring what those in power are telling us.  Those with money and influence.  If we want education to survive in Delaware and make it more of an equitable chance for our children, now is the time to institute radical change.  Not at the November elections.  Not when Jack Markell leaves office in January of 2017.  Now.  Now is the time.  These are my solutions for Delaware schools.  Not solutions for Red Clay schools with an expectation that the rest will get those solutions down the road.  That is cherry-picking, district style.  We are above that as a state.  Our children deserve better than that.  All students deserve the best education, despite what color or disability or economic background they are from.  So let’s stop using the students who are most at risk and start looking at ALL children as unique and finding out what their individual needs are.  We can’t lump children into a group and say this is what they need.  They are not they.  One student.  One set of needs.  One student at a time.

Prophets & Profits: The Year In Delaware Education

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2015 was a transition year for education in Delaware.  It was a year of prophets and profits.  Many were wondering what was going to happen next while others were making money.

Common Core was around for a few years, but the test that most were dreading was finally here.  Parents opted their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment causing Delaware to miss some of the 95% participation rates for different sub-groups.  For the remaining students taking the test, the results were a battle cry across the state.  Students did not fare better on the test, in fact they did worse than the DCAS.  Most people involved in education predicted this, including the Delaware Department of Education.  While the Governor, a couple of legislators, and the DOE fought the opt-out movement, the rest of the state rallied behind it and there was no greater symbol for it than House Bill 50.  With some touch and go moments, and huge support from the Delaware PTA, the legislation passed the Delaware House and Senate twice with an overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate.  As we all know, Governor Markell went and vetoed the bill in July.  This didn’t stop the DOE and State Board of Education from putting more knives in parents and schools backs with their twisted and diabolical opt-out penalties in the school report card debacle.  The teachers escaped the wrath of the Smarter Balanced results as they received another year off from the scores counting towards their teacher evaluations.

To date, the DOE gave American Institutes for Research $38 million dollars between the Smarter Balanced Assessment and DCAS.  Many other companies profited immensely from the DOE’s efforts to “fix” our schools.  But the DOE itself lost half of Governor Markell’s proposed $7.5 million increase for the Department.  DOE wanted to keep Race To The Top going with their own employees, but didn’t want to maybe, perhaps, send those funds to the classrooms where they are desperately needed.  In the end though, the DOE kept most of the employees hired through Race To The Top, even though they are slowly but surely leaving the DOE.  Leadership at the DOE changed with a new Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky.  The former Secretary, Mark Murphy, “resigned” after votes of no confidence from the two biggest districts’ unions, the state teachers union, the state school administrator group and funding for Red Clay priority schools got seriously jacked up.  But he “resigned”…

Speaking of priority schools, Christina got to keep theirs, but lost two referendums and a middle school principal named Dr. Dan Shelton who became the Superintendent of the Capital School District after Dr. Michael Thomas retired.  Christina’s superintendent, Dr. Freeman Williams, went out on leave and shortly after announced his retirement causing the board to hire an Acting Superintendent, former Red Clay Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski.  But due to school choice, Christina continued to bleed students who went to charter schools in Wilmington and the surrounding areas causing many to fear for their financial viability by the start of their next school year next fall.

The entire Wilmington education mess brought about a moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington for a few years or until the DOE could come up with a “strategic plan” to figure it all out.  Meanwhile, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission was born out of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee which recommended all Wilmington schools not already in Red Clay be moved to that district.  Brandywine and Colonial nudged themselves out of the deal, leaving Christina as the sole giver-upper of their Wilmington schools.  This is, of course, contingent on votes by the State Board of Education and the Delaware General Assembly next year.  The biggest issues with the redistricting effort are funding and lack of faith in Red Clay being able to take on all these schools when they can’t handle problems with inclusion and bullying in some of their own schools.  The devil is in the details, and the funding detail hasn’t been solved.  Ideas such as raising property assessments did not win WEIC a lot of public support.  Nor did the near shut-out of representation from Kent or Sussex County.  While it is a Wilmington commission, the fact that their ideas would support the whole state and they named their website Solutions for Delaware Schools didn’t help the matter.

