Kowalko Vs. Schwartzkopf, Press Conference 1/13/15 At Legislative Hall In Dover

After Delaware House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf gave State Representative John Kowalko the boot off of the House Education Committee and the House Energy Committee, thousands of Delawareans have voiced their displeasure at this action.  Kowalko has hit the papers, blogs and the radio since then.  Tomorrow, he is giving a press conference in his office at Legislative Hall in Dover.  Here’s what you can expect:

 

State Rep John Kowalko and Kevin Ohlandt Statements To The Christina School Board At Their Meeting Tonight

The following is State Representative John Kowalko’s public comment, given tonight at the Christina School District Board of Education meeting.

So long as the following section stays in the draft MOU, the District, Superintendent and Board are abdicating substantial authority that they now legally own. It also is a betrayal of the current school leaders and the districts rights to choose those leaders. Allowing the State, and DOE to name a list of acceptable alternatives by signing this draft keeps intact every ambition that this Governor and DOE have for a takeover of the district’s and board’s responsibilities and lawful authority. Please seriously consider refusing to approve this MOU unless the language giving the State authority to unilaterally submit their approved list is removed entirely.

i. The State and District must agree on the selection of the School Leader
.
If not in agreement, the State will provide specific rationale in writing to the Superintendent and the process will begin again.
II. Final contract approval will be up to the Board of Education
ii. Should the District fail to produce an approved leader the State may provide a list of candidates from which the District may select and submit to the Board of Education for approval.

This section retained in the MOU draft that you will be considering is a total abdication of the Districts legal authority and responsibilities to its employees and usurps the power of the Superintendent to seek out and hire the most qualified leaders for these schools based on their experience and knowledge of these schools, the students, the communities and the teachers. Ceding this authority is tantamount to approval of the Governor and DOE’s bullying and coercive abuse of power that has dominated the entire “priority schools” dialogue.

There are many other serious issues with the entire “priority schools” process and I will highlight a few.

  1. The artificial time frame unilaterally imposed by Ms. Schwinn and DOE is an obvious attempt to deny an open and honest dialogue with the stakeholders and public involved. This is evident in Ms. Schwinn and DOE’s refusal to attend and join in the numerous meetings that were held to attempt to craft a legitimate plan although DOE was specifically invited. This arrogant attitude has become a hallmark of this Administration, Secretary Murphy and DOE obviously intended to intimidate and coerce you into forfeiting your rights.
  2. The designation and measurement techniques employed in identifying the six priority schools are irreparably flawed and have no standing of merit. A cursory reading of the emails that I received under FOIA and forwarded to you reveals a nefarious collusion that ignores and misrepresents facts and portends to evaluate success and failure with absolutely no statistically provable measure. In fact, the DOE and Governors assessment of the success of Eastside Charter used an incomprehensibly flawed measuring cohort to wit:
  3. Nelia Dolan, on December 27, 2014 at 12:37 pm said: The greatest proficiency gains made in East Side Charter that everyone is touting was carried by a single cohort of students that went from 62 students in the third grade (2010/2011) to 29 students in the 5th grade (2012/2013).
    Unless you can look at the gains of each individual student, then the possibility that the students who left the school were ones that did not perform well enough to meet standard is too great to ignore.
    What difference does it make if the student body engineering is happening on the front end or somewhere in-between?
  4. In addition the FOIA documents also show that there was a concerted effort to deliberately exclude charters from being considered as failing in a desperate attempt to ignore the truth and reality and to isolate the selected six schools and their staffs as beyond redemption under current district leadership and mandating a DOE assigned leadership change that totally ignores the independent findings in the DASL report that showed significant gains while these schools were led by the current principals. These principals, that Ms. Schwinn and DOE are so willing to exile and disparage are depending upon you to defend them and protect them from those who would falsely and maliciously distort their records and abilities.
  5. Finally, I know that there has been discussion about the expense of challenging this abuse of power in court and is it worthwhile. Everything is worthwhile when you are defending the rights of children against an intrusion of power brokers who see them as a product or marketing device. Everything is worthwhile when you are defending the rights of dedicated professionals who are more family and friend to these children then these corporatist could ever dream of being. Everything is worthwhile when you are defending the rights, responsibilities and authority granted to you by an electorate that deemed you worthy of caring for their children and their children’s teachers and friends.
  6. A legal challenge would only be necessary if this Governor decided to fulfill his own ego-driven agenda to wrest power from the duly elected board that you represent. It would be premature to consider legal action at this time but appropriate to refuse to sign this MOU. I urge you to consider all of these things and many more and reject this abuse of power which will irreparably harm the entire Delaware public school system and its children and not approve this MOU as drafted.

