Stand on My Shoulders

As a state, as a community, and as Delawareans, we need to work together to find ways to provide an excellent education for all of our children. With just five weeks under my belt as the new Executive Director for Delaware Charter Schools Network, I am a new voice in Delaware education and I am eager to join the conversation.

There are great things going on in our charter schools. First and foremost, they are providing high-quality education:  charters represented the three highest performing public schools statewide in reading proficiency in 2011 and three out of the top four in math. 67.8 percent of charter students are proficient in reading and 69.1 percent are proficient in math, compared with 61.5 and 62.2 percent respectively for all public schools statewide. And this is happening in schools across a diverse population of students.

Secondly, charter schools are showing what is possible and informing the rest of the system. They are trying new ways of teaching, new ways of learning, and when these new things work, they share them with other schools. For example, the Singapore Math program utilized by Kuumba Academy in Wilmington, in which the focus is on teaching concept to mastery rather than concept only. In other words, critical thinking—teaching kids what to do with a concept and how to apply it. The school experienced a significant jump in math scores soon after adopting the program, which remain high. When the Brandywine School District adopted the program, our Kuumba teachers helped them implement, providing training for staff and parents. A wonderful example of how charter and traditional schools can and are working together.

It is impossible to visit one of our charter schools and not feel something. At every school I visit, I see firsthand the enthusiasm, respect, and thoughtfulness with which the children embrace their education.  Our charters are employing innovative models that are inspiring and furthering the education of Delaware students. At one school, the model includes real-world experience that is changing lives. A student at this school told me that,  “Two years ago, I was not going to college, didn’t want to and didn’t think it was possible,” she said, “but now I’m planning on going to DeVry University, and I’m going to get a degree in business management.” Awesome.

Charters are an important part of their communities as well. Positive Outcomes in Camden, for example, received awards for their participation in a Bayhealth emergency management drill at Kent General and Milford Memorial hospitals.  Pencader Charter High School collected over 1500 coats for those in need this winter. Providence Creek Academy has two school wide community days a year. All of the kids go out and help with different community projects like Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank of Delaware. These are just examples of how every one of our 22 charter schools is impacting and giving back to the community in incredible and worthwhile ways.

Charter schools have proven they can work. The original idea of charters was to find an idea that works and model it within the traditional system to help all children learn. We are starting to do that. Let us take the example that Kuumba and Brandywine have given and continue the trend. Let us work together as partners to further the needs of all students. Charter schools are a critical component of Delaware’s public education system and need to be treated as such. But for charter schools to truly thrive they need to be accepted as the integral part of the system that they are.

What really concerns me, what keeps me up at night, is the compartmentalizing of our state’s education system, the negativity being directed at the charter community, and the potential it has to keep all of us down. Because here’s the thing—if none of us allow each other to rise up, then we all fall back down. The tone of the conversation needs to change for all of us—traditional public, private, and charter alike. If we want to rise up to the next level, we’re going to have to stand on each other’s shoulders to get there. So I invite you to stand on my shoulders, and hope that you will let me stand on yours.


Kendall Massett is the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. 

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  • Kendall,

    Surely there are great things going on in our charters schools, but statements like:

     “Charter schools have proven they can work.” Really? as a scalable solution to fix woes of traditional public ed? This statement does not pass the sniff test.

    “At every school I visit, I see firsthand the enthusiasm, respect, and
    thoughtfulness with which the children embrace their education. ” Again, Really? Every? Absolutes are just not believable.

    ” And this is happening in schools across a diverse population of students.” This is just not accurate. Why is the ACLU petitioning the Sec. of Ed to note the disparity and segregation represented by many DE Charters. The debates about neighborhood schools and Brown v. Board are real and important. Making blanket statements like this one impugn credibility and widen the chasm of mistrust between the two community. Perhaps the Delaware Charter School Network is in need of something first to inform its work moving forward: a reality check. This quote comes after citing results from schools that are skewed in their makup and advantge the law to perform selcetive admissions.I know you diasagree, but the numbers, over many years, simply do not lie about charter school segregation.

