Design Thinking Academy Next Delaware Charter School To Shut Down

Another Delaware charter school is shutting down at the end of the 2018-2019 school year as Design Thinking Academy will close.  Despite receiving a $10 million dollar grant from XQ schools and changing their name last fall from Delaware Design-Lab High School to Design Thinking Academy the five-year old charter school could not retain and recruit new students.

On the charter school’s website the following announcement appeared tonight:

Design Thinking Academy Community, it is with a heavy heart that I write tonight to inform you that Design Thinking Academy will close its doors at the end of this school year. On Thursday night, the school’s board of directors voted to relinquish our charter to the state.

This is a decision we did not take lightly. Frankly, it was not unanimous. But the simple truth is this: We have been unable to attract the number of students needed to keep our school financially viable.

For the past two years, we have worked to reverse our declining enrollment numbers, but those efforts have not resulted in the applications we need to be viable. We fell below the minimum enrollment mandated by our charter as of May 1. Due to this, we will not be able to run this school with the excellence that your children deserve.

I want to make one point very clear: We will finish this school year. Our seniors will graduate, our students will continue to attend classes, and our doors will remain open. A few school days at the end of the school year calendar may not be needed to meet state requirements. If the decision is made to cancel school on any specific days, an updated calendar will be sent out as soon as possible.

It is important that you immediately start thinking about what school your students will attend next year. We hope to provide the resources you need to find the right school for your student. Starting tonight, you can go to bit.ly/DEPublicSchools for information about Delaware public schools. Lists of schools with openings and dates for school Open Houses will be on our website and sent home with students tomorrow. In addition, the Delaware Charter Schools Network will host a school fair on campus in late May, where representatives from Delaware schools with openings for the 2019-20 school year will be available to help you through the application process. As soon as we confirm a date, we will let you know.

I understand this will be a difficult time for everyone involved – students, staff, and teachers alike. If you have any questions about the process or the reason why this decision was  made, please feel free to reach out to me at dtaboardofdirectors.com or the school at 302- 292-5450.

On behalf of the board, administration, and staff of Design Thinking Academy, I want you to know that it has been our honor to educate your students over the past four years. To our students, I wish this story could have a different ending, but as this chapter closes, another begins for you, and I have no doubt you will design a great future.

While the charter school didn’t receive the entire $10 million dollar grant from XQ it begs the question of how well they spent the money they did receive.  To see a list of the issues that plagued the school from the get-go, please go here: Delaware Design-Lab

In a school year where Delaware got a federal grant to expand charter schools this is a clear sign that being overzealous with charter school openings is never a good thing.  Following charter closures such as Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Prestige Academy, Delaware Met, and others, Design Thinking Academy follows the disturbing trend of charter closures in Delaware.

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Despite Getting Ten Million Bucks From XQ, Delaware Design-Lab STILL Can’t Get Their Enrollment Up!

Delaware Design-Lab High School submitted a major modification application to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office to lower their enrollment again!  This time they want to lower their enrollment by 26%.

I admire their tenacity, but sometimes you just have to realize there are too many charter schools in Northern New Castle County!  I’m not saying they should give up but how long is this going to go on for?  By failing to capitalize on their million dollar prize from XQ, they allowed their enrollment to drop to unsustainable levels.  They just got a major modification approved two years ago to lower their enrollment and now they want to do it again.

They were supposed to be at 475 students this year.  That was lowered from 600 students in 2016.  Instead, they had 298.  There is a reason no new charter applications have come in for New Castle County in three years.  They couldn’t even get to their magic number of 380 students to be at 80% enrollment based on their September 30th count.  They should be on formal review.  They were before they even opened for low enrollment but they managed to squeak by.  The only reason they aren’t is because of their XQ Super School prize.  I’m sure they are planning to spend those funds wisely but if their aren’t enough students there, what’s the point?  Apparently ten million bucks can get you a great many things except for actual students.

The rumor mill in Philadelphia is hearing Design-Lab wants to expand to the City of Brotherly Love.  I wouldn’t call their original in The First State a resounding success if they can’t get the students.

In their application, the school has projected enrollment for the next four years.  Their numbers don’t make much sense.  As an example, they are looking to raise this year’s ninth graders (69) to 75 during their sophomore year.  But then that jumps to 85 their junior year (because so many students transfer out junior year- insert sarcasm here).  But then during their senior year, it dips back down to 75.  For freshmen next year, they are projecting 100 students for that year.  But that will drop down to 95 the next year.  But inexplicably, the next year’s freshmen are projected at 100 but their sophomore year they will drop down to 90.  I guess you have to make the numbers fit somehow.  This is a far cry from their original charter application which was approved with 600 students by year four.

To see the major modification application, please see below:

Delaware Design-Lab Is Below 65% Enrollment… Time For Formal Review?

In 2016, the Delaware State Board of Education approved a major modification request to lower their enrollment.  This year, they are supposed to be at 475 students based on that approval.  Charter schools have to be at 80% enrollment to be financially viable.  That number would be 380 for Delaware Design-Lab High School this year.  They are below 300 students according to sources.  Will Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting recommend formal review for the struggling charter school?

