I attended the first meeting of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission this evening. It was held at the Red Clay Consolidated School District office in Wilmington. The meeting was very informal, and non-commission members of the audience were able to ask questions outside of the “formal” public comment period. It was more of a Town Hall atmosphere.
As Kilroy’s Delaware pointed out earlier this evening, this is in sharp contrast to the town hall meeting WEIC had in Red Clay last night, where the comments from the audience were not as reserved at the main meeting tonight. I strongly encourage all the parents who are attending these town halls to go to the regular meetings. First off, most of the WEIC members will be there, and two, this is where questions may have answers. Not that the town halls aren’t important.
Tonight’s meeting did answer some questions of my own. During my public comment, I asked the members of WEIC why this was going on, the DOE’s Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) and the Rodel/Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025. I advised they could all start bumping into each other. Dan Rich, the WEIC Policy Advisor, advised the SREO sprung out of the charter school moratorium legislation, House Bill 56. He said Governor Markell saw it and ran with it. For the Rodel thing, he stated there group is more for actual education in the classroom as opposed to redistricting and funding our schools. I then asked why, if there is a charter school moratorium, why are schools like Family Foundations Academy allowed to submit a major modification request to increase enrollment. He said that was done prior to the law being enacted. WEIC member Chandra Pitts made a point to reinforce WEIC is not against charter schools, and neither was WEAC. So yes, this was intentional in some respects, but not overtly planned.
WEIC member Vicki Seifred said she is hearing all the right things, but there is skepticism that this will be the group to fix everything. She also pointed out that even though WEIC wants more district and charter collaboration, there is a lot of animosity, especially between some of the Wilmington districts and the more “high-performing” charters and this needs to be addressed. (Editor’s note: I think the upcoming final report coming from the Enrollment Preference Task Force will provide some type of resolution to these types of situations.)
Yvonne Johnson brought up the million-dollar question about funding, and she stated even though she has chaired a referendum and been very involved in education matters for 20+ years, the whole funding issues facing WEIC and the redistricting are new to her. She asked if members can be brought up to speed on how to explain this at the Town Hall meetings at the four Wilmington school districts going forward. Red Clay Chief Financial Officer Jill Flores advised she may be able to come up with some type of presentation for this as questions come up.
Basically, the first meeting was introductions, even with members of the public (which I thought gave it a very personal touch: kudos to Tony Allen for this), and going over the basic layout of the whole thing. The committee chairs will be able to pick their own members on those groups, but of course the WEIC leaders do have some “suggested” members on these groups. Tony Allen did say he expects every WEIC member to be on one of the committees.
Jackie Kook, a teacher in Christina as well as the Vice-President of the Christina Educators Association, said she is really hoping all this works out for the best of Wilmington students. A sentiment echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams.
The incoming Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Sodowsky, was in attendance. He seemed more personable in two hours than Mark Murphy did in three years! Tony Allen did mention several times that WEIC does not answer to the DOE or Governor Markell. While I want to believe this, I don’t trust the DOE or Markell, and for good reason. We really have no clue about Sodowsky yet, but I’m glad he felt it was necessary to show up here. He did say he would have probably been involved with this Commission through his work at University of Delaware, but something else came up…
At first I didn’t get why this group has to act so fast with their implementation plan to the State Board of Education. WEIC has until 12/31/15 to get the State Board their plans, the State Board has until 3/31/16, and then the General Assembly takes the ball with it from there and if they pass a joint resolution, it goes to Governor Markell. I think this last part is the reason for the tight time-frame. This will essentially be the last General Assembly Governor Markell deals with. After 6/30/16, they will be gone until the same time Governor Markell leaves office. And with upcoming elections, the next General Assembly could look radically different than the one we have now. Plus, I’m sure Jack Markell will be using this on his resume for the next fifty years…if it works.
Aside from State Rep. Kim Williams, the only other legislators in attendance were the two on WEIC, State Rep. Charles Potter and Senator David Sokola. Allen wanted to give a shout-out to Williams who attended every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee last fall and winter.
No questions were asked about a Wilmington all-charter school district, and even if Governor Markell may want that, I don’t think it would fly with this group’s make-up. Yes, there are some very pro-charter folks on it, but there is also a balance with many representing traditional school districts. Very smart move for whoever came up with this!