Will The General Assembly Pony Up An Additional $18.5 Million For Christina By June 30th?

The latest Memorandum of Understanding concerning Governor John Carney’s plans for Christina has an ask of $18.5 million in additional state funding to implement the plan.  This is, of course, based on approval by the Delaware General Assembly as they hammer out the FY2019 budget over the next six months.

The latest draft of the MOU, authored by Carney’s Education Policy Adviser Jon Sheehan, is a red-lined version.  The new wording in the document is all red-lined.  Keep in mind this is more than the initial ask from the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  Carney, from all reports I’ve heard, wants this plan to go through more than anything in the world.  How much so?  He will most likely do anything to make it happen.  I’m not sure why he has made this his top priority in education matters.  I think it is a red herring with danger signs written all over it.  I believe he is counting on the Christina Board of Education to vote no on it so he can launch some dastardly punitive action against the district.  I believe it is the same tactic Governor Markell used with WEIC.  Get everyone talking about it knowing full well the General Assembly wasn’t going to approve it.  The key difference between this and that is with WEIC the state already had a budget deficit when faced with that vote.  This time around, Delaware is boasting of a budget surplus.  I believe there are some smoke and mirrors with their numbers and I believe there is some fuzzy math with their formulas.  We shall see.

From a legislator’s point of view, the funding for this is based on Wilmington schools.  As WEIC learned the hard way, giving extra and significant funding to one portion of the state and not the rest is not an easy task.  Like I said the other week, everyone and their mother will be jockeying for their share of the mystical “budget surplus”.  In an election year, incumbents will NOT want to tick off voters in their districts.  I think Carney knows this.  Or he is that stupid.  But I’ll go with the former on this one.  Which is why I think it is a red herring.

The latest draft appears to have concessions granted to the Christina Board from their last discussion.  The Christina Board wanted to change the timeline from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2019-2020 year.  But the wording in the draft suggests Carney wants the Dual Generation Center up and running in 2018.  If that went through, there would definitely be some type of building movement by August of this year.

In the meantime, check out the latest Jon Sheehan penned draft of the MOU which the Christina Board will vote on at their next board meeting on January 16th.  It would have gone to a vote tonight but the meeting was postponed due to inclement weather.

Delaware DOE Will Severely Punish More Brandywine, Christina & Red Clay Schools Based On Smarter Balanced Scores

Wilmington

As part of a Freedom of Information Act request, the Delaware Department of Education named several new schools that would have become Priority or Focus Schools in an email to the United States Department of Education if the Delaware School Success Framework (DSSF) went into full effect this year.  It won’t, but it gives a very good sign of the entire purpose of this “school report card” scheme: more inner-city schools getting false labels and “turnaround status” based on high-stakes standardized test scores.  One school, far away from Wilmington, which was highly praised by Governor Markell and the DOE a couple of years ago for their reduction of proficiency gaps would have been a Focus School this year because of the increase in their proficiency gap.  Another school that would have become a priority school is already slated to close at the end of this year.  Again, I will stress these schools (aside from the ones with an asterisk) have not been named but would have been if the DSSF went into effect this year.

ReynaPotlFocusPriority1

Wow!  That is a lot of information from the former Director of Accountability at the Delaware DOE!  This was part of the Delaware DOE’s ESEA waiver request they sent to the US DOE at the end of November last year.  The State Board had just approved the participation rate penalty in the DSSF at their November meeting.  What wasn’t revealed was this list of schools that would have been named Focus or Priority…

ReynaPotlFocusPriority2

Four of the schools labeled as Priority are already Priority Schools.  I find it interesting the other two Red Clay Priority Schools are not on this list.  The Christina School District would have two more Priority Schools based on their DSSF score.  Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed and will close their doors forever at the end of this school year.

ReynaPotlFocusPriority3

Booker T. Washington Elementary School?  What?  Isn’t this the same school Governor Markell touted and praised for closing the gaps in 2014 and 2015?  Didn’t Delaware Today just do a big article about the school’s big turnaround?  I have to wonder if Capital School District is aware this school would have been punished again and put back in turnaround status.

Brandywine School District (district code 31) already had three designated Focus Schools this year, but four more would have joined that elite group.  Half of Delaware’s Focus Schools would have existed in the Brandywine School District!  Red Clay would have seen a middle school join while Christina would have another two schools in turnaround status.  Colonial and Delmar both would join the “Focus School Group” based on their proficiency gaps.

When you compare these schools with charter schools based on the actual Smarter Balanced scores last year, the fatal flaw in the Delaware School Success Framework becomes very clear.  Many charters such as EastSide, Family Foundations, Prestige Academy and Thomas Edison had lower Smarter Balanced scores than some of the priority and focus schools above.  But because the DSSF is based not just on the overall scores but also the “growth to proficiency”, the system is rigged to punish schools in traditional school districts.  Why?  Because the Delaware DOE never did what they said they were going to do in their ESEA waiver application:

CharterPriorityRegulation

So even though they named Delaware College Prep as a priority school in their “DSSF” scenario, it wouldn’t happen because to this date the DOE has not submitted any regulations indicating what is in the picture above.  As well, this would account for Focus Schools as well, as seen here:

FocusCharterRegulation

And what is that Focus School Criteria?

