Did My Predictions Come True For The 16 To Watch In 2016?

In December of 2015, I posted 16 articles about who would make an impact on 2016.  Did they truly have an impact and did they fizzle out?  Many of them did have a huge impact, some fizzled out, and some didn’t do as much as I thought they might.  You be the judge!

State Rep. David Bentz: Bentz had a relatively low-key rookie year in the Delaware House.  He did get a bill passed and signed that bans the sale of Dextromethorphan to those under the age of 18.  He did sit on many committees including Health & Human Services and Education.  I expect Bentz will begin to rise in 2017 after running unopposed for his seat earlier this month.  He did vote in support of the suspension of rules on the override of the House Bill 50 veto which won him some fast points in my book.

Henry Clampitt: Clampitt became very quiet about halfway through the year.  He did help out the Delaware Charter Schools Network with some key legislation surrounding charter school audits.  Over the summer he joined the board of Gateway Lab School.  I am still predicting he will make a run for Red Clay’s board next year!  Clampitt curtailed some of his online activity as well this year.  Clampitt can usually be found at the occasional Red Clay board meeting cavorting with some of his friends.

Dr. Robert Andrzejewski: The Acting Superintendent of Christina had a huge year!  And not all of it was good.  He did help the cash-poor district in winning their referendum but that only introduced other problems.  The fifteen charter schools that feed off of Christina students complained they weren’t getting enough money from Christina.  After it became public and legislators were swarmed with complaints from parents and citizens, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky backed off the changes that would have given more to the charters.  In October, the charters filed a lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware DOE.  Now news comes of a possible settlement.  Bob A also had to contend with mold issues at Pulaski Elementary School and soon reports came in of other schools having mold issues as well.  He set up an “Academy” at Christiana High School with very poor communication and transparency which led to all sorts of controversy.  Bob A also introduced many “cash in the trash” contracts for vendors which the Christina board approved nearly every single time.  Rumors continue to swirl about the potential of Bob A getting the Secretary of Education role under John Carney.  It could happen which would make a lot of Bob A’s activities make an odd sort of sense.  Fattening up his resume or being Bob A?  Time will tell.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell: Jack always makes an impact.  Whenever I see that smiling face, I know he is up to something.  He successfully influenced enough Delaware House reps to vote no on a suspension of rules to override his veto of House Bill 50.  But then many of those same legislators voted yes on a suspension of rules for a corporate tax bill.  This rightfully earned Markell the wrath of many parents in Delaware.  In fact, many of us beat the hell out of him over opt out on his own Facebook page before the vote.  Instead of going up to Howard High School and dealing with the death of Amy Joyner Francis, Markell issued a brief statement and merrily went on his Common Core tour at Delaware schools.  He pimped the Delaware Pathways to Prosperity program every single chance he could.  He spoke at a conference on Blockchain technology and announced Delaware would get legislation going so Blockchain firms could incorporate in Delaware.  He created the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee while issuing another executive order to create a Pathways Steering Committee that had its first meeting with no public notice.  The “Education” Governor won some fancy-schmancy award from the National Association of State Boards of Education.  Despite rumors, Markell firmly stated he was never a consideration for a Cabinet post in a Hillary Clinton administration (easy to say after the shocking upset when Donald Trump won the presidency).  He continued to appear at press conferences and letters to the editor promoting corporate education reform which pretty much landed with a resounding thud in the minds of Delawareans.  As Jack enters his final days as Delaware Governor, I don’t think history will be very kind to his legacy of putting corporations over people.  But I will ask one boon of Jack Markell before he leaves his post: a chance to meet with him, do an interview, and get his side of the story on Delaware education.  What do you say Jack?  One for the road?

Delaware Governor John Carney: Unless you’ve been living in a hole the past few weeks, John Carney won the Governor’s seat by a landslide.  Everyone is waiting with bated breath to see who Carney picks for his administration.  He has been very quiet (as he was during the election) about what he is going to do.  He came out with platforms on various subjects, but they were somewhat vague.  As of today, he has only announced two members of his administration.  This blogger has reached out to Carney many times with zero success, as recently as yesterday.  I don’t want Carney and I to be at odds with each other.  We will assuredly disagree on many things, but if he isn’t willing to sit down with me then I fear this will be the case.  In education, Carney will have his hands full between whomever he picks for his next Secretary, education funding, ESSA implementation, and a budget deficit which will force the state to begin cutting items from the state budget.  I expect Carney will be more low-key on many issues facing Delaware, but he should not be underestimated at all.

Delaware Senator David McBride: McBride was relatively low-key this year, but he did become the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate when Senator Patti Blevins suffered a shocking loss earlier this month to Anthony Delcollo.  But this title will not have as much importance since Delaware has a Lieutenant Governor again in the form of Bethany Hall-Long who will preside over the Delaware Senate.

