Hard freeze for Christina School District

It’s spring break, but the Christina School District is still thawing out from what it describes as the state’s cutthroat decision to freeze more than $11 million in Race to the Top (RTTT) funds dedicated to the district.

Delaware’s Secretary of Education Dr. Lillian Lowery made the announcement Thursday, following Christina’s school board meeting last Tuesday.

You can listen to a digital audio recording of the April 19th board meeting here.

According to the Department of Education, the school board did not hold up its end of the bargain when it voted against an agreement the state says the district “drafted, proposed and pledged to implement,” to improve Glasgow High School and Stubbs Elementary — two of its failing schools.

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“We have a moral obligation to these children to do better for them, and the school board’s recent action retreats from that obligation,” said Dr. Lowery.

Flabbergasted, Christina School Board President John Young says this is all just a huge misunderstanding. 

“There’s nothing that we’ve done, including that vote on Tuesday night, that in any way should signal that we’re stepping away from the plan. Next thing I know, we don’t get any communication from the DOE [Dept. of Education], or the Governor, and Thursday they go public saying they’re pulling our funding and they just essentially go with the nuclear option.”

The plan is part of the “Partnership Zone” program, where the state targets its lowest performing schools and tries to turn them around with extra money and resources. Christina’s Glasgow High and Stubbs Elementary were each given “Partnership Zone” status, which means the district must select one of four models to improve student performance.

Closure – District closes the school and enrolls the students who attended that school into other schools.

Restart – District converts a school into a public charter school pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 5 of Title 14 of the Delaware Code, or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.

Transformation – School makes significant changes in its governance and operation, including making changes to teacher evaluation consequences and modifying instructional time.

Turnaround – School makes significant changes in governance, staffing and operation including removing at least 50% of the current staff.

Christina chose Transformation and the district devised a process Young says would be used to determine whether current teachers would be a good fit for the new Glasgow and the new Stubbs.

Part of that process included asking all teachers to reinterview for their jobs. Each would be asked eight specific questions. Certifications, highly qualified status and student growth were additional measures in determining whether teachers would stay or be transferred to another school in the district.

It came to light during Tuesday’s meeting, after the district already selected which teachers would not return to Glasgow or Stubbs, that some aspects of the process were not followed.

“So the board decided that because we didn’t follow the process, we did not think it was correct to not offer these teachers the opportunity to come back based on the way it happened. Nobody is against the idea that we may need to evaluate teachers and have some of them leave these two schools because they’re not the right fit. We just want those teachers to be able to look back and say, ‘Okay this memorandum said there’d be a process, the plan said there’d be a process, it was followed so I guess this is how it’s gonna end up,'” said Young. “This vote was not to say ‘Shove it to Race to the Top, shove it to the reforms, we hate your plan,’ or any of that.”

Young says he is hopeful the state will restore the district’s $11 million in RTTT funds, but doesn’t think it should’ve ever been threatened in the first place.

“I honestly think the Governor and the Secretary have reacted to their opinion of what we’ve done, rather than what we’ve actually done.”

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