FocusCriteria1617beyond

But here is where things get confusing:

TimelineTransitionDSSF

The above states no new Focus or Priority schools will be named in the next two years.  But they will name Reward and Recognition schools.  So that’s good, right?  Wrong.  The whole ballgame changes on August 1st, 2016.  That is when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect.  States will be given a “planning and implementation year” so to speak.  But the key will be in the regulations issued in the coming months.  That is where ALL OF THIS will come into play.  The Delaware DOE was probably about 95% certain the ESSA would pass at the time of this ESEA Waiver application on November 19th, 2015.  So what does this mean?

These are my predictions: The regulations coming out of ESSA will give the states the authority to determine “turnaround” schools based on US DOE “guidance”.  The Delaware DOE will take full advantage of this to keep the plans now in place but also to make things go into effect in the 2016-2017 school year.  Or possibly, they will stall this until the 2017-2018 school year.  They will support this with a re-designed Regulation 103 in Delaware based on the US DOE regulations.  If the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) redistricting plan passes the General Assembly (which I now think will happen), Red Clay will have a lot of priority and focus schools.  And more to be named based on the Delaware School Success Framework and how they calculate things.  Most of them are schools in the city limits of Wilmington.  Around 2019 or 2020, the DOE will pounce on these schools with hardcore priority school MOUs.  If you thought the MOUs in 2014 were stringent, these will be even tougher for the Red Clay Board of Education to work around.  By this time, based on the Smarter Balanced scores (or whatever replaces it), all the Wilmington Red Clay schools will be in Priority School status.  Red Clay won’t close all the schools, so they will be forced to turn them over to the DOE, become charter schools, or be put into a management organization.  And that, my friends, is when we see Wilmington become an all-charter school district.  Over time this will engulf the Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, and Red Clay Consolidated School Districts.  Upper New Castle County will become ALL charter.

Think about the real estate deals that will come out of that.  Think about the collective bargaining rights that are marginalized when a school goes into priority school status.  Think about competency-based education and personalized learning and career pathways initiatives already in place in Delaware and other states.  Think about the huge amount of schools in the country that have already converted to charters, and the vast amounts of money hedge fund managers make off charters.  Think about all the foundations and non-profits that support charters.  Think about the fact that WEIC had to happen for all of this to come to fruition.  Think about how organizations like Teach For America and the Relay Graduate School for Education stand to benefit immensely from a scenario where teachers are no longer teachers but glorified moderators in a personalized learning environment.  Think about the long con and how this would eventually trickle down the state, past the canal, all the way down to Sussex County over the long run.  Think about all the tax break legislation that has gone through in Delaware that Markell has signed so fast.  There could be a lot of new business coming to Delaware.  But none of it will be good for students.

This is the game plan.  The one that Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the Rodel Foundation, and the Delaware Business Roundtable fervently support.  You won’t find any memos or emails about this.  You won’t find any hard or definitive proof either.  It will just happen.  And if you think John Carney will save the day as the new Governor of Delaware, think again…

Guess what the one mechanism is that stops all of this?

OPT OUT

If the state doesn’t have the data needed to carry out all of this, they can’t very well use the results to force all these changes.  This is why Governor Markell and the DOE and Rodel and all the organizations, foundations, and non-profits are against opt out.  Opt Out is the game-changer that disrupts ALL their plans.

Tony Allen’s TedX Video Is VERY Illuminating: “Fix Poverty, Fix Education, or Fix Nothing”

On October 15th, the Chairperson of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission gave a TedX presentation on poverty and education.  I agree with Dr. Tony Allen on many of the things he said in this speech.  But in my opinion, this was a very harsh attack against the Colonial School District.  Whether Tony Allen was correct or not about Colonial’s standardized test claims, he used the argument to validate a district’s capabilities on a very flawed system.  Standardized tests are not a true indicator of any school’s standing as an educational institution.  There are many measurements and indicators of how good or bad a school district is and standardized testing should never be used as a measure of success or failure.  While I don’t disagree with Tony that education needs to change, especially in our current environment, using a flawed system is dangerous and further perpetuates the perception of what a failing school is.

Colonial School District Board Swindled By WEIC Leaders With Legal Loophole And Backdoor Meetings

On Tuesday evening, the Colonial School District Board of Education passed a resolution with a vote of 4-2 to support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting effort with the exception of the Colonial portion of Wilmington.  If you listen to their audio recording from the 11/10/15 board meeting it was a very controversial decision.

Board member Melody Spotts questioned the board not even hearing the resolution until the actual board meeting.  Most board resolutions are put out earlier so all board members can read it ahead of time.

Who on the board is seeing this for the first time tonight?  Did you see this prior to today? No. I did not see this posted in Board Docs.  You want us to vote on this today?

The resolution, presented by Board President Joseph Laws, would have Colonial support the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting effort to send the Christina School District Wilmington students to Red Clay.  It would also allow Laws to remain on the Commission.  What the resolution does not give is an okay by Colonial to send their estimated 150 students to Red Clay as well.  They want to keep the current boundaries.  Laws also mentioned that Brandywine School District feels the same way.  Board member Richard Schiller was not happy with the WEIC response to the board’s October decision.

I don’t agree with the letter from Dr. Rich.  It was very condescending to this board.

Spotts was very upset that Laws and Blakey met with the leadership of WEIC without notifying the rest of the board which Laws quickly deflected in the conversation by asking the board if they wanted to continue to have him represent the district on the commission.  The board agreed but not if meetings are held the week before without the board being notified.

