From the “Priority” Schools INBOX: Rep. John Kowalko

Please understand that if we don’t challenge these coercive and abusive tactics promulgated by this Administration through a Department of Education bereft of any knowledge of public education needs and ignorant of any concern for the hard-working professionals who actually own that knowledge, than “we”, willingly and collectively deny and deprive all of the children and their educational champions of their rights. The unconditional surrender by the Red Clay board signals the effectiveness of the bullying tactics employed by the powerful corporate elitists who continue to reject any open and honest dialogue that would ultimately benefit our children. Shame on them for what they do and shame on us for not saying no to what they are doing. Following is an op-ed that appears in the Friday News Journal which was submitted before the Red Clay vote. I only regret that it wasn’t published in time to perhaps change some votes. Enjoy, and share in the shame we all suffer if we continue to remain silent or abdicate our responsibilities to the public school children and their families.

Representative John A. Kowalko

A recent headline in the News Journal stating that “State says Priority School principals must go” inaccurately reflects the reality that it is not the “State” as comprised of the legislative branch and the judiciary that is forcing this unsubstantiated and judgmental attack on these school principals’ credentials and performance. It is not pronounced or imbedded in state code or law but rather a loosely defined interpretation of a DOE regulation that was manufactured by that department under legally challengeable circumstances that appear to have violated the processes for creating such regulations as permitted by law.  

Despite the presumptuous attitude of this Administration and DOE that it has unilateral authority over local school districts personnel issues, it is obvious in reading the Christina District’s response to Friday’s letter from DOE that the Department and Administration are grossly overstepping their authority without any legitimate efforts or intentions to fairly evaluate the performance of these school leaders. In a letter dated December 7th , Penny Schwinn informed Christina District that the principals at Stubbs and Bancroft were ineligible to retain their positions merely because of their presence at these schools while the schools were designated as either Turnaround or Transformation reform models. This completely disregards the reality that they presided over measurable achievements at these schools. The December 15th response from Christina District informed Ms. Schwinn that these two principals performance had been reviewed by the Delaware Department of Education, the University of Delaware and the Delaware Academy of School Leadership under a “Comprehensive Success Review” conducted in November that gave an overall high rating to two “Priority Schools” in Christina, notably Stubbs and Bancroft. Both schools received the highest rating of “4” in the categories of Policies, Procedures and Structures, School Leadership Decisions, Time Management and Curriculum and Instruction among other subjects. In fact, if you go to the CSD website you can access the full reports and dialogues. There is an obvious lack of objectivity and a major disregard for a factual assessment by Ms. Schwinn and DOE.

 After examining the facts perhaps you’ll feel, as I do, that Penny Schwinn on behalf of DOE, Secretary Murphy and Governor Markell is engaged in one of the more disturbing attempts to abuse power that I have ever witnessed as a State Legislator. With absolutely no data driven information or statistical proof, it appears that Ms. Schwinn, on behalf of DOE, has indicted and declared failing the principals of Stubbs and Bayard despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary in the “Comprehensive Success Reviews” report. This callous behavior and obviously errant judgment on the part of Ms. Schwinn, who is authorized by the DOE, suggests that both she and Secretary Murphy should consider resigning their respective appointments.

Maligning the performance of these dedicated school leaders with arbitrarily contrived performance perspectives is an audacious and outrageous attempt to continue denigrating Delaware public education and ignores the real needs of our inner city children. The ongoing efforts by this Administration, the Secretary of Ed. and DOE staff to wrest the legal power and authority from the duly elected local school boards is tantamount to an illegal abuse of power and a violation of the separation of powers. As long as this Administration proceeds down a path strewn with bullying and coercive demands attempting to intimidate and denigrate highly qualified educators and administrators with no legitimate plan to enhance educational opportunities for our children then one must conclude that there is another less obvious agenda.

This Administration and its allies have long displayed a propensity for a corporatist takeover of education with achievable goals of privatization and charterization of Delaware public schools. The preponderance of RTTT money awarded to the state never reached the children in the classrooms and the path to creating new charter schools has been smoothed with a verve belying the reality that charters perform no better or worse than traditional schools with like circumstances and similar population diversity. The only difference seems to be unaccountable access to taxpayer money that is not available from traditional schools.

This ongoing takeover madness has harmed the reputations and psyche of many dedicated educators and will irreparably harm Delaware’s public school children and the state’s economic vitality. The public must join together, on behalf of honesty and justice, and demand that this Administration stand down from its pedestal of self-aggrandizement and recognize its own shortcomings.  

State Representative John Kowalko