When you don’t have a leader going on a fifth month is it any wonder the Charter School Office is going to Hell in a hand basket? As the authorizer for seven charter schools under renewal this year, the Delaware Department of Education can’t even follow their own timeline. It seems like things are going on behind the scenes with Newark Charter School during all this. Continue reading
Jose went to school one day. His grandma forgot to give him his medicine and he started acting out. He was sent to the ISS Room. The In-School Suspension Room. He liked going there sometimes. There was stuff he could play with. They even had a carpet in there. Not like the cold and hard floor in his regular classroom. He went into the room and started playing with one of the yoga balls. He had all this energy he had to get out. Jose sniffed and smelled something really weird. Like that time he went to his Uncle’s house. Jose had gone into the basement to find the basketball. It smelled like that. Jose started coughing. That happened a lot when he went to the ISS Room. It was the same cough he had when he had to take that test on the computer. But for some reason they got rid of all those computers. Jose rolled on the floor with the ball, hacking away. He wasn’t sure if he needed his inhaler or not. He couldn’t remember if his grandma brought it to school that day. Maybe his brother had it. His chest felt like something was pressing on it. He started to panic. As he yelled out, another teacher came running in the room. She was coughing too.
This is Pulaski Elementary School. Not now. Not a few days ago. But how it was from August 29th until October 7th. That was the day the students weren’t allowed to go in the basement rooms where all the computers were. Or rooms 10 or 11. The teachers believed the district when they said it was okay. Even though a few of them went to the emergency room. But what the district didn’t tell the staff, students, or parents was how dangerous it was there. On August 29th, Pulaski was tested for air quality. With these tests, they compare the air outside with the air inside. Inside, Pulaski was 55,000 times greater with mold than it was outside. The district did tell the teachers… six weeks later. Students took tests on the computers. Special education students went to one of the three therapists down there. For six weeks, everyone was breathing contaminated air.
Yesterday, Acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Andrzejewski gave a press brief at Pulaski. A reporter asked him if he would send his kids or grandchildren there. He said yes. But the reporter asked the wrong question. She should have asked him if he would have sent them there three weeks ago. I’m willing to bet his answer would have been much different. So why didn’t this come out in the News Journal or WDEL? They simply weren’t given the true situation. The mold, as Dr. A explained, came from a busted water main.
By the time the school had an air quality test on August 29th, the custodians were told to clean it up. Armed with nothing but rags and Clorox, they wiped it down. Hispanic custodians, without gloves or air masks. Who couldn’t speak English very well. Perhaps Ed Mayfield, the Assistant to the Superintendent and the Director of Operations, thought the problem would go away soon. Maybe he didn’t understand the danger. But the bottom line is he saw the reports and did nothing. Sure, he may have attempted to clean it up. But he did not inform the school. Not the Principal or the staff. For six weeks.
When the teachers were told about the situation, it was after the Christina Board of Education held a special meeting on the issue. That was on October 4th. Mayfield was addressing the staff on October 7th at the school. At the board meeting a few days before, one of the board members came down from the podium and handed the air quality reports to a staff member of Pulaski. This staff member had requested this information for weeks. The board member warned Mayfield about any retaliation to the staff. Apparently that warning went unheeded. Veiled threats came out. The teachers were told if they went to the press it would be a violation of their contract. Because when teachers signed their contracts with the Christina School District, part of that states they will not put the district in a negative light at all. Sure, they could have talked to the press. They also would have lost their job. It was an impossible situation.
So here we are now. October 15th. The staff at Pulaski have been told the mold levels are down. The Department of Health did a walk-thru yesterday. All is right with the world. But the Computer Lab, Room 10, and Room 11 are still closed. Dehumidifiers are running in those rooms after a mold specialist came in to clean it up. The origin of the mold was apparently found. At least that’s what Dr. A is telling all of us. But Dr. A will most likely be leaving the district soon. He is only an Acting Superintendent. The Board’s aim is to have a new Superintendent by January 1st. Dr. A came in to help Christina win their referendum. He succeeded on that part. For the most part though, he hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot. Most of the day-to-day stuff has been handled by Mayfield. That doesn’t mean Dr. A wasn’t well aware of the situation at Pulaski. Dr. A didn’t attend the special board meeting on October 4th. Dr. A is also on a very short list for the next Delaware Secretary of Education if John Carney becomes the next Governor.