Laws left the door open for the Colonial students to possibly go to Red Clay with the resolution but not with an “11th hour commitment”.  Spotts was adamant about Colonial not sending out a resolution that states Colonial should say how Red Clay spends their taxpayer dollars.  She said their district would not be happy about another district doing the same for them.  The district refuted the claim from WEIC members about a financial incentive for Colonial to back out of the redistricting effort based on the Port of Wilmington area in Colonial.  The district explained this is a tax-exempt area and the district does not make additional money off this.  The funding issue was brought up by Spotts as well:

Sure, we’re building a house, tell me how much it costs later.

Laws explained they are increasing their test scores while other districts in the effort are actually going down.  Laws said he and Blakey met last week with Tony Allen, the chair of WEIC, Joe Pika, and Dan Rich to discuss Colonial’s backing out of the redistricting and said while it was civil it became very contentious.  He told them the Colonial board would not be budging and backing off from their decision unless the board as a whole voted on it.  The WEIC trio asked the board to pass a resolution in support of the recommendations which is where the trap was set for the Colonial board.

What this resolution does is tie the redistricting effort to what is already in paragraph 1026 of Title 14 by eliminating a referendum for the potential school districts:

(c) Subject to subsection (a) of this section, the State Board of Education may change or alter the boundaries of any reorganized school district without a referendum of the voters if the written consent of the owners of the real property to be transferred has been obtained and if also the school boards of the districts affected by such change or alteration have adopted resolutions favoring such change or alteration.

This is the legal loophole to all of this and the WEIC folks clearly know this.  How they could have gotten this past Colonial with nobody questioning it at their board meeting clearly shows this.  Which is why I can no longer support this initiative whatsoever. If the powers that be want to play dirty tricks, then the entire plan is corrupt in my opinion.  While the resolution would allow for Colonial’s students to stay in the Colonial district, it is going to become a hot mess because Colonial’s board passed this resolution which is exactly what the WEIC trio wanted.  The 4-2 vote had the following votes: Yes-Laws, Benjamin, Kennedy and Magee, No-Schiller and Spotts.  Board member Tim Suber was not at the meeting.  The resolution is not on Colonial’s board docs portion of their website and did not appear before the meeting as well.

Backdoor meetings on the whole WEIC/redistricting effort goes against the very spirit of this whole thing, and it was indicated this would not happen.  Now it has, and nobody really knows what was said and if any side deals happened.  I cannot, and will not support this initiative based on that unless a full audio recording of the meeting between Laws, Blakey, Allen, Rich and Pika surfaces with everything that was said at this meeting.  This will not happen, therefore I can not support WEIC.

The Draft Plan For Wilmington Redistricting Presented To State Board Of Education Yesterday

As this document put on a public website clearly says,

DRAFT: November 3, 2015, not reviewed in full or approved by Redistricting Committee or the Commission, not for dissemination or distribution

I will note, one more time, this is a draft, not approved yet.  I always have to crack up when I see things put on public websites that say “embargoed” or “not for distribution”.  The very act of putting it on a public website means it is now “out there” on the internet for anyone to see.  Granted, I don’t know how many dive into the agenda for a State Board of Education retreat, but I digress…

Here it is, but don’t stop reading after you finish that one, cause there is more

And once again, we have the same disclaimer on the appendices, which includes Red Clay and Christina’s plans with all of this and tons of funding resources.  The last few sections are blank because they have not happened yet.  Consider this a peak into the future taking place now sort of thing.  A paradox or will we see the same thing brought forward before the State Board of Education on 11/19?

So what is your take?  Will the State Board approve this as it is written now?  Would the General Assembly approve this?  If you had a vote, would you?

WEIC’s Charter-District Collaboration Meeting Minutes Show Obvious Barriers

A student from the Charter School of Wilmington described the sense of community at his school, and the concern that this committee might break up that community that is very important to the school.

 

I didn’t expect the Charter School of Wilmington issues to come up so fast in the whole Wilmington Education Improvement Commission/redistricting initiative, but I’m glad the elephant in the room was addressed in the first Charter and District Collaboration Committee meeting.  The minutes from the September 23rd meeting, seen below, show many of the concerns surrounding the whole charter/traditional conversation from both sides of the aisle.

The one part that was brought up was the whole nature of a “consortium” for the Wilmington charters which was brought up in the original WEAC report (or book if you have it, there are a few thousand of these floating around Delaware).  A commenter made the following statement:

The recommendation in the WEAC report is on collaboration in the form of a consortium. It is important to focus time around that, and decide if a brand new consortium is necessary or if you should work with the existing Charter School Network and Innovative Schools. We need to embrace the existing options and use the organizations we have, and determine what target we are aiming at.

Yeah, I don’t know if I can recommend Innovative Schools as a role model these days.  They have their hands full with the schools they are operating in.  And we all know what is going on with Delaware Met.  To have the Delaware Charter Schools Network running the show is also a recipe for disaster.  They have not shown a true willingness to work with traditional school districts and this has caused a lot of angst with the issues.  Especially when it comes to equity among the two and legislation to even the playing field.

There are lots of other interesting and conversation-starting bits in here.

Will Red Clay Dump WEIC At Their Special Board Meeting? Will Brandywine? Should Christina Teachers Feel Insulted?