 Representative John Kowalko

And next up is public comment from Kevin Ohlandt, some blogger from Dover.  Since I was unable to make it up to Wilmington tonight, Mike Kempski, President of the Christina Education Association was gracious enough to read this in my absence:

Esteemed members of the Christina School District Board of Education,
My name is Kevin Ohlandt.  I spoke at another of your board meetings almost three months to the day.  Since then, the bullying and intimidation on the part of the Delaware DOE has increased dramatically.  As well, our own Governor used a Vision conference as his bully pulpit in regards to the priority schools.  While it is okay to feel fear, it is not always okay to act on it.  In this situation, the DOE and Governor Markell are using fear as their biggest weapon.  This is the time to be strong, and tell them no.  This is the time to tell Governor Markell the Christina School District will not sit back and watch him take over their schools.  Whether you sign a draft MOU or let Markell take them over, either way you are giving them what they want: surrender.  They will use this as precedence and make you do the same in the future.  They will use you and every single student, teacher, administrator and parent to get what they want.  The priority schools initiative has never been about the betterment of student’s education.  This is corporate education reform in it’s filthiest, dirtiest form.  The truth will come out about what has been going on behind the scenes.  Bits and pieces have already been exposed.  The state wanted these six specific schools.  They have manipulated data and used race, income status, and special needs as the impetus for their decision.  This is not good for Wilmington.  This is not good for Delaware.  And it is certainly not good for Christina School District.  Be stronger than the fear they want you to have.  You have more people in your corner than you realize, and we will continue to fight for all of you.  Thank you!

Christina and Red Clay Reject MOU Deadline, My Public Comment at Christina, DOE Board Members Leave In Disgust @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @delawareonline @TheStateNews @DoverPost @CapeGazette @WBOC #netde #eduDE

Tonight at the Christina Board meeting in Wilmington, the board unanimously voted to essentially ignore the MOU.  Instead, they have decided to look at board member John Young’s resolution to craft an MOU that would involve all stakeholders involved.  Meanwhile, Red Clay wrote up their own MOU which would require no outside agencies or companies to take over the priority schools and to eliminate the caveat that a new school leader would be paid $160,000.00 and would instead be paid at the district level.

Parents, teachers, and legislators filled a packed house tonight at the Christina board meeting.  The board quickly waived the 3 minute limit for public comment.  Legislators such as Senator Brian Townsend and State Representative John Kowalko voiced their opposition to the MOU as it is currently written.  Several teachers commented as well.  Jackie Kook, a teacher in the district, kept referring to the Delaware DOE’s usage of the words “Human Capital” when referring to teachers in the priority schools and how degrading was.

The bulk of the audience did not support the MOU.  Some community leaders spoke in support of the MOU, even suggesting the priority schools have corporate sponsors to help lift them out of the DOE designated “failing” status.  Two members of the Delaware DOE Board Of Education made public comment, Dr. Terry Gray and Gregory Coverdale.  Both used other schools in Delaware as example of what they can do for the low income schools such as Booker T. Washington Elementary School and Positive Outcomes Charter School in Kent County.  Comparing those two schools to the six priority schools is night and day in many respects.

I gave public comment, which is below.  Driving up from Dover during rush hour was well worth it.  All board meetings need to be this exciting!