The Christina Board isn’t done with this issue. It will be part of their next board meeting on October 18th, this coming Tuesday. At their meeting on October 4th, board members wanted answers to questions about this. They wanted to know what happened and when. How much the mold remediation would cost the district. Things like that.
They wanted to know what the next steps are after the clean-up…
Dr. A will talk about the district’s procedures for handling Indoor Air Quality issues….
But the board, upon hearing other teachers in the district making similar complaints as Pulaski, will review a resolution to have all the schools in the district tested.
At the October 4th board meeting, Ed Mayfield was offered $25,000 on the spot if he would fully test all the rooms at Pulaski. All forty or so rooms. He refused. Mayfield knew it would cost around $500 to test each room for mold. But he seemed very confident the situation would soon be gone. Why burden the district with an expense they probably didn’t need to incur. The 300 plus students and all those staff members would be okay. They were taking care of it. It’s not like they knew how bad it was, but they got those levels down thank goodness! And even if they did know, they couldn’t talk about it. Forget that it was a health crisis. Forget some staff members had to go to the emergency room, one by ambulance. They probably had pre-existing conditions anyways. Even though he had been with the district for a long time, this was nothing compared to his time as a detective with the Delaware State Police.
I’ve seen a lot in Delaware education. I’ve written about many things. Never, in the almost 3,000 articles I’ve written in less than 2 1/2 years, have I been more disgusted and horrified at the same time. Teachers knew. They knew something wasn’t right. They begged the district to do something. The district knew how bad it was and did nothing until the board intervened. We still don’t know if the building is completely safe. They only treated the basement. There are two floors above that. Mold travels through the air. They can be smaller than a micron. It’s everywhere. But at high levels, it can cause headaches, breathing problems, and memory loss.
The Pulaski Kennel Cough. The cough that didn’t start this school year. It started three years ago. During another time when the computer lab was closed for many months.
Mr. Mayfield and Dr. Andrzejewski, it is not in the district’s best interest to force teachers to sign gag orders where they can’t talk about a health crisis that has the potential to do harm to the students and staff that the district is entrusted to protect. Especially when the two of you failed to act as soon as you knew the danger at Pulaski Elementary School. There is nothing you can do or say to justify that. You put children in harms way. The very kids you have been charged to educate. The special needs children. The English Language learners. The poor. The discriminated. The ones you forgot about in your neglectful decisions. Shame on you. If anyone broke their contract, it is the two of you. You put Christina in a negative light.
If you are concerned about numbers, try these on for size.
16.3% Special Education
29.3% English Language learners
These are the numbers you should have been looking at. These vulnerable kids. Betrayed by those who are supposed to put them first. And one of you wants to be Secretary of Education? How can we expect to trust you with 135,000 kids when you couldn’t provide safety for 300 of them?
On September 2nd, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and Assistant Deputy Secretary David Blowman met with Greg Meece, Stephen Dressel, Joanne Schlossberg, Chuck Taylor, Margie Lopez-Waite, Kendall Massett, and William Manning at Newark Charter School. The last name is important because William Manning is the lead attorney in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the Christina School District and the Delaware Department of Education. William Manning is a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, which also happens to be the lead charter school attorney law firm.
Delaware charter schools, especially ones alleged to “cherry-pick” students, have long complained about not getting their rightful share of money while at the same time they constantly boast how they “do more with less”. In fact, Manning complained about this to the U.S. Congress back in 2000, as I wrote in an article last year:
I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.
Manning served as the President of the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education when the original Delaware charter school law was written in 1995. But where this gets more interesting is Manning’s very direct tie with the Delaware Charter Schools Network. His wife, Martha Manning, created the Delaware Charter Schools Network. She is also on the boards of Innovative Schools and the Red Clay Education Foundation.
