It Takes a Village

As the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network (DCSN), my job is to advocate for the 11,078 children in Delaware’s twenty-one charter schools. Since I’ve been in this role I have seen how a change in school environment can transform a child’s life. It’s remarkable to witness and a pleasure to be a part of. And while none of us can see what our futures hold, I can say with certainty that this is and will remain the most important work of my career.

Our charter schools are making a difference for Delaware’s families. Parents should be able to find the school that best meets the needs of their children and charter schools are meeting that demand. By contributing to choice in our state’s public education system, our charter schools are strengthening the system as a whole. I hear about this every day when I talk to students or parents who tell me how their charter school has made a difference.


Earlier this month I attended the National Charter Schools Conference, organized by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), and attended by 4,800 charter supporters, school leaders, board members, teachers, parents, and advocates like myself. The conference’s theme—“The Numbers Add Up.”

The nationwide charter school movement is thriving. In the U.S., there are more than 6,400 charters in 42 states and D.C. working for and educating over 2.5 million kids AND the number of students on charter school waiting lists across the country reached 1 million this school year. There is much to celebrate, but we also must remember that there is still much to do.

First and foremost, we must work to stop the continual fighting going on in education in general. Education in our country seems to be a constant battle. We’re fighting amongst each other—traditional schools versus charter schools, charter schools versus private schools, and so on. We need to elevate the conversation and accept that there is a need for options for all children and that having options is not only ok, it’s a good thing.

To do it, we need to get the message out. We need our community to tell their stories. Education is personal and telling personal stories is what will help us focus on why effective education for all is important. “Telling your story” is a priority on the national level and was a large part of the discussions at the conference. The Alliance is encouraging charter school stakeholders in the United States to participate in the conversation as advocates, for themselves and for the charter movement as a whole.

Second, we need to focus on educational options in rural communities. On the final day of the conference, Michael Hayes, a charter school leader in Colorado, spoke about how we need to “not forget the rural schools.” That resonated with me and I believe it deserves attention in Delaware. Our rural families deserve effective educational choices too. Finding those gaps in Kent and Sussex counties and working with groups to fill those gaps is part of our strategic plan.

Our vision at the Delaware Charter Schools Network is for every child in Delaware to have an opportunity for an excellent public education, for urban, suburban and rural communities alike. We are making strides here in Delaware – Our Numbers Add Up. Enrollment in charter schools has increased by more than 76% since the 2004-05 school year and we have 5,000 children on charter school waiting lists for the 2014-15 school year.

I’m very proud of our schools, our community and our children. On Oct. 9, the Delaware Charter Schools Network will hold our third annual Innovation, Dedication, Education, & Admiration (IDEA) Awards, which honor and recognize the exemplary dedication and hard work of all of the members of Delaware’s charter school community. We know that there is great work happening in our schools and we want to celebrate it. If you know someone who is making a difference in a Delaware charter school, visit the network’s website at www.DECharterNetwork.org and nominate them by September 15.

In closing, I ask you to consider a number: Six thousand. This is how many children drop out of high school in our country every day. America’s children deserve better educational options—our future depends on it. In Delaware, it is our state’s responsibility to provide the best possible education we can for our children. I believe our charter schools, working as members of our public school community, are helping to do just that. When we work together as a village, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

——

Kendall Massett is the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network (DCSN), a non-profit organization supporting 21 charter schools statewide that provide independent, tuition-free public education to 11,078 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Kendall holds a B.S in Business Management from North Carolina State University and a M.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Management from the University of Maryland University College. She resides in Greenville with husband Kelly and two sons.

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18 Comments

  • I believe your goal is to end what we now know as Public Schools, why sugar coat it? How about some honesty.

  • There is a common misconception that charter schools are not public schools. Charter Schools are Public Schools too. It is the goal of the Delaware Charter Schools Network to promote highly effective educational choices for all children. We do not believe that all schools have to be charter schools. We believe that all schools must be excellent schools, whether they be traditional public, charter public, or private schools.

