Last night, I attended an education meeting that was very different. It was a very odd group of folks getting together in one room to talk about things that affect all Delaware schools. It was a mixture of people who represented two different sides of public education.
The meeting was sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams and Laurissa Schutt, the Executive Director for Delaware Teach For America. Speakers from schools that have TFA educators spoke about struggles that students bring into the classroom. Many of these schools were in Wilmington. The teachers and administrators talked about the effects of poverty and violence. Suicide came up as did trauma brought on by shootings in the city. Dusty Blakey, the Superintendent of Colonial School District, spoke about his district’s partnership with Nemours to provide health-based services for students. I quickly learned the issues many students deal with are not strictly traditional school district issues, but all schools that have trauma.
Questions came up about how to extend those health-based services to the community. Obstacles to that are embedded in Delaware state code. Which is why many legislators attended the event from both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate.
It wasn’t a meeting to talk about traditional schools vs. charter schools. Yes, funding came up, but it was directed towards how we can best help students. These are all public school students no matter what school they go to. It was a good idea and I’m glad Rep. Williams and Schutt held this forum. Two very different and ideological sides to the same coin, getting together to discuss best options for students with high needs… I’m on board with that! Kendall Massett from the Delaware Charter Schools Network came up with a very good idea- get every single Delaware Principal and lead counselors from every school in the state together along with representatives from every single community based business or organization together in a type of super forum. She suggested using Dover Downs for something like this. Have the educators on one side discuss what they need in schools and have the others talk about what they are able to do. Then switch sides and collaborate.
I have always questioned the viability of bringing outside organizations into schools. But if it is to truly help students with services and resources schools are either financially or legally unable to offer, I can support that. My concerns with these types of partnerships circulate around student data privacy and how any data collected is used.
Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long, who leads the Delaware Mental Health Consortium, also attended the event and applauded the special education strategic plan. She also mentioned community forums being held in the next month. The schedule for these forums is at the bottom of this article.
I asked a huge question. If districts have a significant higher amount of funding due to sheer size, where they can hire more nurses, counselors, and psychologists, is there any apparatus for charter schools to partner with districts to share those services? A teacher from Charter School of New Castle indicated she would love to be able to partner with Colonial School District for these types of services. Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, stated changes need to be made to the funding formula for Delaware schools.
Like the Special Education Strategic Plan, this group made a pact to put aside differences and talk about what they agree on, which is helping the students who live through trauma outside of school that comes into the classroom. It was estimated this affects anywhere from 15-20% of students in our highest needs schools. While this happens the most in Wilmington, it is not immune to other districts, even in rural areas. Dr. Michele Marinucci, the head of special education in Woodbridge School District, talked about situations her students face.
It was ironic, because I actually applauded the Delaware Department of Education two hours earlier at the Joint House and Senate Education Committee meeting. Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave a presentation to the joint committee on the Delaware DOE’s FY2019 budget request. She talked about how the Delaware DOE recognizes the trauma coming into our schools and how that is something the DOE wants to tackle. In my public comment I gave kudos to the DOE for finally coming to terms with this. I mentioned how a former DOE leader (Penny Schwinn) once said this trauma was “not necessarily a hurdle to overcome” at a State Board of Education meeting. I did caution the DOE on their over reliance of the Smarter Balanced Assessment as a measurement of school success/failure and how recent reports are indicating the test isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
I hope Kendall gets this super summit going. I’ve been saying for years we need something like this in Delaware. Except we are missing some key ingredients to that type of event. We need students, parents, teachers, and other educators in attendance as well. Heck, I would even be willing to collaborate with Kendall to get something like that going. What say you Kendall?
It has become glaringly obvious we need to do more for so many of our Delaware students. We can no longer ignore the issues affecting Delaware students in so many of our schools. Academics is very important, don’t get me wrong. But if there are obstacles to students being able to access instruction we need to do everything possible to help them. They are the future of this state and if we ignore these issues, we have failed them.
Forum #1: City of Wilmington, 2/6/18, 6-8:30pm, P.S. DuPont Middle School, 701 W. 34th St., Wilmington, DE 19801
Forum #2: City of Dover, 2/7/18, 6-8:30pm, Central Middle School, 211 Delaware Ave., Dover, DE 19901
Forum #3: Delaware City, 2/8/18, 6-8:30pm, Fire Hall, 815 5th St., Delaware City, DE 19706
Forum #4: Georgetown, 2/15/18, 6-8:30pm, Public Library, 123 W. Pine St., Georgetown, DE 19947