Martha Manning stepped down from the Delaware Charter Schools Network in 2006, but her husband is still heavily involved with Saul Ewing LLP. It was not a coincidence he was called in for the Sept. 2nd meeting at Newark Charter School, mentioned above. Chuck Taylor is the Head of School and Providence Creek Academy, the President of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee at the Delaware Dept. of Education. Margie Lopez-Waite runs Las Americas ASPIRAS. And Kendall Massett… good old Kendall… who gave a presentation at the State Board of Education meeting last month on, of all possible things, charter and district collaboration. The irony is still astounding! Kendall gave a quote to the News Journal yesterday:
Kendall Massett, director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, said in a prepared statement, “We applaud the state Department of Education for recognizing the out-of-proportion exclusion requests from Christina School District this year and for taking steps to bring them in line, in the interest of fairness for students and to make the process consistent among all districts. But that decision was reversed after the deadline mandated by state law.”
Whatever Kendall! Many decisions were made without full clarity. In fact, the whole process beginning with the NCS Trio getting a meeting with David Blowman wasn’t readily shared with all district financial officers. In fact, we can see how the Delaware DOE actually blew off Robert Silber when he asked the DOE why they wanted a list of district exclusions.
This was why State Rep. John Kowalko submitted a request to Secretary Godowsky in early September for a list of who was involved and specific dates. Godowsky did provide that timeline and specific names to Rep. Kowalko on September 20th. Rep. Kowalko asked me to share this with the public so that everyone knows what the specific timeline was and who was involved in each step. In addition, there are several emails from the Delaware DOE to charter and school leaders.
From: May Alison <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 10:45 AM
To: Kowalko, John (LegHall)
Cc: Godowsky, Steven (K12)
Subject: information request
Please find answers embedded in red below as well as attached copies of email correspondence in response to your questions.
I need to know the details of the meeting in April which was attended by Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel and David Blowman, with a list of anyone else who attended that meeting, whether from DOE, State Board, or other (for instance the DE Charter Schools Network, etc.). I would like to know if any legislators attended that meeting. I am also asking if there were additional meetings with any smaller groups discussing this matter and who were attendees. I want to know if there were any unannounced meetings w/CFOs or Superintendents regarding this issue. I realize the DOE has monthly meetings, usually separate, with all the charter and district CFOs. Has anyone else attended these meetings?
Those four were the only ones at the meeting, which occurred at the request of the school.
Please send me a timeline of events, including:
When the CFOs were notified about submitting a list of excluded information (in May as I’ve been made aware by one district) and whether the notification went to all districts and when was that list due.
*Discussed at April 8 Business Managers meeting (see agenda from April 7 email attached)
*Follow-up email sent May 25 (see attached)
*Christina response received June 8 (see attached)
Which individuals took part in the decision-making process regarding which exclusions were allowable or not allowable by DOE
*David Blowman, Brook Hughes and Kim Wheatley
When (specific date needed) the new allowable exclusion list was sent to CFOs/Superintendents
*August 8 (see attached)
When (specific date) charters were notified so they could send their bills to DOE to send to districts
*August 12 (see attached)
When (specific date) DOE sent those bills to the districts
*August 16 (see attached)
When Bob Silber (Christina CFO) was notified of the exclusion issue with Christina
*See above dates
Please send a list of all persons that attended the meeting at Newark Charter last week. Steve Godowsky, David Blowman, Greg Meece, Joanne Schlossberg, Stephen Dressel, Margie Lopez-Waite, Bill Manning, Chuck Taylor, Kendall Massett
As you can surmise I expect a list of any and all attendees at any meeting discussing this issue. Please send an accurate report of this information to me as soon as possible.
This also was discussed with superintendents at their September 1 Chief School Officers Association (CSOA) meeting at POLYTECH.
And this is what the Delaware DOE sent to State Rep. Kowalko in terms of email discussions concerning this issue. Note the absence of any emails from the Newark Charter School trio to anyone at the DOE prior to April 8th when they would have requested the initial meeting with Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman.