  • If charter schools are public schools why are there entrance test? I support school choice which includes charter schools. All charter schools even the beloved Charter School of Wilmington should have lotteries conducted by a non-bias 3rd party. And yes we need school vouchers because “charter schools” fail just as traditional schools! And yes even online public schools. All can be measured by students taking the state standards test even those with vouchers to private schools. The state test can be mandatory and taken on a Saturday at a local public school administered by DE DOE.

    Kilroy is the social misguided misfit but yet Kilroy was on the bandwagon helping to force the governor to make an executive order putting school checkbooks and credit-cards online! Kilroy cut a deal with the Red Clay Devil to create the Community Financial Review Committee which set the stage for the same for all schools under H.B.#119. Kilroy successfully pushed of changing the state school board oath of office whereas some Red Clay board members at the time were defacing their oath of office. Kilroy successfully pushed legislation to require the state board to record the public sessions of their board meetings. Kilroy successfully lobbied Red Clay, Christina, Capital, Delmar, Brandywine and Colonial school boards to voluntarily record the public sessions of their board meetings and put online. The failures of charter schools like Pencader are due to lack of transparency.

    The claim that parents are lining up for charter schools was proven false when three charter schools approved last year didn’t meet enrollment requirements.

    One thing for sure is, parents and children aren’t “customers”! They are the rightful owners of public schools and no child should be held to a entrance test to a public taxpayer funded school. Yes magnets and votech are a bit selective and we must question that.

    School Choice as we know it sucks for inner city kids. Busing still exists and in oneway outbound (Wilmington) because Wilmington has no traditional high school and in Red Clay’s case no traditional middle school. Yet Red Clay builds new schools in predominantly white neighborhoods claiming the Neighborhood Schools Act requires them to do so. However, it seems not to apply to the city of Wilmington. Red Clay claims building more schools in Wilmington would cause desegregation yet most of their schools are now predominately African-America. Because there is no preferential Choice transportation for Wilmington’s children due to no city high school and middle schools those children are held hostage to force busing. If Red Clay were to send white suburban children to fill their city schools to capacity there will be an outcry. So what does all this have to do with charter schools? Everything! Kilroy can be obscene in words and tone but the “system” fueled by those with $$$$ are more obscene. When the DuPonts built the public school system in Delaware the built ones for blacks. With all that money and power why didn’t they confront segregation? The saturation of charter schools serving predominately minorities is alarming and fuels re segregation. What housing community is the mega charter school downtown Wilmington? Will students living within a mile be required to walk? Where is “their” playground? Rodney Square? Sports fields? Will the mega charter building be exempt from paying school taxes and if so what impact will that have on the home traditional district?

    It’s easy to put the blinders on and proclaim everyone with hard question charter naysayers!

    FYI, I was a Title 1 student back in 1964-65 and many of you with PhD’s claiming to have the solutions for struggling students hang onto data as your baseline but lack the humanities to feel in your soul the complexities of the underlining issues as it relates to education. I tired being a team-player but refused to drink the kool-aid.

  • When charter schools have the same special education population rates as public schools, I will support charters. When charter schools learn to accommodate Complex special education population students, I will support charters. When charters stop the art of segregation with their enrollment preference scenarios in many of our countries cities, I will support charters. When charter supporters stop thinking they are better than public schools, I will support charters. If any reader wants to know how special ed students are treated at charters, please check out my blog at http://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/

  • You state that “By contributing to choice in our state’s public education system, our charter schools are strengthening the system as a whole.” Can you explain this? I don’t believe it is true.

