WEIC Public Hearing At Brandywine Springs Brings A Different Crowd

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission held their fourth public hearing concerning the draft plan for the redistricting of Wilmington schools last night at Brandywine Elementary School.  Shana O’Malley with WDEL wrote about the WEIC draft concerns earlier today.

Something’s broken in the school system and no amount of money is going to fix that.

Many attendees expressed concern with the funding for this initiative in Wilmington Schools and how it will not only affect citizens in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, but the entire state.

“If it’s socioeconomic, something going on in the house, that belongs to social services,” said one parent. “The school district is not in the business of taking care of the mental health aspects of these kids, providing for them. Where are the parents at?”

With the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a section on “Community Schools” where many of these services would be provided.  It is a very fine line in my opinion.  There is a huge difference between the population at Brandywine Springs Elementary and Warner Elementary.  One is out in the suburbs and the other is in the middle of the city.  Is it fair for a more affluent population to protest funding for the low-income populations?  This is the age-old question.  It also gets into the whole school choice issue in Delaware as well, especially up in Wilmington.  Some folks would love nothing more than “government schooling”, the public school system, to go away.  This crowd favors school vouchers to have funding diverted to private schools.  But then on the other end of the spectrum, we have students in Wilmington, usually African-American, who don’t have a complete family unit and live in neighborhoods filled with crime and drug use.  These are two completely different worlds, however, the first world inadvertently helped create the second world through “white flight”.

The speaker asked where the parents are at.  They could both be working.  It could be a single-parent home.  A parent could be in prison or deceased.  But chances are, a parent in Hockessin makes a lot more money than the parent of a child at these Wilmington schools.  If parents are unable to set up mental health services for children, when does the city, county or state need to step in?  It comes down to the haves and the have-nots.  The haves want to keep what they have but the have-nots see what the haves have and want that but are unable to get it themselves.  But here is the key issue: these are children who didn’t write the script here.  This is the world they were born into.  Should inner-city students be denied the things folks in the suburbs take for granted?  This became very evident at Skyline Middle School in Red Clay this fall.  Due to a change in feeder patterns, Skyline took in many students who are considered disadvantaged.  As a result, school bullying increased causing parent outcry at their past couple board meetings.

These are the modern issues of the day.  We have come a long way since the first half of the 20th century when blacks were separated from whites.  We are, and should be, past that.  But economic levers still dictate these kinds of situations from happening in many cities in America.  For any issues like WEIC to work, it is going to take a lot of listening, convincing, and patience.  It will take compromise, from all sides of the issues.  But the big problem here is the timing.  Some of the people behind WEIC are afraid that if the moment passes it will be lost for a generation.  So in a sense, it is being rushed.  During an election year, and even during a gubernatorial election year.  If it comes down to the rich wanting separation and the poor wanting equity, with the dwindling middle class straddling both sides of the issues, we will get nowhere.  And in all of this, are those with disabilities.  Students from low-income, a minority and a disability.  If we keep these children “out” of the public school system in our affluent areas, is that not a form of triple segregation?  We can’t just rely on the status quo in Delaware.  These are deep concerns that affect the viability of our state.  Compared to many other states, we are woefully behind not only in education but also moving away from the past.  In this “me” versus “society as a whole”, I personally choose society.  Because if society isn’t right, I don’t feel I can be in my head knowing I’m not contributing to society.  I know, we all pay taxes.  Some pay more, some pay less.  Nothing in life is free.  We pay for products that constantly go up in price, but complain when taxes go up.  Why?

Tobi’s Fund For Warner Elementary School In Red Clay

This is just too awesome for words.  A special education teacher at Warner Elementary School started a Go Fund Me account for a Positive Behavior Support program at the school.  You can donate here.  This is what Tobi wrote:

Hi! My name is Tobi Fitzgerald and I am a special education teacher at Warner Elementary School. The school I teach at is located in Wilmington, DE and it is one of a few priority schools in the state. The students that we service are typically from low income families and we have an 82% poverty rate at our school. 

This school year has been absolutely amazing. Many people would think that our students have behavioral problems and yes, some of them do. However, the staff at Warner is focused. Together, we have decreased school suspensions and referrals. Our goal is to keep our students in the classroom and handle behavioral challenges as they arise (in the classroom). The more educational time we can provide, the better off the students and the community will be. 

I am currently a member of the school Climate Committee. Within this committee we review behaviors across the school and focus on ways to keep the students out of trouble. We are a Positive Behavior Support (PBS) school. One of the ways we encourage positive behaviors for students is by providing them with a schoolwide incentive program. The students are able to individually earn Thunderbird Tickets for being caught being great. They can also earn Warner Wings when an entire classroom is displaying awesome behaviors. The students can use their Thunderbird Tickets to purchase different PBS trips, dress down days, movie and popcorn events, purchasing items at the school store, etc.