My name is Kevin Ohlandt.   Thank you for letting me speak tonight.  I’m here to talk about the special education issue in the priority schools. I live in Dover, but the issues here are just as important as they are in Capital School District. What happens with these priority schools will affect every single public school district in the state. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in the state.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy has ALREADY indicated he expects 70% of students to fail the test. But if this is what we base proficiency on, and the test has already been determined to be a failure (not the students), how can we blame the schools, teachers and students for this? If a test is that bad, how can the fate of our public school system rest on bad judgement thrust upon us by a Governor who listens to the will of Rodel more than his own citizens?

As you are well aware, there are over 300 students with disabilities with active IEPs in the priority schools. First of all, the formula designated for the priority schools is based on data that is over three years old. It is designed to specifically target these six schools that are all within a mile of a charter school building in Rodney Square. I don’t think this was an accident. In point of fact, I believe this is something Governor Markell and the DE Department of Education want to happen. Are we really going to send these children back to the hell some of them already escaped from? Sure, the charters will say they “just didn’t fit” or “we weren’t able to offer them services”, but the DOE has allowed this to happen. The DOE Board, not publicly elected, sit there in Dover and praise the charters without ever addressing the true problems. The charters specified enrollment preference caters to the charters needs and not the will of the public. So if you take all these children with disabilities, and reject them because they don’t “fit your mold”, and deny them entry or counsel them out, the result is why we are here tonight. This is triple segregation: they have disabilities, they are low income, and they are minorities. Let those words pause in the air for a moment. Triple segregation.

But what will happen with these children who have disabilities they neither asked for nor want? Will their IEPs be adjusted for the upcoming changes? Has anyone in the DOE mentioned this in the MOU or the Turnaround Guide? What IS happening is the DOE seems to be circumventing federal law with IDEA code. This is something the US Department of Education is already being investigated on by members of the Education Committee in the US Senate.

Say Christina and Red Clay agree to the MOU.  The DOE has already indicated increased school hours and additional tutoring for the students of these schools. Has this been covered in these students IEPs? I don’t think so.  Does state law trump federal law? I don’t think so. Say the districts don’t agree to the MOU. When will the great takeover begin? Any parent of a special needs child needs to understand how dangerous this situation is for special needs students and special education teachers. It’s bad enough the DOE wants to insert Common Core into IEPs in their Standards-Based IEP agenda. But now they want to completely change the most important parts of IEPs where choice is taken away from parents, and things like Least Restricted Environment and Free Appropriate Public Education are turned into a joke under Mark Murphy’s reign in Dover.

The DOE has already put their chess pieces on the board. They hired a charter school transplant from California to add to the madness in Dover. Mrs. Schwinn, in the August Delaware Board of Education meeting, when asked about crime and murder in Wilmington affecting the classroom by Mr. Coverdale, said “That’s not necessarily a hurdle to overcome.” Really, in this city?

This needs to end, and it starts here, tonight. This board, along with Red Clay, can stop the madness coming from Dover. We can stop this state and federal intrusion on our public school districts. They want to dismantle the freedom we have and turn our children into common core zombies, without any regard for their individual minds. We will not stand for this. From the top of the state to the bottom, every single student in a public school district is threatened by the likes of the Delaware DOE, Mark Murphy, Governor Markell, Rodel, Arne Duncan, Vision whatever the damn year is, and yes, the Delaware Charter School Network. Follow the money and see where it goes, cause it is not going to the children of Delaware. It is going to data coaches, and companies that are making great profit at the expense of the children of Delaware. Earlier, a gentleman spoke of corporate entities sponsoring our most needed schools. This is wrong, and we’ve already seen what happens when corporations get involved in schools. Common Core, RTI, Smarter Balanced Assessment. And the list goes on and on. My suggestion is simple: How about we stop teaching to the test and judge our schools, teachers and students on actual grades based on summative and formative assessments in the classroom, and stop this insanity.

It was a good night to be a citizen of Delaware and see the people decide their own fate.  This decision will have ramifications, but they already know what will happen.  As John Young also said during the meeting, it’s a game of chess with the DOE, and the next move is up to them.  But what will the districts next move be?  A source outside of the DOE has informed me the DOE has already rejected Red Clay’s revised MOU.  Tomorrow may be a very interesting day.