    I live in Newark, where we now have four publicly funded high schools. Three of them, administered by the Christina District, enroll 1,000 students at 9th grade, 750 of whom (75%) come from low-income homes (~140 of those 750 live in Wilmington–based on Bayard Middle School’s 8th grade enrollment during the prior academic year; the other 600+ are from poor families in suburban CSD). Newark Charter opened a 9th grade this past year. That class of 160, drawn entirely from suburban CSD (the school’s “five mile radius”) includes 25 low-income students, or a 15% low-income population. (Interestingly, that class has 20 African American and 5 Hispanic students–across New Castle County, low-income and racial profiles of students tend to be closely correlated, so a school with few poor kids is also typically a school with predominately white kids.) The small number of low-income kids in Newark Charter’s 9th grade reflects the fact that most of those students were enrolled in the school’s 8th grade (enrollment rolls over from K through, eventually, 12th grade) and the school has not historically accommodated poor children in the way that district schools do (and must): it began to offer subsidized meal programs for low-income students only this past fall, under public pressure (breakfast will be implemented this coming fall); like many charter schools, it charges families an annual fee; the uniforms & supply lists are pricier than at traditional public schools (yes, used uniforms are made available for poor kids–but is it necessary for a public school to require prep-school style embroidered logos?!).

    As charter schools with similar disinterest in meeting the undeniable needs of this area’s diverse, heavily poor student population expand, district schools will continue to remain the “default” option for more challenging students. Schools with high-poverty student populations are rarely seen as desirable by families considering where to live, due to the disciplinary issues and lower academic achievement that are often the reality for kids from less stable homes. Rising concentration of poor children in district schools precipitates further choicing-out (including moving) by families who have more choices than the poor do, leading to a downward cycle for district schools in terms of classroom environment and community perception & support–not to mention reduced funding (in the Newark case, 30% of the charter kids enter from private schools, so taxpayers are funding a large population of students whose families did not consider more socio-economically diverse public school suitable for their kids).

    Yet district schools are the ones homebuyers examine when they consider moving into a community, because those are the schools their kids are guaranteed access to (in Newark, roughly 1/8th of kindergarten applicants are admitted to Newark Charter, and there is little probability of enrolling thereafter). Rightly or not, few middle class families are enticed by public schools in which 3/4 or more of the students are poor. Taxpayers whose home values are pegged to the perceived value of the fully public (district) schools in their communities should be very wary of charter expansion. If you live in Kent or Sussex counties, considered yourself forewarned regarding Ms. Massett’s desire to expand into your school districts.

  • There were three words you didn’t write about at all in your article Kendall: Special Needs Children

  • “It Takes a Village”

    But some in that village don’t want others in that village going to their exclusive school.

  • Kendall,

    You seriously have to stop trotting out the all timer “Charter Schools are Public Schools” mantra.

    It is true in one specific respect: they are funded by our tax dollars. After that,all hell breaks loose.

    5 mile radii, tests to qualify, counseling out, populations that do not represent the areas they serve, get to keep excess transportation funds, 100% spending flexibility, hence you get to go to Vegas and hang with your fellow acolytes and shrill proponents like the vile Jeanne Allen.

    There is nothing wrong with charter schools on paper, but once they spring to life, they often set out to destroy public education, lock, stock and barrel.

    Sure there are charter successes and failures just like public schools, but the failures are usually due to the adults and the successes are cream-o-licious.

  • Unfortunately Ms. Massett does not consider the facts when she cites Charter School accomplishments. Just this week state testing results were published and Charters fared no better than traditional public schools in their ability to reach low income and special ed students. Charters’ unique ability in their successful schools seems to lie in their ability to exclude these students. The Charter School Network has a powerful lobbying component, so we hear about their happy parents and successful children all the time. However, lobbyists do not always represent the truth and it is important for the public to understand that “choice” in and of itself is not the answer to the problems in our educational system. Perhaps if some of the money they spend on hiring lobbyists was redirected and used to educate the less advantaged children in their schools, they would be able to support their arguments with facts. Sadly, this does not seem to be a priority for the Network.

  • Wait a minute. This is all new to me, Do you mean to say that Charter Schools take money from public schools? Why? How is that fair? You have a public school full of special needs children, and you actually allow a charter school to open next door? And then, only allow it to take just the top students from that struggling school? How is that fair… I would think the school struggles even more.. And then what? you allow a second charter to move in too? And take the top students remaining?