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of Wilmington schools from Christina to Red Clay has been controversial on its best day.  Colonial is saying no, and it looks like Brandywine might as well.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams attended the redistricting committee meeting the other day, and all sorts of information came to light such as:

Red Clay School Board will be holding a Special Board Meeting on November 2, 2015 starting at 5:30 at Red Clay’s District Office. The board may be taking action with regards to WEIC.

But where is the agenda for this Special Board meeting? I can’t see it anywhere on their board docs.  The only notice of it is here.  How long has this been planned?  Next week begins budget discussions with state agencies.  With a very large looming budget deficit, more than the public really knows (more on that later), there will not be funding for this initiative without making huge cuts to something else.  Has the Red Clay board seen the light, or is this just another meeting to talk about things?

Brandywine School District would like to maintain the current school boundaries.

I’m not certain how much this will impact things as Brandywine has never been a big player in all of this, but with both of the “other” districts backing out it sends a clear message.

Brandywine School Board will bring forward a board resolution at their next school board meeting with regards to WEIC.

Sounds like Colonial and Brandywine are on the same page.

DSEA is very concerned about teachers losing their job because of this plan; district lines being redrawn.

As they should be.  Where would those teachers go?

Dr. Daugherty replied back to DSEA and said Red Clay is not going to guarantee that Red Clay will hire everyone from the Christina schools. Christina schools will become a part of the Red Clay School District.

This is just wrong in my opinion.  Unless it is a reduction in work force.  Red Clay already has some of the most bloated classrooms in the state.  If I were Christina, I would back out unless their teachers have a written and assured safety net.

A comment was made, if the plan is just to move district lines and rename schools and not provide any resources or funding; don’t bother moving any further with this plan.

I agree.  It sounds exactly what Delaware State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan said a couple weeks ago at their meeting.

My fear of Red Clay dumping WEIC is the aftermath.  Will Governor Markell step in and issue an executive order “for the kids”?  My gut tells me he will.  Which is also going to be the time we start hearing the words “impeachment” if he does.  That type of executive decision would certainly shed some light on this and would gel with everything that has been going on behind the scenes for years.  Or I could just be paranoid…

Wilmington Redistricting Update

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is in full swing.  This group has more meetings than Governor Markell says the word education or the DOE says the word rigor.  It’s hard to keep track of it all.  Luckily, WEIC has made two very good summaries of the whole thing up to date for their presentation to the Delaware State Board of Education on Thursday, October 15th.  If you plan on attending the meeting, you could probably read this first and skip that part and take a drive down to Rehoboth and watch the tide come in and out, drive back to Dover, and Dan Rich will still be talking.  But I digress…

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission First Meeting Notes

I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening.  It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington.  The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period.  It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.

As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight.  I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings.  First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers.  Not that the town halls aren’t important.

Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own.  During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025.  I advised they could all start bumping into each other.  Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56.  He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it.  For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools.  I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment.  He said that was done prior to the law being enacted.  WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC.  So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.

WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything.  She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed.  (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)

Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her.  She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward.  Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.

Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing.  The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups.  Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.

Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students.  A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.

The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance.  He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years!  Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell.  While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason.  We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here.  He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…

At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education.  WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell.  I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame.  This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with.  After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office.  And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now.  Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.

Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola.  Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.

No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up.  Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts.  Very smart move for whoever came up with this!

Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Presentation To Christina Board of Education

On 8/12/2015, Tony Allen and Dan Rich with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission gave a presentation to the Christina School District Board of Education.  Last week, I wrote about their presentation to the board at Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Tomorrow is WEIC’s first actual meeting, from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the Red Clay district office at 1502 Spruce Avenue in Wilmington in the 1st floor conference room.

But in the meantime, you can check out what was presented to the board at Christina.  While very similar to their Red Clay presentation, there are some differences.

Red Clay Audio Of Board Meeting Raises Lots Of Questions About Wilmington Education Improvement Commission…

Who is funding the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission?  Who provided funding for the paperbook book for the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee?  What role will all four school districts in Wilmington play?  Will more committees be added to WEIC?

These are just some of the questions that were asked by the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education to WEIC Vice-Chair Tizzy Lockman and Policy Advisor Dan Rich.  The 2nd part is where the real debate kicks in between Dan Rich and board member Catherine Thompson.  She raises some very valid points about the potential of Red Clay getting clobbered in all of this.  Dan Rich, at another point, raises the whole point about WEIC not just being about the redistricting, but also education reform for the whole state.  Which raises my question the other day: why should the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, filled with representation from only one of the three countries in the state, not have many representatives from Kent or Sussex County?

Part 1: WEIC Presentation Begins around 27:00 mark

Part 2: WEIC Presentation continues about 3/5ths into the audio

News Journal Editorial Fails To Mention “Funding” In WEIC Opinion Piece

The Delaware News Journal is an interesting newspaper.  Read by about 300,000 citizens of Delaware, they are always quick to write an editorial about anything education related very soon after it happens.  This week it was the announcement of who was on the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and what the committees are.

This “Our View” opinion piece raised some interesting points, but it failed to mention the critical part about redistricting any Christina schools to Red Clay- funding.  This is the biggest challenge facing this whole issue, and it seems like nobody really wants to talk about it at this point.  I know, the group doesn’t even start meeting until next week.  But if the funding questions aren’t answered very fast, this will never happen.

