16 Who Defined 2016: Greg Meece & Newark Charter School

No one seemed to be the center of controversy in Delaware education more than Head of School Greg Meece, the face of Newark Charter School.  Greg Meece had a very busy year behind the scenes of many headlines.  It almost seemed like the ongoing district and charter school war centers around NCS and the Christina School District.  Here, in it’s entirety, is the story of Newark Charter School in 2016.  There are still 27 days left, so I may have to put some updates in before 11:59pm on December 31st!  If you see blue in the article, that is a link to an article I published on NCS or Greg Meece.

Before I get into the whole local funding formula fiasco, we need to look at other events Meece was involved in.  Prior to this year, I really didn’t write about NCS that much.  The school tends to keep things to themselves.  What happens at NCS stays at NCS.  That changed in February.  On February 5th, it was announced NCS would get a “distinguished Title I” designation for their students outstanding scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The only problem?  NCS isn’t really a Title I school.  The reward was based on the district surrounding them which has Title I schools all over the place.

The next day, I posted how a special needs girl was denied an opportunity to participate in NCS’ lottery.  This caused a massive outcry all over the state.  The NCS board, the previous fall, said any child who turned six after a certain date would not be able to participate in the lottery.  For children with developmental or other disabilities who may start school later, this would prevent those families for applying to NCS.  I had people email Greg Meece.  He responded to my email the next day.  and it eventually caused the school to change their mind.  The girl was let into the lottery but she did not win a placement.

A month later, I discovered NCS does not file IRS tax returns because of very vague loopholes from the IRS dating back to 1995.  I sent a tip to the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office on this.  As well, I submitted a FOIA to NCS to which they responded very fast.  Nearly ten months later and nothing has come of the tip to the auditor.  I know they were investigating this because I received a call from the state auditor’s office about this.  When I called over the summer to find out that status of the investigation, I never received a confirmation that it was being worked on.

Things stayed relatively quiet until shortly after the school year ended.  Delaware Senator David Sokola nuked a great bill dealing with teacher evaluations in Delaware.  House Bill 399 was meant to undo some of the very damaging practices thrust open teachers from the state.  Sokola got involved with the bill and put an amendment on it.  One of the aspects of the amendment, the addition of parent surveys at the pilot schools, is something  Meece implemented at Newark Charter School.  The ties between Sokola and NCS just kept opening up like a can of worms.

As folks were getting ready for the 4th of July, I thought out loud about NCS, Senator Sokola, and the missing Kathleen Davies.  I wonder if NCS had anything to do with that.  Davies disappearance from the Auditor’s office hit mainstream media with a lot of details missing.  While NCS and Meece were not mentioned in that article, that didn’t rule them out on my suspect list for what happened to Davies.  State Rep. Kim Williams broke the news in comments on Kavips blog about a petty cash audit Davies had been working on that disappeared as well.  I went into a lot of detail and started naming suspects.  A few months later the mystery deepened what the petty cash audit turned into petty cash warning letters but NCS wasn’t involved.

While the Kathleen Davies mystery was simmering, I discovered NCS did away with the age restriction for Kindergarten applicants but they came up with a new policy that students entering Kindergarten could only apply once.  So if a child with developmental or other disabilities did spend another year in pre-school, and the parents applied to NCS before that, they could not apply the next year.  It was the same discriminatory package decorated in different wrapping paper.

After I received detailed breakdowns of every school district and charter’s payment allocations for Fiscal Year 2016, I began to take a closer look at NCS payments.  I found they spent an exorbitant amount on student body activities.  Only one district was higher than them.  This raised my suspicions that something funky was going on which led me to examine the funding for their “cafetorium” addition along with a STEM laboratory.  I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it was very ironic how numbers matched with other things.

