Delaware Education. Two words that will always create some type of debate in The First State. But who is in charge? Is anyone? Who has the most influence? Who are the ones you would never think are able to dictate education policy? Some are obvious but others are not. This list is not a list of the “good guys” per se, but more about power. These are the folks who can pack a punch whether you realize it or not. They are the voices that carry the most weight. As well, I have a list after showing who could hold power in the future and those who lost a bit of their might in Delaware education.
#25: Robert Overmiller
The legislative liaison for the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens is most often seen at education meetings at a state level. He is unassuming to most but Overmiller does have influence. An opinion from him carries weight in Dover.
#24: Tammy Croce
The legislative liaison for the Delaware Association of School Administrators (DASA) may not seem like much. But Cruce is always at every possible education policy meeting. Her support can make or break a bill. Quiet and unassuming, Cruce, like others on this list, can change the direction of public education on a dime.
#23: Laurisa Schutt
The force behind Delaware’s Teach for America program. Schutt is instrumental in placing the very controversial educator fast-track program in Delaware. With union-bashing at an all-time high and education funding putting the squeeze on districts and charter schools, Teach For America is in a prime position. Their biggest competition is Relay Graduate School but Delaware TFA isn’t going anywhere.
#22: Matt Burrows
The Superintendent of Appoquinimink School District. The Chair of Delaware’s ESSA State Plan committee. A rapidly rising population. Partners with many in the corporate education reform arena. Yes, Burrows is all over the place.
#21: Merv Daugherty
The Superintendent of the largest school district in the state. Red Clay Consolidated School District paves the way for Wilmington education because of that. Like most Supers, Daugherty knows what is real and what is not in education. The current and former DSEA Presidents came from Red Clay. Red Clay was the first district to have one-on-one digital technology for their student population. While some may not see that as a big deal, it is a game changer in education.
#20: Dorrell Green
The former Assistant Superintendent of the Brandywine School District took a pay cut to lead the Delaware DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. Wilmington schools, particularly those in the Christina School District, are the focus of this new DOE area and Green is the face of the movement. The smoke and mirrors behind this “support division” are fairly obvious to anyone following education policy over the past ten years. By using standardized test scores as the measurement behind these initiatives and MOUs, the accountability train is moving full steam ahead. The DOE just found a way to make it seem not as wicked.
#19: Donna Johnson
She took some lumps after the Joint Sunset Committee put the State Board of Education under the microscope last year, but Johnson can change the flow of a conversation in a heartbeat. Many feel the State Board of Education are her puppets. Are they wrong?
#18: John Young
The long-time Christina Board of Education member has an uncanny power. He can see the flaws most are unable to with education policy. And he is very vocal about those flaws. I tend to agree with Young on most of those stances. The media loves to quote Young on his thoughts so he reaches a very wide audience, especially in Wilmington. Teachers know first-hand what Young is talking about.
#17: Karen Field-Rogers
The Deputy Secretary of Education is a mystery. She led the Delaware ESSA plan. She oversees a lot! Out of all the folks at the Delaware DOE, she survived the Bunting purge and is on top. She knows a lot and has for a long time.
#16: Atnre Alleyne
The former Delaware DOE employee leads DelawareCAN. On the surface, they are yet another in a litany of corporate education reform think tanks. But they do pack a punch in Delaware. Alleyne’s voice can dictate education policy in Delaware. Case in point- when newly elected Carney had to pick a Secretary of Education, all signs pointed toward Kevin Carson. But within a week, after Alleyne put out a blistering and scathing review of Carson, Carney announced Bunting. When teachers wanted to get rid of the punitive Smarter Balanced portion of Component V in their teacher evaluations, Alleyne was at the head of the line in the bill changing to something altogether different. His greatest trick is getting others to speak for what he wants.
#15: Jon Sheehan
Carney’s Education Policy Advisor was the guiding force behind the Memorandum of Understanding between the Christina School District, the Governor’s Office, and the Delaware DOE. While that battle is not over yet, the former New York City Charter School Office employee came to Delaware last year and he has made his mark!
#14: Luke Rhine
The Dave Grohl lookalike (of the Foo Fighters) leads the Pathways to Prosperity program at the Delaware DOE. While many see this as the best thing to happen to Delaware education since sliced bread, it is changing the way we perceive education. I see it as a society-changing measure that will steer students toward certain career paths many are not developmentally ready for.