There is already serious talk about changing the way homes are assessed in Delaware.  Most agree it is too low.  But if you thought folks were screaming at everyone over two failed referendums in Christina, wait until any type of legislation is introduced to tackle that one!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it.  My home is assessed at 1/3rd or less of it’s market value.  Property assessments are always lower than the market value, but not that much!  But there are many in the state who don’t want to pay one penny more for education.  Some just don’t want to pay more, or they feel the districts and charters have too much wasteful spending, or they think the State of Delaware should cut a lot of their education reforms and give more to the districts.  While that would certainly help, would it be enough for 133,000 public school students in the state?

The editorial does talk about “a sluggish economy that limits choices” and “revenue shortfalls“, but nothing about the very large elephant in the room over where the hell funding comes in for this.  As we are seeing with the Red Clay priority schools, funding has already come up as a huge issue.  What makes anyone think the state can handle something more immense?

But the editorial did mention the parent opt-out issue, but not as something parents wanted, but this:

“And in June, some legislators led a rebellion against the governor on mandatory state testing.  Now they are threatening to override the Governor’s veto.”

First off, it wasn’t “some” legislators.  It was almost 3/4 of them.  This is where the News Journal editorial crowd always loses me.  It makes the legislators look like a bunch of rowdy cowboys who only passed the bill to tick off Jack.  It was more like this: they heard the voices of their constituents and acted.  Just because it goes against the almighty Jack Markell doesn’t make it a rebellion.  If anything, it signaled the first sign of Spring in Delaware education legislation after a very long Winter.

Is It A Coincidence WEIC, Rodel’s Student Success 2025 & DOE’s SREO Initiative Are All Taking Place At The SAME Time?

There are three major education groups going on right now.  We have the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) led by Bank of America executive Tony Allen, the Rodel sponsored Student Success 2025 brought to us by the Vision Coalition, and the Delaware Department of Education’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO).  These are all going on at the same time, and it makes me wonder…

The biggest thing I noticed on WEIC was the glaring fact there was NO representation from DOE or Rodel on the leadership team.  At first glance, I didn’t notice a lot of the major charter players at all.  But they are well-represented on the Vision Student success 2025 gig:  Rodel’s Dr. Paul Herdman, Eastside Charter’s Dr. Lamont Browne, Teach For America’s Laurissa Schutt, H. Raye Jones Avery, well-known charter supporters and business leaders Gary Stockbridge and Ernie Diastasis, Longwood Foundation President There DuPont, Saul-Ewing Charter School Attorney Jim Taylor, Maria Matos, Freire’s Assistant Head of Academics Paul Ramirez, and Rodman Ward III. And from the DOE there is Mark Murphy (not sure on his status now that he “resigned”), Vice-President of the State Board of Education Jorge Melendez, Chief of the Teacher & Leader Effectiveness Unit Chris Ruszkowski, Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson, and State Board of Education Director Donna Johnson.

As for the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities, their membership consists of, well, not too many people.  The only folks I’ve seen on paper is Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and DOE Chief Policy and External Communications Officer Susan Haberstroh.  The Legislative Hall duo.  These are the only names on this group at this point and we have no idea who the stakeholders are aside from local education agencies and their data that will be collected.  On it’s face, the SREO is merely a data collection initiative, to be collected, collated, and dissected to find “best practices” in our schools.  My issues with this are 1) the vendor is Public Consulting Group, 2) there are always mitigating factors why some schools are “better” than others and trying to copy certain models in other areas of the state may not work, 3) it was a rush announcement by Governor Markell who actually came to a State Board of Education meeting to announce it in March.

All three of these groups have some similar goals for Delaware education.  If you look at the three documents below, it is easy to see the similarities but all the differences:

While certain goals in these three groups are similar, such as funding and best interests for students, some are very different.  But if you add up all the pieces, it equals a combined picture that includes nearly aspect of Delaware education.  I do not believe this is a coincidence.  A year ago, all roads let to the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.  Now, all roads lead to Governor Markell and Rodel.

I have hypothesized for a year now that Wilmington will become an all-charter school district eventually.  I still believe this is the Governor’s goal.  Last night, at the Red Clay board meeting, serious questions were asked by the board to Dan Rich and Tizzy Lockman with WEIC.  The board questioned where their authority in all of this is.  In the wording of Senate Bill 122, it states the State Board of Education can act without a referendum if the local school board approves a resolution supporting the WEAC recommendations.  Red Clay did this in April.  The law does not specifically name the school districts that can be redrawn.  So who is to say charter schools can’t be considered a school district?  They can, and they could have say in all of this before all is said and done.

The alignment for a total takeover is present, right now.  But there is one huge glitch in the whole plan…funding.  Who pays for any of this?  Red Clay? Christina? The taxpayers (invariably, they always do), the State of Delaware? Corporations?  And there may be one other snafu in this whole process… but I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag!

Chair of Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Tony Allen Clears The Air & My Thoughts On Special Education For The Commission

In a Facebook post on the “Solutions for Wilmington Schools” page, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen addressed some concerns people were having, including myself.  I will fully admit I reached out to Tony last night and he responded very fast:

As always, I welcome the thoughtful critique and continued questioning relative to my decisions and related actions on this historically important set of issues. It will make our Commission better, our mandate more focused and the resulting product more meaningful to students and families.