In the complaint against Christina and the DOE, it states the charters want a full accounting of what funds were excluded from the local payments to charters going back to 2008. Why 2008? At that time, the Superintendent of the Christina School District was Lillian Lowery. Shortly after Governor Markell’s first inauguration in 2009, Lillian Lowery was confirmed by the Delaware Senate to become the Delaware Secretary of Education. The looming question is what was signed off on back in 2008 and 2009 by the Delaware DOE. Obviously, NCS feels this is some type of crucial timeframe which pertains to the lawsuit. But the even bigger question is who was giving them information and why. I’ve heard some wild tales about that timeframe. But until I am able to confirm anything, I will remain mum.
The Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families sent two emails to Delaware Superintendents regarding the discontinuation of day treatment centers in Delaware. I submitted a FOIA request to five Delaware Superintendents last evening to obtain these emails. One of them got to me first so I canceled the other requests. Both these emails give very definitive timeframes for when this was going to happen. The State of Delaware reversed course on this issue, but make no mistake, this was going to happen prior to that decision. One important thing from the second email is the glaring fact that TODAY is the last day for any district or charter school to make a referral for a day treatment center in Delaware. So my question would be that if this change is on hold, is today still the last day for any referrals? The second email had a lot of attachments included in the FOIA request. Apparently there will be public meetings where they will present this. One of them already happened in New Castle County on September 8th, but I would highly recommend they have another one since this story just broke in mainstream media two days ago.
Email sent to Delaware Superintendents 8/26/16
Follow-Up Email sent to Delaware Superintendents 9/9/16 and Key Information
The Christina School District held a Legislative Briefing for Delaware legislators this morning. The subject: the ongoing district-charter local cost per pupil. Answers were given in a very effective way by Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber. Legislators in attendance were State Reps. John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, Ed Osienski, Mike Ramone, Kim Williams and Senator Bryan Townsend. Most of the Christina Board of Education also attended as well as Acting Christina Superintendent Bob Andrzejewski. Some charter advocates, such as Henry Clampitt who now serves on the Gateway Lab School Board of Directors also attended.
Silber gave specifics on what he believes the Delaware Department of Education is attempting to take out of Christina’s exclusion list from their local funding. He also gave enlightening information on how the DOE specifically asked district Superintendents not to inform their local boards of the changes until a certain time. As well, the meeting held at the DOE last week with district Superintendents was for them only. No business managers were allowed to attend this meeting about education funding. Which is ironic given that the business managers would have the most insight into these issues. To me, it shows an unwillingness on the DOE’s part to make this a transparent and collaborative process.
Silber also presented a timeline of events from Christina’s perspective which almost mirrors my own that I posted last week. Silber did mention that their legal counsel sent a letter to the Delaware DOE on August 26th. The current status is that charter bills were pulled by Secretary Godowsky. Silber did say some districts in Southern Delaware paid their charter bills but Christina will not until the funding amounts are correct.
I walked away from this meeting more convinced than ever that this began with Newark Charter School and once the DOE got involved, they took over and went crazy with it with absolutely no justification or ability to succinctly present anything associated with this mess that is in any way legal. I will have more to say on this later when I transcribe the question and answer question with members of the audience, but in the meantime, feast on the presentation given by Silber. He hit a grand slam on this and evaporated the DOE’s position on this, in my opinion.
What is always fascinating with meetings like this is who is watching who when certain things are said or questions are asked.
The Senate Joint Resolution #4 Education Funding Improvement Commission is having their fourth meeting this morning at the Delaware Department of Education building in Dover. The meeting will be held in the Cabinet room, where the State Board of Education holds their meetings. There is one item on the agenda that looks very interesting. State Rep. Paul Baumbach and the DOE’s David Blowman will be giving a presentation on weighted funding. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I was engaged in a Facebook conversation about this last night where others were comparing it to salary caps on baseball or football teams.
