16 Who Defined 2016: Dr. Steven Godowsky

Dr. Steven Godowsky had quite a year as the Delaware Secretary of Education!  As he sails off to distant shores (across the canal), away from the Townsend Building in Dover, Delaware, let’s look back on 2016.  And stay tuned for the end of this article where I may or may not reveal a VERY BIG secret about Godowsky.

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Godowsky received a fast Senate confirmation in October of 2015.  By the time the new year rolled around, he had to quickly deal with the parent issue.  In other words, the override of Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.  The Delaware House didn’t pass a suspension of rules which would have allowed for a vote on the override.  As a result, Republican state reps introduced new opt out legislation requiring Godowsky to come up with parameters for opt out.  This House Resolution caused Godowsky to come up with something.  He did, but it wasn’t what parents were looking for.  In fact, his letter only stressed the federal requirement that students must be tested.  It did nothing to assuage the concerns of the opt out parents.  The Assessment Inventory Committee marched on, coming out with a report that did absolutely nothing to change the toxic testing environment in Delaware.  As almost a cameo of the future, Godowsky announced the upcoming Social Studies state assessment could be broken down in chunks.  This would bring “stealth” assessments to Delaware.  Instead of having the test once-a-year, the test would almost serve as end-of-unit tests.  Which would make opt out very difficult for parents.

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In the charter world, the only big individual charter story Godowsky had to contend with in 2016 was Delaware STEM Academy.  Due to low enrollment, the school went under formal review before they opened their doors for the 2016-2017 school year.  By last Spring, Godowsky recommended the State Board of Education revoke their charter due to the monstrous financial issues they would have experienced with the low enrollment.  The State Board concurred.

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The Spring also brought House Bill 399.  This legislation, developed based on the recommendations of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Group Committee, was meant to reduce the punitive effect the Smarter Balanced Assessment would have on teacher evaluations.  Godowsky did not endorse the bill as it stood at a Senate Education Committee meeting.  The bill passed unanimously in the House, but once Senator David Sokola got his mitts on it, things changed.  It turned into a pilot group at three schools.  It also included a parent survey in the pilot schools.  This was not what teachers fought for and it certainly didn’t help relations between teachers and Godowsky’s Dept. of Education.  To date, two charter schools have implemented the pilot but no school districts touched it.

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As Spring turned to Summer, many began to speculate about who the next Secretary of Education would be.  The election season was in full swing.  Some speculated that Godowsky might stay but by the Fall he squashed that rumor at the first Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee meeting.  Speaking of ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act), much of Godowsky’s energy in the fall surrounded Delaware’s implementation of this law.  Stakeholder meetings required Godowsky’s presence.  If it wasn’t the Advisory Committee, it was Community Conversations or ESSA Discussion Groups.  The jury is still out on Delaware’s plan as the final due date was changed to April 3rd, 2017.

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Special Education became a part of Godowsky’s world in a big way during the Fall as well.  Governor Markell threw an item in the FY2015 state budget to create a special education strategic plan.  After two years, a draft of the plan came out.  When disability advocates and parents of disabilities saw the plan, they formed a revolt of sorts and the original plan was scuttled.  Actually, today and tomorrow, those same parents and advocates are working on a new strategic plan.

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What had to be the biggest headache of Godowsky’s short term as Secretary was the local funding formula.  This determines the amount a district must send to a charter school or district when a student choices out of their residing district.  Behind the scenes, Newark Charter School contacted the DOE to discuss what they viewed as a loophole in the formula.  They felt Christina School District wasn’t sending them enough money.  Districts are allowed to submit exclusions to the DOE which the Secretary must approve and the final amounts must be approved by September 1st.  Apparently, the DOE approved exclusions from a Christina referendum every year going back to 2003.  The NCS crew let all the other charters who get money from Christina know about this and they hammered the DOE until changes were made.  As a result, those specific exclusions were not allowed and the charter bills went out to the districts.  There were other minor changes to the exclusions process, but none had more of an impact than the charter bill Christina received.  I broke the news about this last August and the resulting controversy and fighting even took me by surprise.  As a result, Godowsky reversed the earlier decision to discontinue those exclusions.  But it was after September 1st and the charters were not going to take that lying down.  A month later they filed a lawsuit against Christina, their CFO Robert Silber, the Delaware DOE, and Secretary Godowsky.  The matter came to a climax (at that point) when the Christina board voted on a very odd and peculiar settlement with a 4-3 vote.  All parties signed the settlement by December 5th (even though the due date was December 2nd).  Next Tuesday, the Christina board will vote on an action item to rescind their vote on the settlement.

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There were certainly many other things Godowsky was involved in during the year, but these were the highlights in terms of controversy.  Godowsky came in knowing it would be for a short time.  Many of the things he had to contend with were inherited from his predecessor, Mark Murphy.  As Secretaries go, Godowsky was much better than Murphy.  Whenever I was in the same room with Godowsky, we always said hello to each other and shook hands.  We even had a great conversation on the House floor one day.  Even though I pounded the hell out of him on here at times, he had a job to do and he did it.  We all know his marching orders came from Jack Markell.  There were times I could tell he didn’t always agree with those orders.  Don’t tell him this, but I will kind of miss Godowsky.  I can’t help but feel that under a more open-minded Governor, Godowsky would have been an excellent Secretary for public education.  Maybe one day we will get the opportunity to see Donald Sutherland play Godowsky in the epic Delaware DOE: The Movie!

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So what is next for Godowsky?  Hopefully a nice and long vacation after Carney gets his team in place.  After that, I anticipate Godowsky will stick around Delaware, most likely doing something at the University of Delaware.  I was hopeful when Godowsky was picked to replace Murphy.  While that hope didn’t last very long, it is important to recognize the distinction between the job and the man.   But there is one secret about Godowsky that I am aware of.  One that is actually very big.  I may reveal this in the coming weeks or I may not.  It depends on how things turn out in the next couple of weeks.  If I were certain folks, I would stop scratching their head and try to figure this one out real quick because if it comes out, an avalanche of crap is coming your way!  Did I mention this secret is big?  I have to imagine all sorts of state officials don’t want this one getting out!  To be blunt, I am not blowing smoke and I will use this if I have to.  For my readers, a hint: one of the sentences in this article is not true but the public thinks it is.  But for now, in honor of our potentially “reputation tarnishing” conversation, I present: Steve and a very scruffy blogger on the House floor from last June.

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