A couple of charter school leaders in Delaware made immense profits off taxpayer money…until they got caught!  Both of these incidents put Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover on formal review with the DOE and very nasty investigations by the State Auditor’s office.  Both survived, mainly because the former heads of schools were given the boot.  In the case of FFA, East Side Charter School essentially took them over who was still basking in the glow of their miraculous “growth” increases on DCAS.  A point which their leader, Lamont Browne, bragged about incessantly at the Imagine Delaware Education Forum in March.  Not able to survive a formal review was Delaware Met, which was given the hangman’s noose a couple of weeks ago by the State Board of Education.  The Charter School of Wilmington had an interesting Spring with one student’s discipline issue taking up quite a bit of space on here.  Low enrollment woes put new charters Freire and Delaware Design Lab High School on formal review, but they were able to get their numbers up just in the nick of time.  Freire’s Head of School “resigned” after violating their own zero tolerance policy against local protesters.  As the authorizer of three charters in their district, Red Clay dumped Delaware College Prep but renewed the charter for Delaware Military Academy.  The DOE pulled a hat trick and renewed three charters: Campus Community, MOT, and Providence Creek Academy.

Sussex Academy got a pool.  Many charters had their own teacher evaluation systems approved by the Secretary of Education.  Odyssey and Delaware Military Academy basically asked the state for more money to expand but they did this through articles in the News Journal which caused State Rep. John Kowalko to tell them it shouldn’t happen.  Kowalko, along with many other legislators, opposed the Fiscal Year 2016 budget because of slush funds given to charter schools through transportation funds and performance funds.  But what really drew their ire was settlement funds from the foreclosure crisis that were used to plug holes in the budget.

The entire General Assembly dealt with education bills left and right.  The most controversial were the opt-out bill and the charter school audit bill.  Other education legislation dealing with funding for special education and low-income students, cursive, and recording of all board meetings in Delaware were left hanging until the legislators come back in a couple of weeks.

None of these bills stopped the lobbyists from swarming Legislative Hall like a herd of buffalo.  The Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network and the Delaware Business Roundtable gave their lobbyist say on most education bills.  Rodel beefed up their personalized learning game with Student Success 2o25 from their Vision Coalition.  Their CEO, Paul Herdman, had a pretty good year.  I can think of 343,000 reasons why.  All opposed House Bill 50, which drew more negative attention to their organizations.  Especially from the bloggers.

Kilroy’s Delaware and Transparent Christina cut back on their output.  Kavips brilliantly beat the same drums he/she usually does.  I posted a few articles.  New blogs entered the Delaware landscape with fixdeldoe, Creative Delaware, and State Rep. Kim Williams’ Delaware First State joining the fray.  The very excellent Who Is Minding The Children came and went.  Newcomer Avi Wolfman-Arent with WHYY/Newsworks gave Matthew Albright over at the News Journal some much-needed competition.

A lot of what happened on the national level funneled down to Delaware.  The reauthorization of the Elementary/Secondary Education Act created the Every Student Succeeds Act with many scratching their heads asking themselves what the hell it all means.  But our DOE was able to line up all their initiatives with what went down in the final legislation, even though they were planning it years in advance.  I would love to know how they managed to pull that rabbit out of their hat!  Actually, for the education conspiracy theory mongers out there (myself included), we all know how that went down.  That’s right, Congress didn’t write the act, the corporate education reformers did.  The unions all supported it, but it will come back to bite them in the ass.

Delaware escaped the special education “you suck” rating from the feds it received in 3 of the last 4 years, even though they really did.  As standards-based IEPs rolled out across the districts and charters, students with disabilities were put in the toughest “growth” goals of any sub-group in the state with an expectation they would go from 19% proficiency to 59% over the next six years of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Dr. Gray, the State Board of Education President, seems to think personalized learning will get them there.

Parents of Kindergarten students wondered why kids weren’t getting recess and some were getting off the bus with homework.  The days of students getting a break were gone in favor of rigor and grit.  While the DOE and US DOE claimed each student is an individual, their practices and policies were determined to throw them all together in their proficiency pie.

