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.

Delaware Senate Bill 165 Would Make Referendums Once A Year & Change School Board Elections To US Mail Only

Apparently there was a Delaware Senate Bill submitted on July 15th that I didn’t know about.  I found out because the House has a pre-filing day today so I thought I would check the Senate Side.  House Bill 165 would drastically change things with school district referendums.  Instead of a district having more than one referendum in a year, all school districts would have their referendum on the 2nd Tuesday of May.  This is also the same day when school board elections take place.  As for those school board elections, instead of having them at schools, they would take place through the US Mail system.  This bill is sponsored by Senator Karen Peterson and State Reps Michael Ramone and Deborah Hudson.  Co-sponsors are Senators Brian Bushweller and Margaret Rose-Henry and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden.  I assume a lot of this is in reaction to the Red Clay referendum last winter which is also part of a lawsuit.  To read the legislation, please see below:

Delaware Charters Getting Whiney About Wanting Capital Funding For Construction Costs

Matt Albright with the Delaware News Journal just wrote an article on Delaware Military Academy looking to expand.  During their charter renewal process, Delaware Military Academy (DMA) asked for a modification to increase their enrollment from 566 cadets to 715 over the next five years.  To do so, they would need additional facilities to hold the students.  They need capital funding to do this.  Delaware charter law explicitly states charters in the state do not receive capital funding.  Another Delaware charter, Odyssey, was highlighted in the News Journal a couple weeks ago for wanting this as well.  Albright wrote:

The school has a plan for how to expand, but it does not know yet how it will pay for it.  This is a common concern for charter schools because they do not get capital funding from state government like traditional schools do. That means charters must stretch their budgets if they want to build new facilities or make major renovations.

That is the way the law was written Matt!  Come on, you know this.  So why are you pandering to the charters?  I don’t see you asking citizens to vote yes in traditional school district school referendums.  This is just a big advertisement for the legislators.  This is how the charter community works.  They get the News Journal to write stories about what they are sorely lacking, right before the legislative session begins, in the hopes it will become an “issue”.  If I were the Red Clay board, I wouldn’t approve this modification if the school does not have the ability to hold the additional students and doesn’t have the funding available.  This is very poor planning on DMA’s part.  Crying poor after they submit a modification but before it is even approved shows poor judgment.

A recent bill which passed in the Florida House of Representatives would allow charters in the state to get 40% of the district’s funding for capital costs.  The capital funding part was just a part of a larger bill, but the bill had no controversy until the capital funding section was added.  Other highlights of the bill include:

The proposal would create the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to help new charter schools. It would also make it easier for top-performing charter schools to replicate themselves in high-need areas and specify that charter schools receiving back-to-back Fs would be automatically closed.

This is something Commandant Anthony Pullella, the leader of DMA, is already pushing for.

Pullella isn’t calling for the state to instantly start giving charters as much capital money as it does traditional school districts. But he does believe schools should be able to earn some assistance if they prove they are effective.

He proposes, for example, a graduated system in which a charter could earn 25 percent of a traditional school’s capital funding after five years of proven success. It could progressively earn more the longer it continues to show it is successful.

I could easily see some of the legislators in Delaware trying something similar to what the Florida House just passed.  In addition, other parts of the Florida charter bill are taking shape in Delaware.  We are seeing this with the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  As well, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee recommended an organization to oversee all the Wilmington charter schools.

Charter schools were required to be models of innovation that local districts could emulate.  But the problem with the perceived success Pullella talks about is the fact that this is based on standardized test scores.  This is the barometer of all public schools success in Delaware.  There is also the question about the school population and how charters select their applicants.  Any school can be a success if the application process is flawed and only the best and the brightest are allowed in.  This is something quite a few charter schools in Delaware have issues with.  Including the biggest: Charter School of Wilmington, another Red Clay authorized charter.

But the big kicker is this: what happens if the school closes?  Since charters are considered corporations and they are not state-owned, the property would revert back to that corporation.  Any funding a state kicked in would be lost forever.  Something Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brought up in the News Journal article as well:

“What if the school closes? Does the state get the building? It’s kind of a gray area,” she said. “DMA is very popular with parents. But they knew coming into this that that kind of funding was not available to them.”

Chances are we will see that exact situation play out in exactly one week when the State Board of Education will most likely revoke Delaware Met’s charter and have them close after this marking period ends.  While the school received no capital funding, they did receive $175,000 as part of the Delaware Charter School Performance Fund.  Money from this fund can go to capital costs with very little oversight.  We are now seeing, after twenty years of charters siphoning off more and more local school district dollars,  Delaware charters wanting to change the playing field even more in their favor.  Even though they get tons of money from the Longwood Foundation, they still want more.  Based on an illusion of success called standardized test scores.  And as usual, they find a public spotlight in the form of the News Journal.

When folks say I am anti-charter, I’m not.  I’m all about following the rules.  If it isn’t Family Foundations Academy squandering over a million dollars, or Delaware Met’s self-nuking a month after they opened, its stuff like this that drives me crazy about charters.  They brag about how great they are and act like they don’t have any money.  But DMA apparently had extra money to spend when they went through their own investigation with the Delaware State Auditor’s office a few years ago.  And lets not even get into special education at a lot of these charters.  They know exactly what I’m talking about, right guys?

