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!

Newark Charter School Teacher Got Her Job Back

backtonormal

The Newark Charter School teacher who apparently lost her job over a “physical altercation” two weeks ago has been reinstated at the school.  After students staged a sit-in and the bizarre incident caused me to write more articles than I would have dreamed of, it appears the administration completed their investigation of the “slappening” and gave the teacher her job back.  I’m glad the teacher got her job back.  But I also hope this situation opened the eyes of NCS parents and students into the minds of the admins.  The students proved their voice does matter!

Is the student involved still attending NCS?  I don’t have an answer to that one.  But it appears things are back to normal for Newark Charter School, aside from the lawsuit they joined with 14 other charter schools and a strange occurrence at their homecoming dance on Saturday.  Female students were asked to hand in their purses.  The students were also told they had to purchase water at the event by at least one chaperone.  While this wasn’t enforced, many parents felt this was over-doing it at a student body function.  Many parents reported their child was allowed to drink from a water fountain.  For a school that has a student body activity bucket of money that is second only to the Cape Henlopen School District, I find it ironic they would ask students to purchase water…

I don’t know if this is a normal practice at school dances for female students to not be allowed to carry their purses.  If anyone knows, please comment.  I understand the concern for security, but I would think student belongings being stored in a place they don’t have access to could be seen as invasive.

What Delaware Can Learn From The Newark Charter School Students And The “Slappening” Sit-In

Last Friday, Newark Charter School students performed a “sit-in” to protest an incident which has been referred to as “The Slappening” among the student body of Newark Charter School.  200 high school students participated in the sit-in until administrators broke up the party in the cafeteria.  This is about 1/4th of their student body at their high school.  While we don’t know if the teacher was reinstated, we do know that when the majority of the people stand up for something they believe in, people take notice.  This was what I attempted to push for the opt out movement in Delaware.  If everyone opted out, then Smarter Balanced would have disappeared.  We can still do this, but not just with “Smarter” as the DOE puts it (which is ironic because it is dumber), but all standardized tests.  Whether they are once a year or embedded as “stealth test” in personalized learning technology coming soon to a school near you.  And when it comes to all that ed tech, you can opt out of that as well.  If enough parents do it, we can make ed tech irrelevant and be assured our child’s every keystroke isn’t tracked and catalogued by Education Inc. and their data is safe.  As well, this will protect the teaching profession so they don’t become glorified TFA or Relay moderators.  It’s a win-win.  No battle is ever won by sitting at the table and compromising to the point of surrender.

Wait one minute, let’s get back to “The Slappening”.  I saw many tweets which indicated the teacher was terminated after the student sit-in at Newark Charter School last Friday.  While I won’t put minors tweets on this blog, I can say one tweet was pretty definitive!  I have a very good idea of what actually happened between the teacher and the student last week and what led to “The Slappening”.  I can’t see, in that situation, where a teacher should have been terminated.  That teacher has rights.  She also has the right to due process.  Had I known about this sit-in beforehand, I would have sat in with the students as well (Yeah right, like Greg Meece would let that happen)!  But I do respect what the students did.

This has been a very bizarre year for the higher-ups at Newark Charter School.  From their insane awards based on Smarter Balanced results to the “social engineering” of their lottery last winter  to my strange discovery they are the only charter school in the state that doesn’t file IRS 990 tax returns to the district-charter funding war which has now become the charter-Christina-DOE lawsuit to “The Slappening”.  I have to wonder if a change needs to happen.  Not my place, but just putting it out there.  Many students were terrified of the sit-in and what could happen to them.  But they did it anyway.  They stood up (or sat down) to the school leaders and said stop with the madness.  Granted, what they were hoping for didn’t happen, but it did draw attention to the school through major Delaware media like the News Journal.  Even the students seemed shocked they made delawareonline.

It is 2016.  Newark Charter School is having a VERY bizarre year.  With absolutely no disrespect intended for the students or the parents, but your administrators and board have made some really strange decisions.  It’s refreshing in a weird way that NCS has lost its aura of being such a well-behaved mild-mannered gee we’re awesome school.  It brings the school back down to earth.  I hope more students and parents speak out about issues going on there.  I’m not saying NCS should become a priority school tomorrow, but the era of invincibility is over.  NCS had the veil lowered and we are all getting a chance to peek in.  Greg Meece has allowed his temper to get the best of him this year and he has been there a loooooooooooooooooong time.  He can do one of two things: keep the Harry Potter cloak back on the NCS schools or just let things flow.  I’m hoping for the latter.  But that will require him also lightening up on a few other things.

I believe the original intent of NCS was for parents to get their kids out of the Christina School District.  Did they have cause?  Sure they did.  But there are really good things happening in Christina right now.  There are also bad.  As there are in every single school in America.  Even NCS.  I get the need to protect your child.  But if it gets to a point where what one student has means many others do without, how is that teaching any child right and wrong?  I’m not saying this to start a fight.  Truly.  But if we always have this divide in this state, nothing anyone does will ever fix anything.  This lawsuit NCS triggered… it’s not good for Delaware.  It’s not good for NCS or Christina.  Lawsuits cost a ton of money.  But more than that, they take away from students.  They create long-lasting hostilities that play out for decades.  NCS sees this one way and Christina sees it another.  Eventually, unless it goes into some type of settlement, a judge will decide.  Chances are it isn’t going to play out the way the fifteen charters think it will.  I have no doubt Meece thinks he has some smoking gun he thinks will make the case.  It might, but not against Christina.  The Delaware DOE?  Probably.  But never underestimate what happens when you poke a bear.  If NCS truly thinks Christina will take this like a champ, they are wrong.  All 15 charters are wrong.

At a time when Delaware as a whole is trying to figure out pretty much every single aspect of education, from funding to academics to post-secondary outcomes to early childhood to special education to testing, we have a group of charters merrily led by their cheerleader over at the Delaware Charter Schools Network, some legal eagles, and probably a few other “stakeholders” trying to upset the apple cart and make sure they get what they think is their bounty.  But have they given one thought to what this means to Delaware students as a whole?  Nope.

That teacher the NCS students staged a sit-in for… why don’t they do that for ALL Delaware students.  They loved their teacher and fought for what they believed was just and fair.  Something was taken away from these students and they didn’t like it.  They did what Americans have been doing since the Boston Tea Party.  Now imagine all those students in Christina who will have less so the charters can have more.  Is that fair to them?  NCS has their engaged parents and their cafetorium and all that.  Not every school in Christina does.  Some schools don’t even have a librarian.  Stage a sit-in for that.  If the teacher you lost is as great as you say she is, she will find a new job.  This issue, due to your efforts, has been very public.  But the students in Christina… they might not get those second chances because of this ridiculous lawsuit.

Education is never going to be fixed no matter what all the corporate dreamers think will happen.  As long as there is one individual in a school, there will always be issues.  But the key is trying to find a way to make it work.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t the way.  This is why the charters, despite what they think happened and are behaving worse than any petulant child, are a classic example of what not to do in education.  This is making them reviled and hated more than anything I’ve seen in a long time.