2015 did see a great deal of bi-partisanship with the opt-out movement in House Bill 50.  How the votes go down with the veto override next year will tell the tale on that one.  Many stories will either continue or come to an end in the General Assembly based on that vote as the 2016 elections will determine the fates of all the House Representatives and over half of the Senate.  Many are praying State Rep. Earl Jaques bows out and doesn’t run, along with Senator David Sokola.  This could provide much better leaders for the education committees in the House and Senate.

That covers most of the big moments in 2015.  2016 could be quieter or even messier.  All I know is 2015 was one for the record books!

 

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: Mike Matthews, Jackie Kook, and Mike Kempski

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In March, the Red Clay and Christina Education Associations passed a resolution announcing a vote of no confidence in Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware State Board of Education.  The resolution, announced at a press conference on March 12th, 2015, was widely cheered as a strong statement against the education policies and agendas of both the DOE and Governor Markell.

Their resolution was the first of a series of blows against the Department and Murphy in response to the DOE’s atrocious handling of the six priority schools in Wilmington.  Teachers in the two districts had enough with the standardized testing parts of their teacher evaluations.  RCEA and CEA, led by the Mikes, Matthews and Kempski, with support from CEA Vice-President Jackie Kook, brought the resolution up for a vote to their union members.  In addition, both educator associations supported the opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.  Over the coming months after their announcement, both the Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware Association of School Administrators echoed their calls of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

As 2015 draws to a close, we can’t forget the impact these three had on education this year.  House Bill 50 passed the House and Senate.  Mark Murphy is gone.  The new Every Student Succeeds Act calls for an elimination of standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations.  In a very big way, the two largest districts in our state received the most press this year, in large part due to the Wilmington redistricting plan.

Christina had a very rough year.  It started off with the priority schools debacle which led to a memorandum of understanding with the DOE to grant the district a second planning year in response to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s recommendations.  After that, they lost two referendums which caused a reduction in work force of 99 educators.  Dr. Freeman Williams, the Superintendent for the district, went on leave in August.  Their board narrowly passed a vote to bring in Bob Andrzejewski as the Acting Superintendent a few months ago.  Budget forecasts for the district look ominous as the district faces a third referendum attempt this year.  The redistricting effort in Wilmington, now awaiting a vote by the State Board of Education in January, will certainly change the makeup of the district if passed.

Meanwhile, Red Clay passed their referendum, but not without consequences.  A lawsuit filed by a family in the district in regards to operating procedures for the referendum could change the entire referendum landscape in Delaware.  While Christina received an extra year of planning for priority schools, Red Clay moved forward but not without severe issues with promised funding from the DOE.  New feeder patters led to a series of issues at Skyline Middle School as new students coming to the school literally changed the school culture of the building, resulting in a huge rise in bullying incidents.  The district’s inclusion initiative is now the hotbed issue in the district due to a severe lack of resources and staff to handle the complex and intensive needs of many of the students with disabilities.

Matthews, Kempski, and Kook will certainly have their hands full in 2016.  But as three of the strongest leaders not only in their district, but in the entire state, all three will be front and center in the debates and conversations surrounding education in Delaware.

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Passes Their Plan, 20-2-1

At tonight’s Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the committee passed their final draft which will be presented to the Delaware State Board of Education at their meeting on Thursday.  The State Board is expected to vote on the plan at their January meeting.  The no votes belong to State Rep. Charles Potter and Wilmington City Council member Nnamdi Chukwuocha.  One of the students representatives was absent from the meeting.

The sole public comment belonged to yours truly.  To summarize, I told WEIC “I hope you guys know what the hell you are doing!”  I advised them if this winds up making students with disabilities lives harder, they will all hear from me.  I let them know Red Clay is already having issues with their inclusion program, and putting more students into the mix could make it tougher.  I advised them I am resigned to this going to a higher power at this point and I hope the best decision is made for the students.

As the only legislator present at the meeting (Senator David Sokola had a proxy vote of yes in his absence), State Rep. Potter’s vote surprised me.  I’ve heard from many that the true battle for the future of the redistricting effort and the WEIC plan will be in the General Assembly.  The wild card is not that we will have a budget deficit in Fiscal Year 2017, but how much it will be.