By the end of August, as the school year started off nice and quiet, all hell broke loose.  The local funding formula was changing so charter schools would get more from the local districts.  I immediately pegged Greg Meece as the catalyst for this and dumped my feelings about NCS throughout the article.  Less than 24 hours later, Secretary Godowsky changed his mind on the change to the charter payments.  The next day I posed my theories on who was responsible for this at the Delaware DOE and openly asked Meece many questions about NCS.  I never did get a response from him.  I can’t imagine he is my biggest fan.  This led to a resurfacing of Greg Meece’s famous crab bucket analogy.  While all this was going on, Senator Sokola wrote a letter to the News Journal on his latest “discovery” for education.  Speaking of the News Journal, they wrote a very misleading article on the whole thing which prompted me to do even more research.  The President of the Christina board gave me the official news there would be no changes to the formula the next day.  But apparently Meece and NCS Board President had their own thoughts on the matter and wrote their version of events in a letter to NCS parents.  The true shock came the next day when a Senator Sokola email defended NCS and cast blame on Christina but I debunked a lot of his theories.  Then Christina sent a letter to parents.  For a week, NCS parents were coming out to defend their school.  Some of them got very nasty which prompted this response from me.  After a long ten days, I had to recap the whole thing and give some new information about district exclusions.  On September 7th, Christina held an open to the public legislative briefing to explain their side of the story and how the funding works with payments to charters.  I attended the meeting and recorded it.  Transcribing it was a bitch but it gave a ton of key information (which still makes my head hurt when the final outcome of this reached its climax this week).  I’ll have to see if I still have the recording to transcribe Part 2 of this meeting.  I assumed Christina argued their case so well it caused Secretary Godowsky to issue a letter to the legislators calling off the whole thing for this year.  Many assumed nothing would happen on this until the legislators returned in January based on Godowsky’s letter.

In the Spring, the General Assembly finally passed the Kilroy-inspired “All school boards must record” legislation.  For Newark Charter School’s very first audio recording, it was a whopping 16 minutes.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The next week, they won the Blue Ribbon School status from the U.S. DOE for their “outstanding” test scores (smelling a theme here?).  Senator Sokola got the spotlight treatment based on his upcoming General Election contest against Meredith Chapman so I felt obliged to showcase his very sad charter school legacy.  Of course NCS got a nod.

One would think after such a crazy month, NCS would try to stay out of the news.  Not the case.  The school ended September with a student sit-in.  Inspired by the U.S. Congress, students staged a sit-in when a teacher was fired over an incident with a student.  Instead of getting barbecued by the parents, the students jumped in on the comment roasting of this blog.  I actually admired the students for what some called “The Slappening”.  The teacher got her job back a couple of weeks later as Earth started spinning on its axis again.

On October 5th, Delaware found out the charter school response to Secretary Godowsky not moving forward with the change in the charter school payments from Christina.  15 charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.  I got my hands on the actual filing which named all the schools and parties involved.  By this point, everyone knew it was NCS who started this whole thing which they confirmed in another letter to NCS parents.  I soon received the whole timeline for the shenanigans involving Greg Meece, Kendall Massett, and Bill Manning.  This prompted me to look at some things that were very peculiar about this lawsuit.

A couple of weeks later, Delaware United made a three-part video series where they interviewed Senator Sokola.  Care to guess what the biggest topic was?  Education and Newark Charter School!

At the end of October, I found out that Newark Charter School was supposed to have an outreach plan to get more sub-groups in their school.  This was a condition of their major modification to start their new high school.  We are still waiting for this.

Last week, the Charter School lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE came back in a big way.  Christina’s board accepted a settlement with a 4-3 vote.  By the end of the week, the settlement leaked out before all the signatures were on paper.  Where did the leak come from?  Governor Markell’s office!

So there you have it: Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  More controversy than Donald Trump at a rally for Democrats!  More scandalous than… I can’t think of anything…  I sure do hope 2017 is quieter for Newark Charter School.  They lost their isolationism label this year!

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Reality Hits Delaware Teachers That SBAC Counts In Their Evaluations Now But Bigger Dangers Are On The Horizon…

Yesterday, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky sent a memo to all Delaware public school teachers.  This message reiterates existing Delaware law about Component V of the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system.  In other words, Smarter Balanced counts in teacher evaluations this year.

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It was supposed to “count” last year, but legislators from the 148th General Assembly persuaded the Delaware Department of Education to submit an ESEA flexibility waiver in 2015 to extend the exemption period another year.  The US Dept. of Education approved that request.  Beginning this year, for almost every single public school in the state, the highly controversial high-stakes test will be a major part of Component V.

House Bill 399 will start a pilot program in select Delaware schools where the teacher and the administrator can choose another type of assessment for Measure A of Component V, but the administrator has final say in the event of a deadlock.  Governor Markell is expected to sign the legislation in the coming weeks.