To level set everyone, the 23-person Commission is effectively a steering arm and ultimately an approving authority for what will be the work of our five working committees. I use “working” intentionally here as each will carry a heavy burden, over the next five years, to create strategies to implement the recommendations outlined in the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s final report, “Strengthening Wilmington Education: An Action Agenda.” Updated versions of this report are available now.

As for the Committees themselves, there are five: Redistricting; Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty; Funding Student Success; Parent Family and Community Engagement; and Charter and District Collaboration. At present, we have only named the Co-Chairs of those committees. The Co-Chairs will finalize all of their respective committees over the next week or so, but you should all know that there is plenty of room. What I hope everyone experienced in the WEAC process was a spirit of candor, engagement and full participation. I don’t expect any of that to change with the new Commission.

On the notion of representation from Early Care & Education, Daphne Evans, you raise good points, but I think you will find that we are well-represented along those lines. There are more than a few Commission members that a passionate about the issue. And perhaps more important, in my view, the foremost authority and one of the most ardent advocates on early care & education is Dan Rich. He remains the Commission’s chief administrative and policy counsel on this work and is the reason that more support for the early care movement is central to the recommendations outlined in the WEAC final report.

Kevin Ohlandt has also written a piece and talked with me separately about special education and the need for it to have its own committee. I am confident he is right, but I don’t think that such a Committee needs to be standalone in this work. To be clear, the issue of serving low-income students is multi-pronged and interwoven. That is why one of our core recommendations and legislative priorities deals with more funding for special education K-3. This issue will be taken up in the “Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty” and the “Funding Student Success” committees.

Finally, many have rightly noticed our website moniker, http://www.solutionsfordelawareschools. We decided to broaden our materials because many of our recommendations have applicability statewide and we believe deal directly with the 51% of public school students throughout the state that are low-income. In short, while much of the discussion has been focused on redistricting, as I have said many times, simply redrawing lines does not constitute a new path for Wilmington Education. We see and have presented our recommendations as a package of ideas to be considered together and will not make additional recommendations that don’t holistically attempt to address the fundamental problem of student success.

Despite my many thoughts, concerns, issues, and predictions with the overall outcome of this whole thing, I think Tony Allen is a stand-up guy.  He is making this process very transparent which will be the key to community engagement and letting folks know what is transpiring.  I believe the whole “basic funding” for K-3 students is pivotal to making this happen, it is just one part in a machine called special education in Delaware that has 1,000 other issues that need to be fixed.  But it’s a start, and if anyone out there is a strong special education advocate and knows what Delaware needs, I strongly suggest attending these meetings and letting your voice be heard.

I had a conversation last night with parent advocate Devon Hynson who is well-known in Wilmington and around the state to be a very strong voice for students with disabilities.  We both agreed Child Find is integral to special education improvement in Delaware.  Child Find is part of IDEA and Delaware state law which mandates that if schools see issues with a child they proactively attempt to get an evaluation and contact the parents for permission for any such evaluations.  Instead, many charters and districts punish first and ask questions later.  As a result, students tend to become lost in the system.  When they could be getting the special education they legally deserve, they are treated the same as their peers.  I’m not saying schools should be diagnosing kids, but if teachers or staff see certain behaviors or situations happening, they need to reach out to their special education coordinator or educational diagnostician to get the ball rolling.  Even one school year can make a huge different in a student’s life.

Even with all the new laws passed by Senate Bill 33, which stemmed from the IEP Task Force last year, there are a host of other issues this hopefully reconvened committee needs to address.  The most important of which is “the battle”.  This is the time when districts or charters try to negotiate with the parents or advocates over services for an individual child.  This is a very fine line, and one misstep over it can have disastrous results for a special needs student.  Personally, I think every child who gets an initial evaluation should have a full-blown neuro-psychological report done by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.  These types of tests are very long and time-consuming, but the benefits far outweigh any expense.  The reports generated tend to be very specific about what a student needs and what kind of services they should have.  The IQ tests and behavior analysis tests given for initial evaluation do not give a full picture or delve into the full scope of what a child needs.  This would help the IEP process immensely as the report will give most of what the student needs.

As any parent of a special needs child knows, dealing with schools can be your worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  There is a difference between collaboration and negotiation.  Frequently, these children can not afford to have any service cut or put on the back burner.

For the general population, many think of special education as Autism or Aspergers, or, I hate to say this because I find it offensive, the “kids who ride the short bus”.  This is so far from the truth it is ridiculous.  Disabilities in children run the whole gamut of dyslexia to social learning issues to ADHD to Autism.  And several components combine in children, which makes it even trickier to help them.   When these students manifest their disabilities, which are often neurologically based, all too often the perceived notion is they can control it.  In most cases, they can not, and the law is written to understand this.  But society as a whole doesn’t get this, including schools.

I’ve always felts psychiatry needs to play a much larger role in special education.  Therapy with a psychologist, councilor, or therapists is very important, but since disabilities are neurologically-based, and this is a psychiatrist’s area of expertise, why are we relying on psychologists for everything when they just study behavior and how to fix it?  Some manifestations of disabilities, even in the highest-functioning and brilliant child, can not always be “fixed”.  But the student can learn coping mechanisms or the school can work around these things.