What is very curious though is the fact that Lindsay O’Mara, Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor created the pdf of the agenda that shows up on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar. Who is running this show? With this timeline with the committee ending in May, that gives a legislator enough time to draft up a quick bill to implement the findings and get it through the General Assembly by the end of June. Can you say “pre-determined”?
It’s funny how the State Board is giving the Wilmington Education Funding Improvement Commission a hard time. They claimed WEIC’s proposals could clash with this task force. I asked about this sort of thing happening at the very first WEIC meeting in September. Dan Rich said all of this, including the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025 and the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities were all sort of planned to work in conjunction with each other. Meanwhile, WEIC is having their second “post State Board of Education vote of no action” meeting tomorrow night at 5:30pm at the Community Education Building in Wilmington at 5:30pm. Is this when the the transparency promised by WEIC takes a back seat while the commission makes severe changes to the plan to satisfy the State Board of Education? Or was this also pre-determined? Or am I a conspiracy theorist like a certain Charter School Board President/Head of the Delaware GOP recently told me?
After a crazy failure for House Bill 50, the legislation was reconsidered with the originally failed House Amendment #2, which passed the second time around, and then the whole bill passed. Now it goes back to the Senate. Trust me, I’m confused, but maybe this will help. Timeline time:
House Bill 50 timeline:
3/12/15: Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson
4/22/15: House Education Committee releases bill from committee, brings it to full House Vote
5/7/15: House Amendment #1 added by Rep. Sean Matthews removing “state assessment” and changing it to just “Smarter Balanced Assessment”, passes House
6/11/15: Senate Education Committee releases bill from committee for full Senate vote
6/17/15: Senator David Sokola adds Senate Amendment #1, changing “Smarter Balanced Assessment” to all “state assessments and district-wide assessments”, passes Senate
6/17/15: Senator Bryan Townsend adds Senate Amendment #2, allowing high school juniors to opt-out of the assessment, passes Senate
6/17/15: Senate passes House Bill 50, but because two amendments were added, it goes back to the House
6/23/15: Rep. Jeff Spiegelman introduces House Amendment #2 which takes away Townsend’s Senate Amendment #2, fails to get enough votes
6/23/15: House Bill 50 fails 2nd House vote, bill is dead
6/23/15: Rep. Spiegelman asks for reconsideration of vote on House Bill 50 under Delaware House of Representatives House Rule #41, House passes motion
6/23/15: House passes House Amendment #2
6/23/15: House passes House Bill 50 again
Now it goes back to the Senate. Whether it will be heard by next Tuesday or if it extends it until January when the 148th General Assembly is back in session is unknown. But what I do know is this. I blame all of this on three people: Rep. Earl Jaques, Senator David Sokola, and Senator Bryan Townsend. They have played games with this bill and do not care about parents. And from what I’m hearing Senator Colin Bonini had quite the chuckle after the bill originally failed in the House today. These are legislators who really don’t care about parents or their rights. I resisted Spiegelman’s amendment at first cause I just wanted it to pass, but he is absolutely right. He brought up a point I didn’t think of: what if the junior wants to opt out but the parents don’t want him to? That would set up some very thorny issues for all involved: student, parent, teacher, school, district, and even the state. So thank you for your wisdom on this one Rep. Spiegelman!
Our no votes on the 2nd House vote today are as follows: Dukes, Gray, Heffernan, Jaques and Q. Johnson. Not voting were Barbieri and Bolden. So all the no votes or absents are the same from the original House vote last month, except for the additions of Gray, Heffernan and Q. Johnson. What made them flip?
For the 2nd vote on the House Amendment, only Dukes voted no and Barbieri and Bolden didn’t vote. Three reps had left so there were three absent.
If I were any Delaware parent (I am), I would be absolutely livid at the games being played with this bill. Shame on Jaques, Sokola and Townsend for not caring enough about parents to even ask them about their bill-killing plans prior to their attempted hijackings. If I were Townsend, I might want to reconsider that run for Congress. You ticked off A LOT of voters tonight.