Tony Allen: Allen was all over the place in 2016.  State Board of Education meetings, ESSA Advisory Committees, Legislative Hall, and forums kept the Bank of America executive very busy.  Allen stood his ground with the Delaware State Board of Education when they kept trying to change the redistricting language.  When the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting bill failed to pass the Delaware General Assembly, Allen did save the plan by extending the timeline.  It remains to be seen what Carney will do with the plan, especially given that deficit I told you about.  Allen is serving on the transition team for Governor Carney.  Earlier this month, Allen predicted another segregation lawsuit against the state based on Delaware schools, especially those in Wilmington.  Allen did admit one of WEIC’s weaknesses was not including Kent and Sussex County representatives on the plan.

Ashley Sabo: The Red Clay mom of a special needs child had a very busy year.  While she continued to fight for inclusion in Red Clay, she also held the district accountable for the lack of communication surrounding the plan.  Sabo also adopted a foster child and became a Court Appointed Special Advocate as well as becoming the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Orphan Care Coalition.  I am very optimistic about Sabo’s future in Delaware and I see her as a rising young star who will become a very important voice for not only students with disabilities and foster children, but all citizens of The First State.

The Delaware Bloggers: It was an interesting year.  Three longtime Delaware bloggers closed up shop this year: Transparent Christina, Kavips, and the Delaware Grapevine.  The first two dealt with many education issues.  For Transparent Christina, the beginning of the end came when the author of that blog discovered Facebook and all the fun he could have on there.  Kavips ended his blog earlier this month capping off a ten-year run of what he viewed as “The Progressive Era” of Delaware politics.  I suspect we haven’t heard the last of the enigmatic one and he will pop up somewhere once he/she gets his/her groove back once Donald Trump is inaugurated.  Kilroy’s Delaware slowed down this year but that had more to do with fixing up his house at the beach than a lack of interest.  Delaware Liberal provided a healthy dose of election news and dealt with the epic defeat of Hillary Clinton and bemoaned to rise of Donald Trump.  A new blog by ex-Delaware DOE employee Atnre Alleyne called The Urgency of Now stirred up tons of controversy this year as teachers were blasted constantly on his blog.  Another longtime blog, The Colossus of Rhodey, also ended.  As for this blogger, now almost halfway through his third year, who knows what the future will bring.  One sure thing is that change is inevitable but things stay the same in too many of the wrong places.

The Parents of Delaware Students: The parents of Delaware received a fatal blow when the Delaware House refused to suspend the rules to allow for an override of Markell’s House Bill 50 veto.  The Delaware PTA received a hush order on opt-out from their National headquarters.  Parents still opted their kids out, but it was comparable to 2015.  The Delaware DOE has attempted to corral parents into their Every Student Succeeds Act Community Conversations, but I really hoped more parents would attend to lend their voices in opposition to the DOE’s crazy plans.  Many parents attended referenda this year as Christina, Brandywine, and Cape Henlopen referendums passed.  Not enough Indian River parents supported their referendum when it failed to pass last week.  By and large, Delaware parents continue to get the shaft in education policy.  I predict the voice of parents will rise in 2017 to unheard of levels.  With national and state politics the way they are now, many parents will be pitched against each other with various events.  One appointment of U.S. Secretary of Education for Betsy DeVos has already renewed a lot of debate about school choice, charter schools, and school vouchers.  These arguments will heat up in 2017.  Many parents of students with disabilities (as well as advocates) successfully thwarted an attempt at a very bad special education strategic plan at the Delaware DOE.  Parents of special needs children are quickly learning that banding together in unison across various groups is more important than debating their differences.  So much so that a two-day planning session for a new special education strategic plan will take place on December 8th and 9th.

Karen Field Rogers: While the first half of the year started very slow for the promotion of Field Rogers as the new Delaware Deputy Secretary of Education, she certainly made her mark in the second half as the Delaware DOE spokesperson at many ESSA meetings.  The jury is still out on what Delaware’s ESSA plan will be.  I can picture her still working at the Townsend Building under Governor John Carney.  She is not really a subject of controversy down there.

Delaware Senator Colin Bonini: Bonini lost his bid for Delaware Governor as many predicted.  But he did not do himself any favors by publicly announcing he would lose and continuing to call Carney his friend.  Even if you think you are going to lose, you don’t make a spectacle of it.  But he did answer a very long survey I gave all the candidates for Governor.  Only Carney failed to respond to the survey, and I unintentionally left out Green Party candidate Andrew Groff.  Bonini will still be in the Delaware Senate doing his thing, unless he gets a new job in the Carney administration.  Whatever happened with Bonini’s recommendation for a Civil Rights Committee in the Delaware Senate?