Back in the spring of 2015, at a Common Core for Common Ground event, Governor Markell unwisely told a room full of educators to be prepared because he was:

Giving you another year before consequences kick in.

That was before the US DOE approved the flex waiver.  In 2015, the Governor very condescendingly told WHYY/Newsworks:

We know that some people don’t agree with higher standards and accountability.

When those “higher standards” and “accountability” are rigged from the get-go, it is hard to take the Common Core loving Jack Markell seriously.  It is very convenient for Markell to be okay with Component V hitting teachers after he leaves office.  Just yet another example of our “education” Governor creating destruction and leaving it for others to clean up the mess.

In the meantime, the dynamic due of Senator Sokola and Atnre Alleyne all but assured House Bill 399 was morphed into something from the corporate education reform playbook when it passed the Delaware General Assembly on July 1st.  Sokola’s amendments added a student and parent survey to the pilot program which enraged teachers across the state.  Newark Charter School has these types of surveys and it is something the DOE has been planning for a lot longer than we think…

In June of 2014, Atnre Alleyne worked at the Delaware DOE in the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit under Chief Christopher Ruszkowski.  He contacted a company called Panorama Education Inc. since they administered surveys to schools in New Haven, Connecticut public schools.  They provided information to Alleyne showing what these parent and student surveys could look like in Delaware:

And here are examples of the surveys this company wrote:

Student Perception Surveys for 3rd-5th Grade Students:

Student Perception Surveys for 6th-12th Grade Students:

For those who may be wondering how I was able to uncover these documents, they came from a FOIA request a Delaware teacher received from the Delaware DOE over a year and a half ago.  While looking back at the emails in this FOIA a few weeks ago, I found this.  It didn’t mean a lot at the time I initially reviewed the FOIA material, but in context of the Sokola amendment added onto House Bill 399, it is huge.  As an exclusive bonus, here are the emails that allowed Ruszkowski, Alleyne, and Laura Schneider (still with the TLEU at the Delaware DOE) to begin looking at student surveys over two years ago:

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The problem with any survey is how it is worded.  Surveys can very easily slant towards a very specific purpose.  There are a multitude of factors that can cause surveys to be tainted.  For students, there are many reasons why they could bash a teacher in a survey.  But Sokola and the DOE seem to want these surveys, along with parent surveys.  For what purpose?  I think we can all figure that one out: to label more teachers as ineffective in their path to destroy teacher unions.

For the Delaware DOE, they have already paid a very large chunk of money to Panorama this year.  What were the services Panorama provided for the DOE?  I can only imagine it was for the implementation of surveys into DPAS-II.  Note the date on the below picture.  This was before House Bill 399 had the Sokola amendment added to it.  Almost two months before…

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I firmly believe the original intention of House Bill 399 was hijacked from the Delaware DOE and Senator Sokola even before it was introduced.  They knew exactly what the outcome of this bill would be.  I would almost prefer Governor Markell does not sign it because of the Sokola amendment and the potential damage this could do to the teaching profession in Delaware.

In terms of Atnre Alleye, he is a nice guy.  But I have serious “heartburn” as Senator Sokola frequently says, about his role as a founder of TeenSHARP and the work they do while he was an employee of the Delaware Department of Education.  I believe there was a clear conflict of interest.  While he did leave the DOE in February of this year, he was very involved with House Bill 399 and what became of it.

Going back as far as 2010, Alleyne’s motivations were very clear for what he wanted in education:

I don’t believe a company he co-founded should in any way benefit from policies he helped contribute to as an employee of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  There is a blurring of the lines so to speak.  In fact, when you look at Alleyne’s Twitter account, it is filled with love for corporate education reform companies.

For Delaware teachers, this year will be the true test for them on the absolute damage one high-stakes test will do to their careers.  But is this a smokescreen for something even worse coming to all of education in America?  I believe it is.  I think the very loud protest coming from teachers in this state will lead to an elimination of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as we know it.  The test will evolve into weekly or bi-weekly tests in a personalized learning/competency-based education environment where the role of the teacher will be reduced to that of a glorified moderator.  Now, more than ever, teachers in Delaware need to not only fight what is here but what is coming.  And prepare now!