Good old Freire. Not even open yet, and just look at the issues. I love how this formal review notification doesn’t even mention the fact they just had a major modification approval for lowing their enrollment from 336 to 224 the month before…
Prestige Academy needs to get their enrollment up very fast! No excuses. This school has been open for a while now. Whatever issues they are having, they need to fix them if they want to stay open!
Delaware Design Lab is under formal review. For this school, there are no more chances for another one-year extension. I met the Head of School, Christina Alaverez, at the Imagine Delaware Expo and had a very nice chat with her. She explained the school’s philosophy and academics, and I thought it was pretty cool. I asked how students with disabilities could adapt to that curriculum, and she gave me a very straightforward and honest answer. I saw her again after the Formal Review announcements and I told her I was sorry about the designation and I hoped it worked out. I’m actually rooting for this school!
There are two things that are officially confirmed with this letter. Someone at the school was using purchase cards unethically since July of 2012. The second thing is the lawsuit between Academy of Dover and Mosaica is finally talked about by the Delaware DOE.
This was sent to me anonymously via email just now. I have no doubt this is real as it matches exactly with information I was given a week ago from the Friends Of Christina group. Did Markell have a chat with Penny Schwinn to bump this up? Why would the DOE all of a sudden change everything? This is the evil tactics Schwinn and the DOE have been up to. They play games constantly. Don’t believe the spin the News Journal puts on this. They toyed with Christina and the only reason for this change is to put the screws to them.
From: WILLIAMS FREEMAN
Sent: Friday, December 26, 2014 2:20:46 PM (UTC-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
To: CSD SchoolBoard; ZIMMERMAN FARA; RACCA KELLI; SILBER ROBERT; LEE JACQUELINE A
Subject: Fwd: Thank you for your submission
Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone
——– Original message ——–
From: Schwinn Penny
Date:12/26/2014 1:44 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: WILLIAMS FREEMAN
Subject: Thank you for your submission
Thank you for your recent submission of Priority School draft plans, the proposed MOU between the Department and the District, as well as the MOU between Christina School District and its collective bargaining agreement.
Please expect feedback to be returned to you within five (5) business days. For clarity, you should expect to receive feedback in the early afternoon of January 5th. (As a reminder, the State of Delaware granted 12/24, 12/25, 12/26, 1/1, and 1/2 as holidays/vacation days. The review days will therefore occur beginning at 12:30pm on 12/22 through 12:30pm on 1/5).
We recognize that the turnaround time for the District between 12:30pm on 1/5 to COB on 1/7 is likely too tight to be able to review, discuss, and implement the feedback that may be provided. As a result, the Department offers to do the following:
• Further extend the initial plan deadline to 1/9/15 COB
• The Department would conduct a review over five business days and provide the District with the plans status levels at that time
• If the plans are “substantially approvable,” the Department would provide additional feedback to the schools
• The Department would provide for a community engagement window to run through 1/21/15. This window would allow for a second opportunity for the community to provide feedback on the full plans and any revisions required
• The final version of the plans would be due to the Department on 1/21/15 by COB (5:00pm)
• The Department would review the final versions of the plans and provide a final announcement on or around 1/20/15.
We had also discussed the publication of manuals regarding “next steps.” Given the potentially extended timeline as well as our focus on reviewing your plans comprehensively over this condensed holiday season, we will also plan to publish the manuals shortly into the new year. We sincerely hope that this additional time, should you opt into accepting it, will allow for more community feedback in the month of January on the actual plans, should they be substantially approvable on January 9, 2015.
Thank you again for submitting drafts of your plans. We hope that the being able to provide feedback in advance of the final review will give the District every opportunity to solicit the feedback and make the revisions needed. Although the offers to meet in December were declined, the Department continues to offer the opportunity to meet to discuss the feedback and a list of the days and times available can be sent if CSD changes its mind and would like to meet to discuss any content regarding the Priority Schools.
Have a wonderful holiday and we look forward to connecting in the near future.
Chief Accountability and Performance Officer
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street
Dover, DE 19901-3639