WEIC will continue after this into the new year.  It is a five year plan and the redistricting is just the first step.  Chair of WEIC Tony Allen wished everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanza!

16 To Watch In 2016: Ashley Sabo

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Ashley who?  That might be a question many of you are asking.  But for those who know her, I’m sure they can contest that Ashley Sabo is a force to be reckoned with.  The first encounter I had with Ashley was during the Vision Coalition annual conference at the end of October.  For the past two years I have made it a point to “crash” their Twitter hashtag party.  I usually instinctively know where someone stands on Delaware education, but Ashley stood out.  She responded on many of the tweets, and it went from there.

Ashley is, first and foremost, a mother and wife.  One of her children is special needs.  Ashley became very involved in the Red Clay Consolidated School District to make sure her child was getting the best education possible.  Red Clay recently adopted a massive inclusion push for students with disabilities and their regular peers.  When the initiative started, Ashley knew she had to become involved right away.  As a result, Ashley was the co-chair of the Red Clay Secondary School Inclusion Committee.  She is now the co-chair for the District Inclusion Oversight Committee.

Her other volunteer activities are as follows: President of the Meadowood PTA, Secretary and member of the advocacy committee for the Delaware PTA, and she is working on becoming a trained Educational Surrogate Parent.  The last position is where someone acts as a parent in the special education process for children with disabilities in the Delaware foster-care system.  As well, she is also working on becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is a court-appointed position which helps abused or neglected children find a safe and healthy environment in a permanent home.

Back in March of 2014, Ashley and her husband were very involved in the feud between Nemours and United Healthcare.  For parents of special needs children, there is usually some catalyst that forces them to act.  For Ashley, this was that moment.  Once a special needs parent becomes involved in advocating not only for their child but others, it is very hard to put that fire out.  Shortly after I started this blog, another Delaware blogger left a comment on an article that always stuck with me in his accurate description of parents of special needs children:

I’ve always felt that God picks his greatest works and gives them special needs children, knowing full well that through their advocacy, care, and love, the envelope will be stretched enabling others who are weak, tired, and poor to be able to slip in and have their causes addressed too……. Meaning that if someone forces you to address an issue due to their advocacy, it is an easy next step to widen the breadth of the process to include the others as well. But the latter effort would be deemed totally impossible to attempt, were there never those advocates who initially force one to start the process. Across many states, there is a high preponderance of those who are considered the doers of good for society, who themselves are parents of special needs children. It is those parents, whose work keeps all of society human… That of course is my humble opinion. But it has become my explanation as to why all parents of special needs children seem to be, again in my opinion, bordering superhuman…

I wouldn’t say we are “superhuman”, but very dedicated to doing everything we can to make sure our children have the best life possible.  If that means going against authority or even state agencies in the attempt, so be it.  For Ashley Sabo, a life-long resident of Delaware with two masters degrees, she is well-armed for this.  There are many Ashley’s in Delaware and across America.  But Ashley has that extra fuel to keep the conversations going AND to make a difference.  I would strongly urge any district officials in Red Clay, state legislators, and those in power who have the capability of making true and lasting change for our special needs kids to truly listen to Ashley.  She is wise beyond her young years and this is clear when you meet her.  I have no doubt Ashley will be a force for change in the coming years.

As recently last night, I published an article about Red Clay’s inclusion push.  While it is certainly a very noble gesture, it won’t work if the resources and staff are not able to meet the needs of the students.  This is Ashley’s biggest fight at the moment, getting those in the district to listen to what is glaringly obvious.  Should the redistricting proposal from the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission pass, Red Clay will have even more students.  If they can’t get this now, how are they going to do this with a large influx of new students?  Whatever happens, I have faith Ashley will be at the front of the debate.  While she lists Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and State Rep. Kim Williams as an inspiration, I can say she is a light in the darkness for all the special needs children in Delaware.