I fully expect to see someone, possibly a Republican State Rep. or Senator, to introduce some crazy legislation like this in Delaware during the second part of the 148th General Assembly.  The big difference between Florida and Delaware is that the Republicans don’t hold the majority in the First State.  My recommendation to Delaware charters: stop whining about what you don’t have and looking for short cuts.  You know where to go to get that kind of money, so give the DuPonts a call.  Or one of the numerous charter-loving “foundations” or “non-profits” out there.  But stop asking an already cash-strapped state for more money.  And stop expecting to get more from the local districts.  Because at the rate you are “expanding” and “growing”, you are getting more of the local share of school district money than you ever were.  But what happens when those districts reach the breaking point, and they are no longer able to pass referendums?  Look at Christina as a model of this.  Cause if you don’t, you will end up shooting yourselves in the foot.

The one thing charters in Delaware do much better than traditional school districts is parent engagement.  I don’t think anyone will contest that.  But please, stop brainwashing these parents into reaching out to the media to get your way.  The bizarre cult-like fascination with some Delaware parents and charters is bad enough as it is.

As for the News Journal: please stop with your charter loving articles.  Yes, you write about the bad too.  But you try to bring issues up not because they are truly newsworthy, but because you are getting calls from the charter lobbyists who also happen to be aligned with your biggest advertisers.  It’s called bias, and it is well-known throughout the state.

Washington Supreme Court Ruling On Charters Not Being Public Schools: Could This Happen In Delaware?

The news broke tonight and all over the country folks are having a collective gasp and bewilderment at the Washington Supreme Court ruling on charter schools being unconstitutional in Washington.  Could this happen in Delaware?  There are some very strong arguments for this.  Given the nature of referendums in Delaware, and how charter schools get local funding, it could if there was strong support for it.  Do we have that in Delaware?

State Rep. Kim Williams really drove it home on social media tonight:

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I’ve always felt if charters want to be called public schools than they need to behave like public schools.  I’m not saying they all go against this grain, but enough of them do that it causes huge issues with feeder patterns.  I’m talking about you Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School, Delaware Military Academy and Sussex Academy.  But even more than that, the funding issues with Delaware charters cause more problems than they are worth.  Christina School District is definitely feeling the brunt of this right now, but what happens once the charter moratorium is lifted and more begin to open up across the state?  I just heard today that First State Montessori is looking to open a second charter in Sussex County.  And what about when schools like Family Foundations Academy get modifications approved to increase their enrollment?  MOT Charter School just opened a high school in Middletown/Odessa and that will surely affect enrollment in the Appoquinimink School District.

The way charters are funded in Delaware just doesn’t work.  There is only so much money to spread around, and funds getting squeezed out of the traditional school districts isn’t working.  It is creating chaos, and this will only increase.  Vo-techs are funded by line item on the budget.  Why aren’t we doing this with charter schools?

The political capital to do away with charters as public schools does not exist in Delaware right now.  There is far too much public support for them.  Some key differences between Washington and Delaware spotlight this.  Washington just began their journey with charters in the past few years.  Delaware’s began twenty years ago.  Teachers are allowed to strike in Washington (as they are doing in Seattle right now) and Delaware’s can not.  Despite Bill Gates coming from Washington, this state sure knows how to challenge the reformers in Education.  Between high opt-out numbers, dropping out of Common Core, and now this, they are the state to watch!

The Trials and Tribulations of the Christina School District & Board

As everyone surely knows by now, Christina Superintendent Dr. Freeman Williams has taken a leave of absence.  Many are speculating as to the reasons why, but frankly I don’t feel it is anyone’s business other than Freeman’s.  He is doing what he has to do and I will leave it at that.

But what happens next for Christina is anyone’s guess.  Their deputy superintendent, Dr. Fara Zimmerman, is retiring at the end of August.  So who will run Christina during Freeman’s absence?  Nobody knows at this point.  There was a posting for a deputy superintendent, but that posting has been pulled.  Sources say this was pulled by one member of the board without consulting other members of the board.  Once again, this is one of the individuals who seems to think making major unilateral decisions for the district is more important than discussing this with other members.

Next Tuesday, the board has their monthly meeting and I expect more than a few fireworks to go off.  Tensions have been building in this district from all ends, and with these latest two events, as well as the whole “agendagate” from last week, the allegation that two board members acted to try to get Christina investigated by the State Auditor, two referendums that didn’t pass, substantial layoffs, an essential referendum for next year, and the whole Wilmington redistricting thing which seems to be putting Christina into a corner, this is a district on the edge.

What this district needs is fresh blood that puts children first.  They need a strong, vocal, and very heavy in education experience leader.  Not a coach, or a captain.  They need a General!  Someone who will take charge with vast amounts of experience in these types of issues.  Someone who will get out to the community and rally the people.  If Christina falls, it’s only a matter of time before something like that spreads.  We all know Governor Jack wants to further his corporate education reform agendas and get more charters in Delaware.  If anyone his any misconception or illusion concerning this at this point, I can only say “Wake Up!”

Governor Markell is drunk with power, but he doesn’t realize yet how bad the hangover is going to be for him.  It’s never been students first, it’s always been Jack first.  For Christina School District, Jack has made them his punching bag for so long it isn’t even funny.  It never was.  This isn’t to say Christina doesn’t have issues.  But when you are the largest district in the state, serving some of the most vulnerable of children, and charters are taking away the best students, there are bound to be issues.  Christina needs to unify, and it’s now or never.  They need to get their board to act in unity and pick the best leader for their district.  I am rooting for them!