Deborah Grill’s SRC testimony transcript from July 6, 2017

Deborah Grill SRC 7-6-17

Click the picture to view the SRC meeting video and go to 3:09 to view Debbie’s testimony.

I have many concerns about Resolution IU 1, but I am only going to address two: the short notice given to the public and the lack of planning that went into the decision to hand our most vulnerable students over to a company with no experience in managing a special education program of this magnitude.

The fact that you didn’t publish this resolution until 3 days before you were to vote on it at a meeting with over 140 other resolutions raised suspicions that you already knew it was not a good plan and were trying to approve it before anyone noticed. That was a blatant violation of the public trust as well as a violation of your settlement agreement with APPS concerning the Sunshine Act. Although you agreed to table the vote for 2 weeks to revise it and give the public more time to weigh in on the matter, you then scheduled a special meeting to vote on it 5 days later and then pulled it off the table at the last minute.   Today, you will be voting on the again revised resolution which was only posted one week ago.

I am also concerned about the choice of Catapult to manage this program. It appears that you didn’t really vet Catapult before deciding to contract with it to educate our students with low-incident disabilities. Either you didn’t know that this company has no experience managing a program of this magnitude for special education students (and you should have known that) or you didn’t care.

Catapult does manage a drop-out prevention program called Catapult Academy. The company describes its program as one that “combines self-paced online learning with small-group instruction.” According to an article in Education Week, 70% of a student’s instruction at Catapult Academy is online and only 30% is face-to face with an instructor.[1] Is it good pedagogy to put at-risk students in front of a computer for almost 3/4 of their academic instruction? A school district in Volusia, Florida doesn’t think so. It is closing its Catapult Academy after fewer than 10 of the 200 students it had enrolled there earned a diploma. That same district is also reconsidering it’s contract with Catapult to provide tutoring services to students in a Title I Zone.

Catapult is a for-profit education company. Founded in 1976 as READS, it has passed through many hands and many incarnations. It was bought by several companies in succession until it was sold to private investors. It has acquired and merged with 5 different companies since 2010. As Catapult’s CEO Jeffrey Cohen explained, the investors in Catapult don’t make a profit until the company grows and get sold.[2] I suspect that Catapult needs to polish its brand and expand into managing their own specialized schools to ensure its sale to a larger company in order to pay its investors. I am concerned that the district will be giving Catapult an opportunity to do just that at the expense of our most vulnerable students.

[1] Samuels, Christina. Providers of Special Education, Dropout Prevention Services Merge. Education Week

[2] Von Bergen, Jane M. Jeffrey Cohen Returns to Lead Catapult. The Inquirer.