Colonial School District Board Swindled By WEIC Leaders With Legal Loophole And Backdoor Meetings

On Tuesday evening, the Colonial School District Board of Education passed a resolution with a vote of 4-2 to support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting effort with the exception of the Colonial portion of Wilmington.  If you listen to their audio recording from the 11/10/15 board meeting it was a very controversial decision.

Board member Melody Spotts questioned the board not even hearing the resolution until the actual board meeting.  Most board resolutions are put out earlier so all board members can read it ahead of time.

Who on the board is seeing this for the first time tonight?  Did you see this prior to today? No. I did not see this posted in Board Docs.  You want us to vote on this today?

The resolution, presented by Board President Joseph Laws, would have Colonial support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting effort to send the Christina School District Wilmington students to Red Clay.  It would also allow Laws to remain on the Commission.  What the resolution does not give is an okay by Colonial to send their estimated 150 students to Red Clay as well.  They want to keep the current boundaries.  Laws also mentioned that Brandywine School District feels the same way.  Board member Richard Schiller was not happy with the WEIC response to the board’s October decision.

I don’t agree with the letter from Dr. Rich.  It was very condescending to this board.

Spotts was very upset that Laws and Blakey met with the leadership of WEIC without notifying the rest of the board which Laws quickly deflected in the conversation by asking the board if they wanted to continue to have him represent the district on the commission.  The board agreed but not if meetings are held the week before without the board being notified.

Laws left the door open for the Colonial students to possibly go to Red Clay with the resolution but not with an “11th hour commitment”.  Spotts was adamant about Colonial not sending out a resolution that states Colonial should say how Red Clay spends their taxpayer dollars.  She said their district would not be happy about another district doing the same for them.  The district refuted the claim from WEIC members about a financial incentive for Colonial to back out of the redistricting effort based on the Port of Wilmington area in Colonial.  The district explained this is a tax-exempt area and the district does not make additional money off this.  The funding issue was brought up by Spotts as well:

Sure, we’re building a house, tell me how much it costs later.

Laws explained they are increasing their test scores while other districts in the effort are actually going down.  Laws said he and Blakey met last week with Tony Allen, the chair of WEIC, Joe Pika, and Dan Rich to discuss Colonial’s backing out of the redistricting and said while it was civil it became very contentious.  He told them the Colonial board would not be budging and backing off from their decision unless the board as a whole voted on it.  The WEIC trio asked the board to pass a resolution in support of the recommendations which is where the trap was set for the Colonial board.

What this resolution does is tie the redistricting effort to what is already in paragraph 1026 of Title 14 by eliminating a referendum for the potential school districts:

(c) Subject to subsection (a) of this section, the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of any reorganized school district without a referendum of the voters if the written consent of the owners of the real property to be transferred has been obtained and if also the school boards of the districts affected by such change or alteration have adopted resolutions favoring such change or alteration.

This is the legal loophole to all of this and the WEIC folks clearly know this.  How they could have gotten this past Colonial with nobody questioning it at their board meeting clearly shows this.  Which is why I can no longer support this initiative whatsoever. If the powers that be want to play dirty tricks, then the entire plan is corrupt in my opinion.  While the resolution would allow for Colonial’s students to stay in the Colonial district, it is going to become a hot mess because Colonial’s board passed this resolution which is exactly what the WEIC trio wanted.  The 4-2 vote had the following votes: Yes-Laws, Benjamin, Kennedy and Magee, No-Schiller and Spotts.  Board member Tim Suber was not at the meeting.  The resolution is not on Colonial’s board docs portion of their website and did not appear before the meeting as well.

Backdoor meetings on the whole WEIC/redistricting effort goes against the very spirit of this whole thing, and it was indicated this would not happen.  Now it has, and nobody really knows what was said and if any side deals happened.  I cannot, and will not support this initiative based on that unless a full audio recording of the meeting between Laws, Blakey, Allen, Rich and Pika surfaces with everything that was said at this meeting.  This will not happen, therefore I can not support WEIC.

Red Clay Board Votes To Keep The WEIC Train Moving, But With A Caveat

The Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education had a special meeting tonight to discuss the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Christina School District students into Red Clay.  The biggest issue at this point is funding.  The Board passed a resolution with a 4-1 vote to keep it going, but it was explicitly understood that if the funding is not available, it is dead.   Superintendent Merv Daugherty said if the funding isn’t there by July 1st, 2016, Red Clay will not move forward.