#13: Greg Meece
The Head of School at Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school leader in the state. By using Senator Sokola to do his bidding, Newark Charter manages to evade transparency while swallowing select Christina students into their vortex of “gee aren’t we the best school in the whole damn state” flawed method of thinking. Meece was the Kingpin of the charter school lawsuit against the Christina School District and the Delaware DOE. He got Sokola to warp the five-mile radius elimination bill so much it became a lightning rod talking point about racism in our biggest city.
#12: Mike Jackson
The head of the Office of Management and Budget has a tough job. The state budget dictates, in large part, how school districts and charter schools operate each year. He is the money man in Delaware. Carney doesn’t set the budget. It is Jackson. Delaware education funding is a hot topic these days and Jackson has the power to make it hard or easy to “follow the money”.
11: State Rep. Earl Jaques
The Chair of the House Education Committee can crush a bill simply by not putting it on the agenda for the committee. Jaques is a water carrier for the Governor and the Delaware DOE. If they don’t want a bill to move forward, he will do everything in his power to get it killed. The opt out hater was instrumental in leading the resistance against parental rights. His next big test? The pending diploma versus certificate bill.
#10: Former Governor Jack Markell
He may not rule the state any longer, but his influence casts a large shadow over everything in Delaware education. Not many talk about standardized testing or opt out anymore. Why? Because Markell talked about testing so much it is now just a part of public education. But his activities post-Governorship are very telling. He is heavily involved in social impact bonds and joining up with other pro-corporate education reform groups. Through his activities, the multi-millionaire is setting the future of not just Delaware education, but American education, by aligning with others to turn public education into a society changing force of nature. That is NOT a good thing folks!
#9: Kendall Massett
The head of the Delaware Charter Schools Network is a lobbying force of power in Dover. Like Sokola, she has a ton of influence on charter school decisions. She is most often seen between January and June wandering around Legislative Hall lobbying for the over twenty charter schools in the state. For what she does, she does it very well. She has a knack for claiming charters are public schools when it is convenient but drawing a clear line in the sand when those same rules don’t gel with charters.
#8: Mike Matthews
If you look at Matthews’ ten-year trajectory, it is unbelievable. From controversial political blogger to teacher to President of his local teacher union organization to the President of the Delaware State Education Association, he has come a long way in a relatively short time. Matthews will be put to the test like never before in the wake of the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding union dues. Will he be able to rally teachers across the state? I would bet on it! Matthews will also have to contend with the continuing threat of Right To Work in Delaware as well as pushback against DSEA’s support of Regulation 225. Will DSEA support the Christina Educators Association with the Christina/Carney MOU?
#7: State Rep. Kim Williams
The voice of sanity at Legislative Hall. Williams introduces more common-sense legislation when it comes to Delaware education than any other legislator down there. The Vice Chair of the House Education committee is always out there, attending meetings. She also is a prime advocate for students with disabilities. She usually faces resistance from “The not-so-dynamic Duo” in Dover but her voice can stir a crowd! As a voice for equitable education funding, Williams was instrumental in making sure charter schools are more accountable with their annual audits. She is the consistent “good guy” pushing for schools to do the right thing. She should be higher on the list, but this is Delaware…
#6: State Senator David Sokola
It is hard to think of anyone else who has done more to further the corporate education reform movement in Delaware. The standardized test Newark Charter School lover and teacher bashing Senator has so much power because no one else does in the Delaware Senate. His peers tend to think if Dave says it, it must be the truth. He is the King of Amendments. His amendments on pending legislation are what outrages the masses but his loyal sheep followers just go with the flow. For a Progressive Democrat, the Republicans in Delaware love his pro-choice stances.
#5: Dusty Blakey
The Colonial School District Superintendent is literally everywhere these days. Out of all the districts in Delaware, Colonial is leading the way on more corporate education reform agendas than you can imagine. Public-Private partnerships? Check. Personalized Learning in an ed-tech classroom? Check. Pathways to Prosperity programs coming out of the ying-yang? Check. Collaboration with local charter schools? Check. Colonial has become a force to be reckoned with and if certain plans move forward, they will easily become the most powerful school district in the state and Blakey will lead the way.
#4: Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting
She is the face of the Delaware Department of Education. In a few moves, she has made that abundantly clear. Her reorganization of the DOE resulted in some longtime faces disappearing from the Townsend Building in Dover. The former Indian River Superintendent has made her mark on Delaware education. The jury is still out on her. I want to say she has the best of intentions but she is in a Governor appointed position. Which means she can’t stray from the farm too much.