For example, if a child cannot control a body movement, like tapping their fingers, instead of telling them to stop, maybe give them a soft cloth or matting so they can tap on that.  This way the child is able to manifest their uncontrolled action (not behavior), and it is not a distraction to the rest of the class.  It can be that easy!  But I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty if you try to make a child stop an uncontrollable action, it will result in conflict.  If that energy is not released, it will come out in other ways.  I like to think some special needs children have coping mechanisms wired into them to sub-consciously mitigate their actions.  While tapping is minimal, it could be the child’s way of stopping themselves from jumping up and down.  A classroom is not the place for a battle of wills between a special needs student and a teacher or staff members.  Heck, there is nowhere in school this should happen.  It embarrasses the student, frustrates the teacher, and distracts the rest of the class from effectively learning.

As a parent of a child with Tourette Syndrome, I see physical manifestations of my child’s disability all the time.  I have seen research and videos and case studies that report the same thing every single time: if a child is having tics, just ignore them.  Pretend they don’t exist.  Even in the 10% of Tourette Syndrome when they have coprolalia, the uncontrollable swearing, most experts say to ignore it.

Children with special needs often go undiagnosed and this can result in a disproportionate number of suspensions or expulsions compared to their non-disabled peers.  This is one of the largest problems going on in Wilmington schools.  And yes, putting a child in an out of school placement is often a punishment.  For too many kids, it’s the school giving up and throwing their hands in the air and refusing to deal with the true issues: their inability to provide adequate special education.

When I hear about children with disabilities being placed in day programs and residential treatment centers, my first question is always “How long did the child not get the essential services?”  If a child with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder begins showing this disability in Kindergarten, but they didn’t get services until 5th grade, of course this child is going to have major issues.  Because the child has learned that any time they exhibit their disability they are “bad” because that’s how they have been treated for the past five years.  A brand new IEP isn’t going to erase years of damage for this child.  That road to recovery, if ignored, is going to set up a lifetime of anger and resentment on the child’s part.  Their very foundation in school is a symbol of failure in that child’s mind.

These are key things I feel the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission needs to look at right away.  Funding doesn’t solve everything, some things are just common sense.  Instead of fixing special education, we need to be embracing and celebrating these unique individual kids.  They need us to understand them when the world is screaming at them.  They are scared, and feel isolated, and they don’t get why everyone hates them.  They need compassion and empathy, not a strong hand and rigor.  They want what all of us want: to feel accepted and acknowledged they are a person, not a problem.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Membership & Committees Announcement, Two Major Things Missing

I know a lot of these people, but some I don’t.  All have an enormous task in front of them.  Without further ado, this is the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission:

Tony Allen, Chairperson, Bank of America Senior Executive

Kenny Rivera, Vice Chairperson, President of Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education and teacher in Brandywine School District

Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Education Advocate, Wilmington Parents, and Public Allies alumna

Eve Buckley, Parent and Education Advocate, Christina S.D.

Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Chair of Education Youth & Families Committee for Wilmington City Council

Rosa Colon-Kolacko, Chief of Diversity Officer, Christiana Care

Karen Eller, Teacher in Christina S.D.

Reverend Meredith Griffin, Chairperson of the Education Committee for Interdenominational Ministers Action Council

Frederika Jenner, President of Delaware State Education Association

Yvonne Johnson, Delaware PTA Parent & Education Advocate, Red Clay S.D.

Joseph Laws, President of Colonial School District Board of Education

Margie Lopez Waite, Head of School for L’Aspira Academy Charter School

Aretha Miller, Executive Director of the Community Education Building

Harrie Ellen Minnehan, President of the Christina School District Board of Education

Joe Pika, PhD., former President of the State Board of Education

Chandra Pitts, Executive Director of One Village Alliance

Delaware State Rep. Charles Potter

Vicki Seifried, Teacher in Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

John Skrobot, President of the Brandywine School District Board of Education

Delaware Senator David Sokola

Michelle Taylor, President of the United Way of Delaware

A High School student from Red Clay Consolidated S.D.

A High School student from Colonial S.D.

As well, support is being given by the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration and the following employees:

Dan Rich, PhD., Policy Director

Kelly Sherretz, Project Manager

Elizabeth Burland, Administrative Coordinator

Jerome Lewis, PhD., IPA Director and Senior Policy Advisor

Ed Freel, Senior Policy Advisor

Liz Farley-Ripple, Policy Advisor

Neil Kirschling, Policy Advisor

Sarah Pragg, Communications Advisor

The following committees have been announced with the following as Committee Chairs:

Redistricting Committee: Joe Pika, Henry Harper, PhD. (former Superintendent of Appoquinimink S.D.)

Charter & District Collaboration Committee: Eve Buckley, Aretha Miller

Meeting the Needs of Students In Poverty Committee: Chandlee Kuhn (former Family Court Chief Judge), Michelle Taylor, Jackie Jenkins Ed.D. (Education Advisor for Office of the Mayor of the City of Wilmington)

Funding Student Success Committee: Jill Floore (Chief Financial Officer for Red Clay Consolidated S.D.), Mike Jackson (Deputy Comptroller for the State of Delaware)

Parent, Educator, and Community Engagement Committee: Yvonne Johnson, Chandra Pitts

At first glance, this is a very diverse group in this.  But I have a major new concern, as the below document will clearly show, the website for this, still under construction but will be available on September 1st, is http://solutionsfordelawareschools.com.  I thought this was a Wilmington thing.  I know, some of the recommendations from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee can help all of Delaware, but if they are doing this, why is there NO representation from anyone in Kent or Sussex Counties?  I think excluding representation from the whole state is very dangerous in this political climate, especially for a commission that will be meeting for the next 5-6 years.