    Has anyone ever said… wait! What about the students left behind? And with each student you take, are you saying money leaves that very school that was already struggling? If it was stumbling before and you take the money it needed then, how is that fair to those left behind… There is less money to teach with.

    I’m not getting this. This simply makes no sense? How can anyone allow this?

    Correct me if I’m wrong… Please, Please tell me that Charter Schools do not take money and resources from schools already struggling to make AYP… Please tell me that is so?

    For if not, this is a great injustice. It should be unconstitutional. Charters create unequal standards of education. Isn’t that why we desegregated in the first place? I’m struggling here, just coming to this for the first time…. How can taking resources away from struggling schools and giving them to Charter schools be legal? Like who in their right mind does that?

    It is like I’m running a marathon and have hit the wall, and someone darts out of the crowd with a knife and cuts me… and then another block, someone else steps out and says “You’re bleeding.” and cuts me again… Then someone else steps out and says, “you’re too slow”, and cuts me again… by now I’m in pain and my arteries are spurting blood all over the street, and more people jump out with knives and cut, cut, cut, cut, cut…. There is no way I can go on and finish the race, for which I had trained, and would be fine, if no one had cut me…

    I just don’t get it… Why do we have charters? It doesn’t make any sense…. If you think about it… It really doesn’t make any sense….

  • Mrs. Robinson, welcome to the world of charters! It doesn’t make sense, but it wouldn’t to the average citizen. Charters aren’t run by government, they are run by corporations. Looking at it in that light, does any of this shock you?

  • Mrs. Robinson, your marathon analogy is right on the money. It does not make sense from the perspective of the tax paying public wanting to serve all schoolchildren insofar as our resources allow. It does make sense from the perspective of parents who want to use public funds to create a school with policies that are not permitted in actual public schools but which, they feel, provide a better learning environment for their children.

    Families are very free to do this, but until the mid-90s, it required private funds. The crafty genius of chartered schools is that they have many of the benefits (from the families’ perspectives) of private schools, without requiring tuition. I have heard from the Christina financial officer (he made a presentation last Jan. to a concerned group of CSD parents–we call ourselves Friends of CSD) that his first order of business each July 1 is to write a $20 million check to cover the per-child costs of students living in CSD who attend a non-CSD public school (charter or other district). This is called “choicing,” and it is appealing to the families who use it. The vast majority of families who choice opt for a charter, magnet or other district school whose student population is less poor than the population of their community public school. Poor & spec needs kids have fewer choices in this system, due to the ability of charters, magnets AND vo-techs to establish selection criteria or other obstacles that make them inaccessible to highest-needs kids. Out of district choice requires parents to transport their kids to the other district. So when largely non-poor, English-speaking families have made their choices for predominately non-spec needs kids, and their home district has sent millions of taxpayer dollars to cover those students (and the state has sent its portion of tax funds on behalf of those children–more even than the local contribution), then the district gets down to the core business of educating the students in its schools. With higher concentrations of higher-needs children per classroom (and less funding) its task is harder, test scores inevitably drop (in terms of populations ELL, spec ed and low-income children are the lowest scorers on standardized tests–of course there are exceptional kids who beat these stats!), public perception of the school diminishes and the cycle continues.

    Note that charters, at least, do not have boards elected by the taxpayers who fund them. If you dislike the discriminatory admissions policies, or “counseling out” practices (expulsion back to district schools) of your local charter, too bad. They will happily take your money, but they have no interest in your views regarding their service to the community. Neither, frankly, do their families, who are well-organized and very well represented in Dover. Ms. Massett is among the highly paid lobbyists who promote the interests of charter families over those of other children and the majority of taxpayers, and they have been remarkably successful in DE.

  • Yes, Mrs. Robinson, and not only that, but once charters have gotten district funds each year, if a student drops out, is counseled or is expelled, charters keep the funds, while the child returns to the neighborhood public school with no monetary support. (Charters often do this just prior to testing, to artificially increase their own scores while public schools take the hit for the low performing students from charter schools.) Charters should be required to return those funds.