These different events cost a lot of money for the school and its employees. Many employees spend their own money to purchase incentives for students. I have been an educator for over six years and trust me, this is true. The funds that we receive for programs at school do not pay for student incentives. 

I plan on using any funds received to pay for school incentives for the students. These kids really are amazing and I am blessed to be a part of their lives. It is my goal to raise 3000.00 so that I can donate all of it to the school Climate Committee. I want to be able to purchase items for the students that will continue to keep them focused on making positive choices each day. 

This will mean so much to me, but imagine this: A child has been so focused on making positive choices and saved all of his Thunderbird Tickets so that he could buy a big ticket item at the school store. Only the item he chooses to buy is not for him. It is Christmas time and he wants to get his mom a really nice gift. He purchases a 40.00 gift card to give to his mom on Christmas day. 

These are things that we take for granted each day. However, for a Warner Elementary School student, seeing his mom’s face light up on Christmas morning would make a world of difference. 

Please think about donating. Every little bit will help!  Thank you and God bless!

DOE Can’t Pay Red Clay Priority Schools Money But They Can Pay Mass Insight Almost $2.5 Million Dollars?

Earlier in the summer, I received a letter sent from the Red Clay Consolidated School District to the Delaware Department of Education and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.  Red Clay was upset because they were not being given the promised amount designated to them for the priority schools.  The DOE responded shortly after, and I published both of them.  I have heard the situation has been resolved, but nothing has been made public.  In fact, I stumbled across an email from the DOE to Red Clay from last November strongly suggesting they would be sending $750,000 a year to each of the Red Clay priority schools.  But the bottom line for each school in Red Clay is around $366,000.00.

So where did all that “promised” funding go?  The way I see it, each priority school is short about $400,000 a year.  There are six priority schools.  That adds up to about $2.4 million dollars.  I wonder where oh where the DOE could have allocated that money too…If Red Clay somehow compromised with the DOE, I have yet to know about it.  But I ran across this little bit of information today.  The Delaware DOE is paying a company called Mass Insight $2,445,000.00 for three years worth of work with “turnaround school support”.  The contract for this disappeared on the state contract website for a little while, but it’s back now.  What’s interesting is the last time I looked there were only 3 bidders for the project when it was still up for bids.  By the time all was said and done, there were 13 bidders, and the last was Mass Insight and they got the contract.  Nothing suspicious three….

To see this whole saga play out, check out the original RFP for the School Turnaround contract….

And then take a look at the bidders.  It’s like a who’s who of education reform companies in that bunch!

Last, but definitely not least, the awarded contract letter.  Sent to the very last bidder at the last minute I’m sure!

Now if the name Mass Insight sounds familiar, that’s because DOE used them back in 2010 and 2011 when they first started labeling turnaround schools.  Back then they called them partnership zone schools, or PZ for short.  Mass Insight was controversial then, so much so that someone started a blog called Mass Inciter.  It was short-lived but you can still go to it if you Google them.

The DOE and their magic math.  They have Governor Markell and Coach Murphy make a big grandstand on the steps of Warner Elementary School a year ago and publicly name these six “failing” schools.  Emails I posted in a series of articles last Spring showed how the DOE had no clue about how to get “those schools”, so they worked like mad for over a month coming up with the exact formula to get them labeled as “priority schools”.  Jack gave his big speech, and promised $5 million dollars to six schools.  He never told us half of those funds were going to an outside vendor!  That’s just like the DOE and Markell.  Screw over the schools that need resources the most but make the districts feel like crap if they don’t comply.

So while the DOE spends $2.445 million dollars over the next three years, and that’s just on THIS contract, and these schools don’t get the funds they were promised, who can we blame then?  Jack will be gone.  Coach will be gone.  You can’t blame Godowsky, he wasn’t there when this went down.  Will a new Governor keep the whacky regime heading the different areas at DOE now? I doubt it.  You can only play pin the tail on Penny Schwinn so much, but she answers to someone.  But Mass Insight will still get their cash cause the State of Delaware signed a contract with them.  And we can’t waste the money, so let’s just spend it!

The legislators need to, pardon my French, get their heads out of their asses and actually get this DOE under control. Lord knows what kind of damage they can do in the next 16 months!  I’m getting tired of being the ONLY one finding out this information.  The legislators should be all over the DOE, but they aren’t.  The ones that do question the DOE get shunned by their own party!  This is Jack’s world, and us little peons are just living in it.  There must be something that can be done… oh yeah, there is and I’m about to do it!

