Guest Post: Political Expediency Won’t Fix CSD Wilmington Schools

This is a Guest Post from Christina School District Board Member John Young:

So, here we are again at the precipice of another State of Delaware/Governor and Christina School district intersection. The tone is different this time, thus far, but the theme is the same: the state, after deploying a plethora of failed interventions in the last 9 years (read Race to the Top, Partnership Zone, Focus Schools, Priority Schools, PLCs, Data Coaches, Teacher-Leader Effectiveness Unit at DDOE, Delaware Turnaround Unit, Delaware Talen Co-Operative, DSTP, DCAS, Smarter Balanced, etc), now rises up and points at Christina to label and shame us as having failing, terrible schools that must be dealt with… again.

Here’s the rub: we agree that something must be done, but we must not be cowed into pretending that the “why we need it” is entirely born of self-inflicted wounds. In that context, we (the partners: DDOE, CEA, CSD, and the Board as an approval body) set off to develop an intervention plan with multiple facets, in good faith, to ameliorate the educational, social, emotional, and health conditions in our Wilmington schools. The plan is long on aspirational goals and contains some good prescriptions that may be genuinely transformative. Unfortunately, it’s short on the one thing it needs most: funding.

The big ideas are being met with tepid commitments, and monetary constructs (such as the establishment of a philanthropic fund) that while earnest, are simply unreliable and unsustainable at best, and dramatically insufficient at worst. Without proper funding, we are doomed to repeat the failures that have led us here and we will have done nothing in my estimation. Doing this plan wrong is NOT better than doing nothing at all… because along with the effort to make the underfunded plan work, massive disruptions will occur in schools, in neighborhoods, in the city, and TO our children. Disruptive and disrupted learning environments are not good learning environments. I was elected, in a non-partisan election, to a position that pays nothing, to serve children, taxpayers, and their best interests. I do not work for Governor Carney. He works for me.

Tuesday night, we will likely be faced with the state’s counter-proposal to our approved draft MOU. I expect it to be short on funds and even shorter on time. I hope I’m wrong; however, if I’m not I look forward to making the case that Christina is choosing the right path on this intervention. One of deliberate, research based evidence which requires adequate time and resources to do correctly. The children of Wilmington are counting on us to do it right, not fast.

I hope Governor Carney does not ruin the goodwill between our board and his office by insisting, like his predecessor, on a time sensitive win for a photo-op, but rather for a thoughtful and frankly refreshing partnership focused on children.


You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. -- Shirley Chisolm

6 comments on “Guest Post: Political Expediency Won’t Fix CSD Wilmington Schools

  1. At the Stubbs meeting the plan was presented as a whole – meaning everything was needed for success. If all the parts aren’t funded then what we’ll end up with 3 closed schools.

  2. Of course more funding. Go to the Gov and our elected officials and get the money that is being wasted on Bloom Energy! Consolidate the districts. Get rid of the fat cats at the top. Do an audit and find the waste;
    Do more with less!
    The District received 16 million in Mar 2016 from a referendum.

  3. My dad and one aunt were teachers so I grew up hearing about funding and the lack there of, it’s a never ending fight to get the money the schools need made worse by charter schools and the wealthy people behind them. I expect nothing good from Carney, good to have him out of congress and sad to have him back here.

    • cassandram

      For this thing to work, there will need to be investments in the buildings themselves to accommodate the needs of all of these grades. There needs to be investments in trauma-informed approach training and implementation. There *should* be an investment in equitable funding for these schools. But while everyone is working on figuring out how to merge these schools, there is NO ONE making any claims re: better academic performance for these kids. So what is being sold is that there will be freed up resources if the schools merge — details that no one has seen, BTW. No One is telling parents that this is an arrangement that will improve the academic performance of the kids. PLUS the entire business depends upon the GA funding this. So if the government doesn’t live up to their end, then what? And why do our most vulnerable kids need to live with vague promises of philanthropic funding? The people who live in Wilmington pay good tax dollars to make sure their kids are well educated. No reason for them to stand down on expectations that no one would cut back on if this was a VoTech school.

      There is no way this MOU should go into effect until the funds are these to make it work. And maybe we can get to the equitable funding by letting charters rely on this philanthropic revenue stream so we can claw back that money for the public schools.

  4. john kowalko

    I agree with John Young’s assessment. Here are the points of discussion I presented to Governor Carney at the meeting he called with 9 State legislators a little over a week ago. I personally asked him for answers (that I did not receive) on approximately 6 of the [oints and left him the sheet. No responses have been forthcoming from Carney or DOE.