#3: Dr. Paul Herdman
The CEO of the Delaware Rodel Foundation is not as present as he once was but make no mistake, Herdman is everywhere. He is also the highest-paid education leader in the state and he runs a non-profit. If he isn’t pimping personalized learning, he is hijacking social-emotional learning. But make no mistake, Herdman is very influential. Rodel is the company behind corporate education reform in Delaware and has been since Herdman took the reigns back in 2004.
#2: Governor John Carney
For all intents and purposes, this is Carney’s show. He talks about it and it tends to happen. Aside from Regulation 225, most of his initiatives will happen. Why? Because this is a Blue state and that power controls the House and Senate. And in Carney’s world, if you don’t behave you WILL be called out for it. Many underestimate him but he holds the highest power in the state. Some think he is just riding the coattails of Markell, but he is quickly making his mark. But he does listen to one man and that man is…
#1 : Gary Stockbridge
This guy. The face behind corporate Delaware has a huge impact on education policy. He isn’t on the front lines but behind the scenes, making phone calls and sending lobbyists to Legislative Hall. He is the man behind the curtain for Delaware education. It took me years to figure this out. But he is on every single group that is providing a false narrative about what education ought to be. Everyone listens to Gary because they have to. First and foremost, Delaware is a corporate state. Which means the man calling the shots has the most powerful ears at his beck and command.
Up and Comers
Dr. Dan Shelton: The Superintendent of Capital School District is one of the state’s newer district leaders, but Shelton has become very involved with the District Consolidation Task Force. Many of the improvements in Capital has kept them out of the headlines in a good way. Shelton has the ability to recruit great leaders for his schools. Definitely one to watch!
Richard Gregg: The Superintendent of Christina School District will either lift the district out of the trenches or see it go down in flames. I don’t envy his position- the leader of a district that has a perpetual target on its back by forces surrounding them. Will he get rid of the rot firmly embedded in the foundation of the district?
Michelle Marinucci: The Special Education Coordinator for the Woodbridge School District is making her presence known as a key leader in the Special Education Strategic Plan. She successfully managed to get together a group of folks who often disagree with each other. They crafted a Strategic Plan that could make a huge difference for students with disabilities in Delaware. Will the ideas presented in the plan change the conversation happening with our legislators? Marinucci is pivotal in the future of special education in Delaware!
Jessica Bies: The current education reporter for the News Journal has a huge responsibility. As the most-read media publication in the state, her ability to gather facts can dictate conversation about education in Delaware. Case in point- the huge controversy surrounding teacher and student walkouts following the Parkland school shooting. By not reaching out to the President of DSEA and just copying and pasting his blog post, Bies created a wildfire of controversy last week.
State Rep. Rich Collins: Before Regulation 225 even appeared in the Registrar of Regulations, the District 41 rep was blasting the future Regulation. He managed to rally a crowd of parents and citizens unheard of in Delaware. The Regulation, still pending, would offer protections to transgender students and potentially create the ability for schools to NOT tell parents certain things. The public comments for this regulation hit the five digit mark and Collins was instrumental in that! This will be a talking point in the upcoming election cycle in Delaware.
Margie Lopez-Waite: In terms of current headlines, she is definitely one to watch. By maneuvering into a position as President of a charter school board while serving as the Head of School at another charter school AND cementing a relationship with a Delaware school district, she knows how to move the chess pieces and talk a good game.
State Rep. Paul Baumbach: The true test of his education power will take place in the coming months. His bills concerning Delaware district school boards could have lasting ramifications on the autonomy of local authority. If an apparatus were to happen where school board members could be removed it will have a huge impact on the ability of school boards to make decisions for students.
Not On The List And Why
Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson: The leaders of the Delaware PTA just aren’t as active as they once were. Ever since National PTA put the kibosh on their support of opt out, the Delaware PTA lost a lot of power. While PTA is still aligned with many things I agree with, I just don’t see them out there enough.
Tony Allen: The Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission took a backseat when he obtained his position as Provost at Delaware State University. He still has a ton of influence but not enough to crack the Top 25 these days!
Dr. Mark Holodick: The Superintendent of the Brandywine School District passed the zenith of his power. I can’t pinpoint why, but Brandywine tends to be an isolated district these days and wants to avoid the conversation around Wilmington students and take care of it’s own.
Kilroy’s Delaware: The Godfather of Delaware education blogs retired last year but came out of retirement. Having moved to the beach, Kilroy still blogs but more about national issues these days. But he will ALWAYS be the Godfather!