    Once performed, then discussions can perhaps be had on terra firma. Until then it will continue to be both sides in pitched ideological disagreement.

  • Kendall,

    You also play the victim:  ” the negativity being directed at the charter community,”

    You WERE in Dover last Wednesday 3.7.12 You absolutely heard CHARTER parents tell traditional school parents to go get food stamps and there is no such thing as a free lunch right, you did hear that……

    saying what you said above suggests you need to start in house, cause it surely appears to be made of glass.

  • Welcome to Delaware, Ms. Massett. In just five weeks, you have developed education policy-incited insomnia? I worry for your sleep patterns five months hence. You worry about “the negativity being directed at the charter community”? You advise us that “the tone of the conversation needs to change for all of us”?
    I wonder if you’ve been made privy to the email circulating apparently/purportedly sent by Newark Charter School’s director, Greg Meece, to Newark Charter School parents … the weekend before the state Board of Education public hearing…
    “Dear NCS Parents,
    In case there was every any doubt, I confirmed that DSEA (the teachers union) is behind much of the attacks on Newark Charter School. DSEA used a robo-call this weekend encouraging people to show up at Wednesday’s public hearing and oppose NCS’s [sic] plan to build a high school As you probably know, DSEA is the biggest opponent of charter schools because their teachers do no pay dues as members of the powerful DSEA. It is such as [sic] that  special interest group like DSEA uses such tactics to harm a school that does such good things for children.
    — There was, in fact, no such robo call from DSEA or any of its local associations.
    The rhetorical allegations — accuasations — are more tactics from the playbook of ‘wedge’ political attack than what one might reasonably expect from a professional educators leading “a school that does such good things for children”.
    Hopefully, this really is not the same ‘Greg’. But since you are thoe one who first brought up the matters of ‘negativity’ and ‘the tone of the conversation’, a genuine dose of institutional self-reflection would be genuinely healthy.
    Before we stand on one another’s shoulders, let’s first look one another in the eye and see where and how we are standing.

  • Welcome to Delaware, and thank you for starting this dialogue.

    I would hope that once you get comfortable in your new position, you can get to work, for much work awaits you.  The Newark Charter School expansion application and review process has revealed several weaknesses of Delaware’s charter school process.

    One naturally wonders if NCS is the only DE Charter School that fails to follow the rules, in the first case the regulations requiring free/reduced school lunches for eligible students, meeting state/federal guidelines.  Perhaps it is incumbent upon the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network to find the answer to this question.

    One would also like to see a renewal review process that ensures that the sponsoring entity (school district or state Board of Ed) more effectively looks not only at test scores, but also at the school’s abidance by the appropriate rules and regulations.  The process should also provide more than one opportunity for public comment, rather than providing the applying school multiple opportunities to make its case while forbidding public comment.

    Hopefully the test scores being examined are not ‘point in time’ scores,
    but actually measure students’ progress.  If a school’s students begin
    at the 85% level in September, then scoring at the 85% in May is not
    much of an achievement.  The state must implement progress-based
    evaluations, so that parents can more meaningfully judge their
    children’s schools ability to educate students, as opposed to merely accumulating smart students. 

    One would hope that if charter school directors identify rules and regulations that they find are challenging to follow, rather than violating these laws and regulations, they would instead work to raise the question of whether they can be adjusted.

    Perhaps the Delaware Charter School Network could develop training so that charter school directors could be informed as to the ‘rules of the road,’ so that they can better oversee the schools, rather than merely rubber stamping the actions of school directors.

    The issue of NCS’ failure to meet the school lunch requirements reflects failure at many levels over many years–the NCS school director, the NCS board of directors, and the state Board of Education.  I would like to see the Delaware Charter School Network take a leadership role in ensuring that these violations are ended in all Delaware charter schools, and that in the future Delaware’s charter schools deliver great education to our children within the law.  I would further like to see the Delaware Charter School Network take a leadership role in, for the first time, identifying a pathway for Delaware charter school successes to be delivered to the non-charter Delaware public schools.

    If you are up to the challenge.

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