I know many are cheering for this, but I say pull the plug now.  With the budget and elections being the biggest issues in Delaware come January, the General Assembly will have a very hard time justifying the costs for this while making crucial cuts elsewhere.  And there will be cuts without more revenue.  And just wait until it becomes mainstream that the WEIC plan will most likely hinge on an increase in property assessments for the entire state.  I don’t mind paying my fair share for schools, but when the anti-referendum crowd finds out, they will be incensed.  If you thought the right and the left were at odds on some issues now, just wait until that topic becomes a part of social media.  It will get ugly real fast!

I like Tony Allen and many folks on WEIC.  I think their plans are based out of a concerted effort to do what they feel is the right thing for the students of Wilmington.  But this is not the time, not with the monetary issues facing this state.  For all the money all these education foundations and think tanks donate, have we heard any of them offering to pony up some cash?  Hell no.  Because it is a traditional school district thing.  Bank of America is incorporated in Delaware.  You would think they would have pride for not just charter schools but also our traditional schools.  Where is their huge donation to all of this?  They have a crucial player spearheading all this.  Meanwhile, I am hearing more and more people accepting the Common Core but they still hate the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  What many don’t realize is the two go hand in hand.  The reason the test is so jacked up is because it is based on Common Core.  But people are actually calling them “the standards” now.  You can wrap a ribbon around crap, but it is still crap.  Do not be lulled into acceptance folks.

Colonial backed out, and it looks like Brandywine may as well.  Christina’s teachers have no assurances they will be able to keep their jobs if the redistricting goes through.  Christina is going to be facing their own hefty financial issues by the end of this school year.  Murders continue in Wilmington, and Dover is having its fair share of homicides as well.  Drugs are rampant in this state.  We have adults acting out against students, albeit rare, but it is happening.  There is the elephant in the room called racism, and it exists in this state.  It is real, and it is happening right now.  By the time Delaware becomes a powder keg, Governor Jack Markell will exit stage left, leaving a legacy that future generations will come to hate him for.  What will Rodel, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education do without their leader once he is gone?  The General Assembly is going to have their hands full, and I can guarantee you if they push the property assessment thing, the landscape of Legislative Hall will look very different come January 2017.

WEIC Needs To Be Transparent With Colonial

Side Deals.  Secret Phone Calls.  Backroom Meetings.  This is the stuff Delaware is made of.  By the time the public finds out about something, the script has already been written and the public part is just semantics and window dressing.  This is politics, not just in Delaware, but everywhere.  It is not something I believe in.  Neither does Christina board member John Young, who wrote the following on Facebook this morning:

All eyes will be on the WEIC with the Colonial declaration of retaining their students. If WEIC buckles, the premise for the WEAC recommendations and the subsequent, successful legislation is irrevocably damaged and a Pandora’s box of permutations will flood the marketplace surrounding the entire redistricting process. I do not envy Dr. Allen and the commission co-chairs right now. WEIC just got punched in the nose, so to speak, and their response is going to be scrutinized. This cannot be a series of private phone calls, this is the moment where transparency must shine. If this Colonial issue is negotiated in darkness, WEIC loses.

Back To School Message For Students, Parents, Teachers & Schools

In Delaware, all public school students are back in school.  This will be a very interesting year ahead for all of us.  The invasion of corporate education reform will be felt the strongest this year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment results will be released on a statewide level in a couple days and the results will go to parents in a few weeks.  Priority and focus schools will feel the pain of submitting plans to the Delaware Department of Education.  Opt-out will become bigger and more complicated.  Schools will lose essential funding due to budget issues in our state government that will continue to go unaddressed.  Reports will come out showing how some charters in this state should practice certain application tactics.  Parents and teachers will complain about things.  The DOE will make it look like everything is awesome when they come out with press releases.  Governor Markell will most likely have about 20 weekly messages and 30 public comments about how great education is but how much we need to do to make Delaware the best state in the country for education.  A new Secretary of Education will decide if the DOE should stay on course or course-correct.  The 148th General Assembly will debate education issues for our children and the DOE and their reform buddies will lobby the legislators for their own agendas.  Parents will become increasingly vocal about hotbed education issues in our state.  Common Core will be a common pain for students and parents.  Wilmington schools will be the front page headline for most schools in the state.  Vouchers won’t go anywhere.  Most of the people in the state will still have no clue who Rodel is.  I will keep blogging about all of this.  But at the end of the day, it’s about our children.  We all need to keep them safe and keep them learning.  The rest is just detail.  Best of luck to all involved in any way with education this year!