The dangling carrot for Design-Lab is their $10 million prize from XQ.  The school is currently interviewing positions for their three deans.  But those funds can only be used for very specific purposes.  It is not meant for salary increases for teachers.  But according to an anonymous source, the Interim Head of School (Rebecca Collins) is promising teachers increases.  How can the school afford this with their low enrollment?  Many teachers are fearing for their jobs due to the school’s low enrollment.  Since the Board of Directors ousted Dr. Joseph Mock a couple of weeks ago, a wave of parents have pulled their kids out.  Their enrollment tally was due to the Delaware Department of Education on Friday because of the annual September 30th enrollment count.

Historically, the Delaware State Board of Education has put charters on formal review for low enrollment because below 80% charters are not financially viable.  Many charters (including Design-Lab) faced this review in 2015.  They all squeaked by with higher enrollment by the time the State Board voted that July.

For a charter like Design-Lab, they had their enrollment lowered after that and still can’t get anywhere close to their approved numbers.  Many parents don’t seem to be wowed by the XQ award.  Three different leaders have been in charge in the past nine months with another new one coming on.  I did find out Rebecca Collins did step down from the board to take the interim leader role and plans to go back on the board once the new leader is in place.  But Joseph Mock was definitely fired from his position.

At the Delaware DOE, charters are overseen by the Charter School Office.  Since Denise Stouffer replaced Jennifer Nagourney in July, 2016, no charter schools have been placed on formal review.  Will Delaware Design-Lab High School be the first?

Delaware Design-Lab’s Head Of School Position Was Eliminated. But They Will Be Hiring A “Dean Of Academic Intensity”

The Board at Delaware Design-Lab High School sent parents an email on September 15th letting them know about Head of School Joseph Mock’s removal from the school.  I though he resigned, but this email confirms he was ousted!  Given that they had an emergency board meeting on September 13th, it sounds like this board did follow proper channels with all this (looking at you Ronald Pinkett over at Edison).  Last year, the school won a ton of money in the XQ Super School competition.  They won $10 million from this grant and it looks like they will be branding themselves as an “XQ Super School” next year.  I had to read the email a few times just so I clearly understood (and stopped laughing) what these new administrative positions are.

From: Design-Lab High School

Sent: Friday, September 15, 5:20 PM

Subject: Important Message from the DDLHS Board

Dear DDLHS Families,

On behalf of the Board of Directors, we would like to bring you up to date on changes inside school administration as we prepare for the next phase in the process of becoming an XQ Super School in August 2018.

The Board will begin interviews next week for the position of XQ Project Manager and, shortly thereafter, will begin the search for the school’s XQ Dean of Academic Intensity. These leaders, together with a Dean of Engagement and Dean of College and Career Readiness, will guide us through the XQ process and prepare us for the opening of our XQ Super School next fall.

As we shift our administrative structure to help us succeed as a Super School, the Board has decided to eliminate the position of Head of School effective Friday, September 15, 2017. As a result of these changes, we are sad to announce that Mr. Mock will be pursuing other opportunities at this time. Mr. Mock has been an invaluable asset to our school since he joined us as Vice Principal/Special Education Coordinator in 2015. Through his tenure as Principal and Head of School, he has navigated some of the most challenging waters a school can face with grace and commitment. We thank Mr. Mock for all he’s done preparing DDLHS to move into this next phase in our school’s history, and wish him well in his new endeavors.

Mrs. Rebecca Collins will serve as our Interim Executive Director until such time as the new XQ administrative team can be brought on board and up to speed. Mrs. Collins has served as a member of our Board of Directors since early 2016, and she brings a wealth of experience in teaching, law, and school guidance to this evolution. We are confident that this transition will be seamless to our families, staff, and students. If you have not had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Collins, the Board encourages you to say hello the next time you are in the building!

As we move into the next phase of our school’s growth, we look forward to engaging with each DDLHS family to ensure that we faithfully support our mission and provide the best education possible for each student we serve.

Thank you,

Paul Miller

Board Chairman

Rebecca Collins is the Vice-President of the Board.  Is it even legal to be on the board AND lead the school?  Hmm… calling foul on that decision!  And what are all these administrative positions for?  I hope that gets paid out of their XQ grant cause the school doesn’t have enough students to have that many administrators.  Dean of Academic Intensity.  It sounds like a labor camp.  Yes, let’s make school sound as grueling as they want it to be.  Dean of College & Career Readiness.  Hey, I know a guy who would be all over that.  He’s bald and he used to be our Governor.  He just loves college and career readiness!

I would have to imagine with all these changes that could constitute changes in their curriculum as well as their actual charter.  Have they submitted a modification request to the Delaware Department of Education?

The XQ Institute is brought to you by Laurene Powell Jobs and the Emerson Collective.  They LOVE personalized learning and seem to be big players in corporate education reform where we can just solve all the problems in education with some ed tech and less teacher interface with students.