As well, they need to make an entirely separate committee to cover special education.  If special education is not improved, nothing they do will make any difference for students with disabilities who represent anywhere from 16-20% of the student population affected.  I actually advised Tony Allen of this twice.  Once at the House Education Committee in February, and last March in private.  I know there will be sub-committees, but this needs to be its own committee.  I have to say I’m very disappointed, but then again, special education doesn’t seem to be a priority anywhere these days in Delaware.  We keep making the same mistakes over and over again and then we are left scratching our heads wondering why these children don’t have better outcomes.  Meanwhile, disabilities are on the rise and funding is going to become a huge issue, especially with Autism.

I don’t like the idea of Senator Sokola being in WEIC at all.  This is a man who has done more harm than good for all the students of Delaware, specifically in Wilmington.  Most don’t see it that way, but he was the spearhead behind a lot of legislation that has further segregated Wilmington schools.  I know, I’m biased cause we went head-to-toe on House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill, but I wasn’t a big fan of his before that.

A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

Governor Markell To Sign House Bill 148 And Senate Bill 122 On August 4th, Let The Redistricting Begin…

On August 4th, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will sign two bills to improve education in the City of Wilmington.  House Bill 148 creates the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission while Senate Bill 122 allows the State Board of Education to redraw district lines to allow for City of Wilmington schools to shift to Red Clay Consolidated School District away from the Christina School District.

The signing will occur at Hockessin Colored School #107C, 4266 Millcreek Rd. in Hockessin, DE.  I will fully admit when I heard the name of this location my eyes bulged open while my brain was feverishly wondering why they wouldn’t do the signing in the city proper.  On the Facebook page, Solutions for Wilmington Schools, Wilmington Education Advisory Committee chair Tony Allen provided a link to a USA Today article on the historic location.

The “colored” schools in Delaware, as they were called, were created by Pierre DuPont in the 1920s.  The Hockessin Color School #107C became the heart of a pitched legal battle regarding integration into the much better School #29, which only white people were allowed at.  The legal cases involved with this situation became a part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and is considered an historic landmark in Delaware.

Many fear the redistricting of Wilmington schools under two school districts, Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine is a smokescreen to create an all-charter Wilmington school district.  At this time, Delaware is projected to have a $160 million deficit for FY2017 and the Delaware Department of Education is going back on the original promised amount for Red Clay’s three priority schools.  The legislation, which looks great on the surface, could face numerous obstacles in the implementation.

Citizens of Wilmington have desired a reduction in school districts for decades, ever since the Secretary of State created the current four district control of Wilmington schools.  While I can easily see the need for this reduction, the thorn in the foot is the charter schools in Wilmington.  Not that all of them are bad, but they have taken away so much local and state funding away from the cash-poor school districts and created even more segregation in the city.

I will be writing a considerable amount about the history of segregation in Delaware education history in an upcoming article and how this led to the creation of Delaware charter schools.

Senate Bill 122 Passes, Allows State Board of Education To Redraw District Lines For Wilmington, House Bill 148 Should Pass Next Week, Creating Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

For legislation introduced last week, these two sure flew through the Delaware House and Senate. I know this is a dream of many in Wilmington, and most especially Tony Allen. So congrats Tony!  Senate Bill 122 passed with a 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting and 2 Absent.  House Bill 148 passed the Senate today but an amendment was added which will kick it back to the House.  Tonight, Allen issued a statement on the passage of Senate Bill 122 and the eventual passage of House Bill 148:

The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee was created last fall out of an executive order issued by Governor Jack Markell. At the same time, the priority schools announcement was just made weeks before, and Wilmington education was a very hot topic. The Committee met for a few months and issued their report in March which gave recommendations to have all Wilmington schools convert to Red Clay Consolidated and Brandywine School Districts. This meant Christina would hand over their schools which they agreed to as a sort of impasse on the priority schools in their district. The WEAC recommendations prevented the priority school deadlines from falling into the DOE and Markell’s hands. It was a moment of conversation that is continuing to this day. I eagerly await what happens next with these two bills. I have no doubt Markell will sign both of them as soon as possible.

House Bill 148 Creates Wilmington Education Improvement Commission

That certainly didn’t take long.  Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, hand delivered a letter to both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to create a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  The very next day, yesterday, State Rep. Helene Keeley sponsored House Bill 148, which would create this entity.

This is a very interesting bill.  It would allow a group not associated with the State government to implement changes through legislation.  I am very reluctant to any legislation that gives any type of authority to the unelected State Board of Education, especially for a redistricting plan.  I completely agree that many Wilmington schools desperately need help, along with many other Delaware schools.  But having a Wilmington-based group like this advising strategy for the rest of the state is a slippery slope.  I am intensely curious how this will all come out in the wash, over the long-term.  I agree with Tony Allen, the time to act is now, but it should not be designed to give short-term fixes to long-term problems.

I’m going to go on record here and say that 50% of the problems in Wilmington can be traced back to special education.  If this group does not tackle this issue, it will be destined for failure.  I don’t know who would be on this group, but it would have to be many people with a true understanding of children with disabilities.

This bill’s next destination will be the House Education Committee, which will not meet again until June 3rd after the General Assembly has a two week recess.  No agenda for that meeting has come out yet.