After a crucial Senate Executive Committee hearing, Wali Rushdan was given a unanimous Senate vote for the Delaware State Board of Education about an hour ago.
The Senate Executive Committee met with Rushdan right before the full Senate vote. I must give props to State Senator Nicole Poore for tackling the elephant in the room. She just came right out and asked Rushdan about his affiliation with the Family Foundations Academy Board of Directors.
Rushdan said he was on their board and served from September, 2008 to August, 2009. He resigned because he was going to law school. In addition, Rushdan said there was no controversy with their board during his tenure and said the school was receiving accolades at that time for their academics. He did say Sean Moore invited him to be on the board and he knew Sean through their shared fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. Years later, in 2014, while working for Fox Rothschild, a law firm based out of Philadelphia, another attorney stopped managing the FFA account and Rushdan took over. When I wrote about him taking board minutes at their September 30th, 2014 board meeting it was to help them take better minutes and follow open meeting laws better. He said he had no prior knowledge of Sean Moore’s history of financial abuse before taking on a professional role with the school in the fall of 2014. He said Moore’s financial abuse took place before he became the attorney for the school.
Rushdan did make it a point to draw a correlation between his getting professionally involved with the school and shortly after, Moore and Dr. Tennell Brewington’s termination from the school. While he did not jump up and take credit for those terminations, there was a very crafty allusion to that.
The Senate Executive Committee did ask some key questions.
Senator Gary Simpson asked Rushdan is his affiliations with other boards or organizations would interfere with the time he would be able to devote to the State Board of Education. Rushdan said no and he would even relinguish some of those other duties if he had to. Simpson then asked if he saw any potential conflicts of interest through his job with the law firm. Rushdan was very forthright and said “Potentially.” He said he has worked on some special education lawsuits in Delaware. But he said he was selected to the State Board he would not take on any education work at the law firm. He also replied that the law firm actually has a quarantine process in place to prevent any such conflicts with their attorneys.
Senator Harris McDowell asked Rushdan for this thoughts on one Wilmington school district and if he supported something like that. Rushdan said he would be honored to serve as the City of Wilmington board member on the State Board. In terms of his exact thoughts on McDowell’s question, he said “I’m not an expert on these issues” while praising the staff of the State Board of Education for their knowledge on these types of issues. I hope Rushdan knows the “staff” is Donna Johnson and a receptionist but I digress. McDowell stated he has never received so many letters of support for any nomination the way he did for Rushdan. Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen was present during the confirmation hearing. Last evening, Allen wrote a Facebook post congratulating Rushdan on the nomination.
Senator Margaret Rose-Henry said she has known Wali for many years and she was happy about this.
Senator David McBride said Rushdan has his full support and thanked him for accepting the nomination.
Senator Greg Lavelle asked no questions whatsoever and had no comments. But Rushdan did say he spoke to Lavelle prior to the meeting and thanked him for the opportunity.
Between the Senate Executive Committee meeting and the full Senate vote, I introduced myself to Rushdan and he thanked me for getting this information out there about his affiliation with FFA. He said it wasn’t one of his “greatest hits” in regards to what he would put on his education resume. Rushdan did explain during his hearing that he was a proud alumni of William Penn High School and serves on their graduate advisory board. He is also a mentor with the district and serves on the board of Achievers Inc., another mentoring program. He said he taught Constitutional law to middle schoolers in Camden, NJ one summer. He said he wants to give back to the state that gave him so much. In regards to his experience as an attorney, he said this has equipped him for thoughtful analysis on issues that are voluminous in scope.
I did advise Rushdan that because he is on the State Board of Education I’m not done writing about him. He understood! So now we will see what the newest State Board of Education member contributes to the now seven-member board. Rushdan’s confirmation came at a good time because they have a meeting tomorrow night starting at 5pm.
My takeaways? Rushdan seems like an alright enough guy. He came across as very articulate and his answers did not seem prepared or rushed. He was very proud to have his family in attendance at the hearing even knowing questions about his affiliation with FFA would come up. I can respect that. I do wish someone would have asked why he didn’t disclose that originally. Senator Poore said she talked to him over the weekend and then found out about the FFA thing after. I would think giving that information to the Senate Executive Committee in advance would be wise. But he did answer questions about it. And let’s face it, the very name Family Foundations Academy is synonymous with Sean Moore and Tennell Brewington. Even the school changed their name. I would have liked to see a bit more education background and more knowledge and discussion about issues facing Delaware students. The last two State Board members nominated had very extensive background, Dr. Dennis Loftus as a former superintendent and Liane Sorenson as a former state representative who sat on the education committee. This is a City of Wilmington seat on the State Board so I think it is an important one for that member to have deep ties to that community and it sounds like Rushdan has that in spades. I am concerned about his willingness to work with the “staff” at the State Board of Education. I wish all the members of the State Board would reach out to others more than bending their ear to the Executive Director. I do believe the State Board of Education has come a long way since their Joint Sunset review last year. But I will always want that board to be elected by the people and not an appointment by the state Governor.
I just hope Rushdan can see beyond those who pushed for him to be on the State Board of Education and that he really takes that “thoughtful analysis” and looks at ALL aspects of public education, and not just what certain folks want him to see.