Governor Markell Showing Clip From Warner Priority Schools Announcement In Extremely Bad Taste

In Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s weekly message to the citizens of Delaware for July 4th, he showed a series of video clips to highlight his bragging about how great education is in Delaware.  Included was a clip from the 9/4/14 priority schools announcement at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington.  I find this to be pretty disgusting and vile considering what that announcement meant to so many educators, students, parents, legislators, leaders in Wilmington, and the citizens of Delaware.  I wouldn’t consider that a proud moment Governor Markell.

To the above people, this was a shocking announcement, and this began the end of your reign as the supreme education watchdog in this state.  You showed the people of Delaware, that no matter who questioned your wisdom on this decision, you were going to be a bully about it. Until that moment you couldn’t anymore.  That day in January you and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy received two letters.  The first was the letter from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee asking you to hold off on any decision for the priority schools in the Christina School District.  The second was the letter and petition from Parents & Teachers for Public Education.  The one with well over 600 signatures protesting the priority schools initiative.

Everything changed after that.  The legislators started hammering out bills that would limit the power of the DOE.  Parents started opting their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in force.  Charter schools lost their veil of secrecy as first Family Foundations Academy and then Academy of Dover had their dirty secrets brought to light.  Your appointed Secretary got multiple votes of no confidence and you actually kept him, weakening you from many citizen’s viewpoint.  Since then, a lot of your plans haven’t gone the way you wanted them to.

But one did, and we both know what that is.  The way those bills flew through the General Assembly you would think it was for the welfare and security of the state.  It will be very interesting to see how this all comes out in the end.  I have a very good idea, and I know you know that.  I foresee some radical power player changes in the next year and a half.  Yes Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, I’m talking about you.  I will be keeping a very close eye on any who have engineered this redistricting of Wilmington and how they land when all is said and done.

What is even more puzzling is your choice of a weekly address.  Delaware balanced the budget, but not without a lot of consequences.  Instead of going into detail about that, you babbled on and on about education.  Like we haven’t heard it all a million times.  What I took extreme offense with was your statement about children with disabilities.  I think it’s great that you want to make sure they get jobs when they are adults, but I never hear you talk about special education in the schools.  I imagine your advisors would have a cow if you praised it because pretty much everyone in the state knows how bad it is for most special needs students.  There is so much more to these children’s lives than savings accounts and transition into the adult world.  They need that solid foundation.  Something your standards and assessments and rigor have prevented from happening.  I fear for these children every day.  I fear for their general well-being and their future.  It is YOU who allowed this to happen.

I would think you would have talked about the economy, and legislation that will make it better.  Wait, there wasn’t much of that during this legislative session.  Instead we saw deals and compromises made behind closed doors with no public transparency.  So much for letting the sun shine!

My best guess, and I have nothing to base this on, would be that you needed to get another pumped up message about Delaware’s education out there before you need to make a big decision this week.  Yes, House Bill 50.  Your decision is eagerly awaited by the parents and advocates who fought tooth and nail to get it passed by a majority in the House and Senate with lots of issues along the way.  We find out this week if you will honor us.  If you will let the voice of the constituents mean more to you than your glorified standardized assessment, the Smarter Balanced.  As I told you in my email to you, this is the KEY legislation of your tenure as Governor of Delaware.  This is the one you will be remembered by.  House Bill 50 is your legacy.  You may not even realize this yet, but it will determine how the people of Delaware remember you.  While other state governments are wisely questioning the usefulness of education reform that includes high-stakes assessments, you are actually going around saying “Smarter Balanced is the best test we ever made.”  Somewhere along the way I think you forgot the definition of “we”.  When you are a Governor, “we” is the people you serve, who voted you into power.  Not the corporate interests that have you in their back pocket.

Delaware Priority Schools: The Truth Revealed Part 34

I told you it would be very soon till we got to the SIG funding issue.  Especially for Warner Elementary School and Bayard Middle School.  Someone may have to let me know if this is public knowledge, but since Warner and Bayard were labeled as priority schools, they are not eligible for SIG funding for the upcoming school year.  Another “oops” on the DOE’s part…

Priority4

Priority5

Once again more high fives among employees of the DOE!  “We made a goof but we fixed it and found out more reasons these schools will get less resources, gimme five!”  Not actually said, but the spirit is there…

Watch CEA & RCEA Press Conference Declaring No Confidence In Mark Murphy, DOE & State Board of Education