    1) If CSD does not approve MOU, more money will be taken from the District further harming prospects of Wilmington students and families. (“If it rejects the plan and fails to come up with an acceptable alternative, the agreement would be terminated immediately, resulting in the loss of any additional financial support for the district”).
    2) Bayard/Bancroft are not appropriate buildings for little children even if renovated. Bancroft too old to make usable with renovations.
    3) Trauma Training not necessarily (research?) effective but investing/funding 1 to 15 class size ratios would effectively improve the learning environment and outcomes.
    4) Palmer became the first equity lawsuit in Delaware when Christina District (at Lowery’s behest) tried to close it 10 years ago.
    5) Leaves no “Neighborhood Schools” for city children and in fact may violate the “Neighborhood Schools Legislation”.
    6) Bancroft is far away from Palmer and Southbridge children who now walk would be unable to continue that practice.
    7) Distinguish more specifically between renovate, refurbish and reconfiguration.
    8) Why don’t we do things like “successful” districts? The most successful programs such as in New York and Massachusetts fund “reading specialists” and lower class ratios.
    9) When the plan refers to “potentially” establishing “early childhood education” and “centers for students and families learning English” at a vacated Palmer are the planners aware that there are no ESL students at Palmer?
    10) Have you considered neighborhood “gangs” being integrated from across Wilmington into the same building?
    11) The suggested “Co-leadership” model re principals and assistant principals belies the reality that these two jobs have never had the same duties and have always had designated responsibilities and functions.
    12) “Loan forgiveness stipend” to young and “inexperienced” teachers does not reflect any benefit to already established teachers who have devoted their careers to inner-city education and “Who” is paying for these loans?
    13) “Who” is paying for “longer school days/year”?
    14) “Who is paying for “vacation academies”?
    15) “Who is paying for “after-school programing”?
    16) Why aren’t reading specialists part of this plan and therefore WHO IS PAYING FOR “READING SPECIALISTS” SO THAT CHILDREN ACTUALLY LEARN TO READ?
    Here is the statement I delivered at the CSD board meeting on the subject.

    I and 9 other legislators attended a meeting called by Governor Carney less than a week ago purportedly to discuss the proposed Wilmington school reform plan and MOU proposal. Since we weren’t given copies of the MOU and it doesn’t seem to be available any longer at the link the Administration provided I cannot offer or challenge some of the specifics. At this meeting the Governor suggested that the MOU draft submitted by DOE would be changed and this board is not bound by it and should draft its own MOU proposal. The deadlines for Board action that the Governor and DOE appear to be imposing are substantively unrealistic and impractical for such a complex consideration with so many unanswerable questions.
    Having examined some of the initial proposal and the details and expectations it held has led me to conclude that this is not a well thought out plan, that raises more questions and challenges then it has answers for.
    I distributed some of my points of concern to the Governor and DOE and have copies for you that I will distribute. Due to time constraints I will try to focus on only a few of my concerns that I hope you will consider at this time.
    I find it particularly harmful and hurtful to the “Southbridge” community, families and children to propose closing Elbert Palmer, one of the true neighborhood schools in walking distance and accessible to this Wilmington community. I hope that this Board’s counter-proposal would support closing that tired old monolith known as Bancroft and refurbish Palmer, Pulaski and Bayard to use for the suggested K-8 reconfiguration.
    I also implore this Board to pay heed to the massive costs (which the Governor personally refused to speculate on) in refurbishing or renovating in order to make these consolidations. You should be acutely aware that any promise of funding cannot be guaranteed. In fact I would urge you to recall this Administration’s recently passed budget with concurrence of this current General Assembly cut traditional public school revenues by more than $36 million. Restoring that $36 million in cuts and adding even a small percentage of the proposed renovation costs would be much more beneficial and effective for Wilmington students if allocated to create smaller classroom ratios and hire reading and math specialists.
    As I’ve looked at this reform proposal and its details and drawing upon my 11 years of experience as a legislator I am forced to conclude that this is a no-win situation for Christina, this Board and the children of Wilmington. Its predisposition to fail will be used to scapegoat the district and further stifle opportunities for Wilmington students and their families.
    Finally I would suggest that this Board consider that traditional public school funding has received reduced funding since 2009 now totaling over $65 million per year. Ask the DOE and Governor:
    Who is going to pay for the renovations?
    Who is paying for longer school days and school years?
    Who is paying for vacation academies?
    Who is paying for after-school programs?
    And why aren’t Reading Specialists and funding for them part of this plan?

    Representative John Kowalko

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