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!

Sneak Peak: WEIC Presentation At Red Clay Board Tonight & The Devil Inside

You find all sorts of things looking at a school district’s board meeting agenda. Tonight, Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and Dan Rich from the Public Policy Institute at the University of Delaware will give a presentation to the Red Clay Consolidated School Board on Red Clay’s role in WEIC. This is the presentation they are giving tonight, and it includes a very key section! See if you can figure out before I write it after the obligatory Scribd document…

Okay, if you read through the whole thing and didn’t just scroll down real quick, you know exactly what section I’m talking about, with nine words bolded for emphasis:

Will the implementation plan recommended by WEIC be limited to redrawing boundaries?
•No. Simply redistricting is of no value without a comprehensive plan for school reform.
•The WEIC plan must include funding, parent and community engagement, and wraparound services.
•The WEIC plan will present a comprehensive package and ask the State Board to approve the entire package.

As Tony Allen is fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and that is one hell of a detail.  I wasn’t aware the State Board had the authority to approve the entire package.  I thought they only had authority for the actual redistricting.  Where is the General Assembly’s role in this?  And this commission will go on for six years?  Does this mean they can go to the State Board whenever they want to implement changes without legislative approval?  That is a HUGE mistake.  ENORMOUS! GIGANTIC!  The State Board should not have that much authority.  They are unelected and appointed by the Governor.  They never vote against his wishes.  This is the devil in all of this.  Here is the exact wording from the Governor Markell signed House Bill 148:

(g) The WEIC shall work with and across all governmental agencies, educational entities, and private and nonprofit institutions to promote and support the implementation of all recommended changes from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC). The WEIC will oversee the redistricting of school districts as set forth in this Chapter.   The WEIC also will also monitor the progress of implementation and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations. In addition, the WEIC will develop a transition plan, including a timeline, for the provision of necessary services to schools and students affected by the implementation of the changes recommended by WEAC. WEIC shall also develop a resource plan regarding transitional resources to effectively implement school district realignment. Both the transition plan and resource plan must be submitted first to the State Board of Education and then to the General Assembly and the Governor for final approval.   Both are due for submission and related action by December 31, 2015.

This is a very slippery slope to start off on.  If I were the Red Clay board I would clarify this very important omission in their presentation TONIGHT!

And So It Begins…Markell Signs Bills To Allow For Redistricting Of Wilmington Schools & Creation of WEIC

Let the games begin!  Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 into law today at the Hockessin Colored School.  Joined by city and state leaders, these articles of legislation will allow for the creation of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) and the redistricting of Wilmington district lines by the State Board of Education.  Any plans the State Board comes up with will be subject to approval by the 148th General Assembly.

Delawareonline, in an article written by their education reporter Matthew Albright, published the news and a video earlier today.  Albright said WEIC will be chaired by Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive who also chaired the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC), and will have assistant chairs consisting of Kenny Rivera, the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and Elizabeth Lockman, a parent advocate who also served on WEAC.

The plan will move the City of Wilmington schools out of the Christina School District into the hands of Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Some, including myself, have wondered if there are ulterior motives at play from Governor Markell, city leaders, some state legislators, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.  I’ve always hypothesized there is a secret plan to increase the number of charters in Wilmington or make it an all-charter district.

The bottom line is it will come down to funding.  The state of Delaware is already projected to have a $160-$170 million dollar deficit in next year’s budget.  So where will the money come from for this redistricting?  I can picture corporations wanting to donate funds, or non-profits like Rodel or the Longwood Foundation.  They will have stipulations for these funds, which could change the overall plan for the redistricting.  Yes, it needs legislative approval, but what if there is already a consensus among our state legislators?  This is conspiracy theory at it’s maximum for a state like Delaware, and I pray I’m wrong.  But if the DOE is already reneging on the promised priority school amount for Red Clay, how can the state assure adequate and proper funding for this endeavor?

“As I have said many times, the only way this all works is if Red Clay has a seat at the table as decisions are being made, is properly funded for taking on greater responsibility and is given a reasonable timetable that we all agree to,” Allen said.

What will be important for Red Clay is to make sure they have a seat at the table and they are not what’s on the table!

Governor Markell has less than a year and a half left in his term as Delaware Governor, and he will want to leave his “legacy” on Delaware.  The question looms over what that legacy will be, and if it will be for the people of Delaware or corporate interests and the privatization of our schools.  I like Tony Allen, and I want to think he is being true to his word on all of this, but there is just way too much that hasn’t been planned or answered in regards to this.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will hopefully provide many of those answers.

Based on the video Delawareonline provided, in attendance were the following: Governor Markell, Tony Allen, WEAC Vice Chair Dan Rich, State Rep. Charles Potter, State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Senator Margaret Rose Henry, Kenny Rivera, Elizabeth Lockman, Kendall Massett (Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network), Karen Eller (Christina School District teacher and WEAC member), Delaware PTA Vice-President for Advocacy Yvonne Johnson, State Board of Education member Gregory Coverdale, Red Clay Consolidated Superintendent Merv Daugherty, WEAC member and legislative aide Meghan Wallace, legislative aide Mark Rucci, and many others.  If anyone wants to add names that I missed or don’t know, feel free to comment or email me.

House Bill 148 Creates Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

That certainly didn’t take long.  Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, hand delivered a letter to both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to create a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  The very next day, yesterday, State Rep. Helene Keeley sponsored House Bill 148, which would create this entity.

This is a very interesting bill.  It would allow a group not associated with the State government to implement changes through legislation.  I am very reluctant to any legislation that gives any type of authority to the unelected State Board of Education, especially for a redistricting plan.  I completely agree that many Wilmington schools desperately need help, along with many other Delaware schools.  But having a Wilmington-based group like this advising strategy for the rest of the state is a slippery slope.  I am intensely curious how this will all come out in the wash, over the long-term.  I agree with Tony Allen, the time to act is now, but it should not be designed to give short-term fixes to long-term problems.

I’m going to go on record here and say that 50% of the problems in Wilmington can be traced back to special education.  If this group does not tackle this issue, it will be destined for failure.  I don’t know who would be on this group, but it would have to be many people with a true understanding of children with disabilities.

This bill’s next destination will be the House Education Committee, which will not meet again until June 3rd after the General Assembly has a two week recess.  No agenda for that meeting has come out yet.

Wilmington Education Advisory Group’s Tony Allen Responds To Red Clay Resolution

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s Chair, Tony Allen, responsed to the recently passed Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education Resolution in regards to the committee’s recommendations for redistricting in Wilmington.  The below document has Allen’s response, and the actual resolution passed by the board on 4/15/15.

Wilmington Education Advisory Committee Final Report

After months of hard work, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee issued its final report today.  This mammoth 204 page report has many suggestions based on interviews, research and community input.  Please read the below report.  I will post my own thoughts in an update on this article after I have read through the entire report.

 

Tony Allen’s Letter To Wilmington Citizens re: Mark Murphy, DOE, Priority Schools, WEAC and Christina School District

Tony Allen, the chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee wrote a letter in response to the letter from Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to the Christina School District about the three priority schools.  Many people were confused about the DOE letter since it gave the options to close, revert to charter, or give the schools to a management company.  But embedded in the letter was also a recommendation to work with the DOE based on the recommendations of WEAC to redistrict Wilmington and take the Christina schools in the city and give them to Red Clay Consolidated.  Please read the letter from Tony Allen:

Governor Markell Letter Praises Wilmington Education Advisory Committee Recommendations

On February 11th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote a letter praising the efforts put forth by the members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.