Harrie Ellen Minnehan: She started the year as the Christina Board of Education President, but lost her gavel over the summer to the re-elected Elizabeth Paige.  Minnehan overtly supported Paige’s opponent in the spring school board election.  When board member David Resler announced he would not run again, Meg Mason won the election.  Mason voted for Paige’s appointment as board president.  The Christina board seems to still be at odds over many things but they will have to get it together soon for the sake of the district.  I miss the fiery board that stood in unison against the Priority Schools debacle in the fall of 2015.  Nothing against Minnehan, but the board lost a bit of that during her Presidency.  Paige brings that temperament back to the board and they (along with every other board in the state) need to start speaking up now to fight for what is theirs.  I must say, my favorite “HEM” moment in 2016 was when Minnehan blasted State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray during a WEIC meeting in Wilmington.  I have no doubt her words were bubbling under the surface for a long time, going back to her days as the President of the Pencader charter school board.

The Delaware Met Kids: After causing a lot of concern in the fall of 2015, the students at Delaware Met said goodbye to the not even five-month old charter school in mid-January.  The students went to various school districts and charter schools.  But not until they caused enough chaos at the school to get an extra couple of days off.

The Seans: Sean Lynn gave a very stirring speech when the death penalty repeal bill hit the floor of the Delaware House.  Ultimately, the House voted against the repeal, but federal rulings rendered the point moot for Delaware executions.  Lynn was instrumental in crafting legislation for the WEIC redistricting bills, but the controversial redistricting effort did not pass the General Assembly.  He did get several bills through dealing with courts and animal fighting.  After a landmark first year in the House where six bills became law, Sean Matthews did not have any legislation signed by Governor Markell this year.  But this didn’t stop Matthews from using his voice in support or opposition to many bills.  Both Sean Lynn and Sean Matthews won their seats back for a 2nd term in the General Election after facing opposition.  This will give them more of an entrenched status in the House.  Both had a relatively quiet year, but I expect they will be re-energized and ready to go in January!

Braeden Mannering: The kid who melted Delaware hearts the past few years continued his 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags movement with growing success.  In January, Braeden was invited to and attended President Obama’s State of the Union address.  Later in the year, he was one of the speakers at a TedX conference in Wilmington.  Braeden’s future is bright!

I will be doing this for 2017 beginning in December with those I think will make an impact in 2017.  Some will be names seen on this list but others will be new faces.

 

Reasons America & Delaware Are Still Great 2016 Edition

Many people in America today are facing an impossible choice.  We call this Election Day.  I am choosing to spend the day looking at all that is good about America and more specifically the state I live in, Delaware.  No matter what happens today, we can’t let anyone take away the spirit of what makes us Americans.  We have liberties we often take for granted.  Beyond the politics of it all, we all should want the best for each other, especially the children.  We have so much talent in this country.  Each mind is a unique and wonderful creation of beauty and grace. In Delaware, we have people doing things no one hears about, every single day. We have children who have so many gifts. We have stories of hope and inspiration. As a friend of mine said on Facebook the other day, we are more than this election.

Capital’s Chase Christiansen Youngest Of Delaware Today’s “20 Delawareans Under 20”, Rosetta Pierce Also Recognized

Delaware Today, for their April issue, has an article on the most influential Delaware youngsters under 20.  The youngest of which is Capital School District’s own Chase Christiansen.  The nine-year old was selected for the list due to his unwavering dedication to his role as the lieutenant for South Dover Elementary School’s School Safety Patrol.  He started as a sergeant and is now a lieutenant!

Another Dover resident, Rosetta Pierce, was spotlighted for her quilting business.  Even though her home burned down last year, Rosetta kept her quilting business going.  She gives the quilts to a program called Kozy Kovers for Kids, a part of the Delaware Foster Program.

Also included in the list is Braeden Mannering, Exceptional Delaware’s 2015 Hero of the Year, for his 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags business.

Congratulations to our home-town heroes, Christiansen and Pierce, and the other 18 who are making a difference in Delaware!

Let It Go! Christina Referendum Calls For Change From The Past

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Robert Andrzejewski, the Acting Superintendent for the Christina School District in Wilmington, led a battle cry last night to lift the district from their troubled past and send it to a bright future.

Hundreds of students, parents, educators, and citizens attended the Christina Referendum kick-off last night at Christiana High School.  The district wants to raise school taxes by 30 cents.  According to “Bob A”, the Acting Superintendent’s nick-name in New Castle County, the increase will result in an additional $16.2 million for the district allowing them to bring more quality resources to the district.  Bob A alluded to eventual magnet schools within the district.  In an apparent snafu, he said this would only cost taxpayers in the district an extra $300 a month or $15 a week.  Both are wrong, but we can put the blame on that towards Common Core which puts everyone’s math skills in serious jeopardy!

As Bob A talked about Christina escaping from his past, he brought up the movie “Frozen”.  He talked about “that song” and the main character, saying “What’s her name”?  Someone shouted “Elsa” which led Bob A to say “Yeah, Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go”.

Bob A railed on the current testing environment in Delaware during his speech, stating there is too much focus on testing and not enough on teaching to teach, which led to a round of applause from the audience.  Other highlights included a call for more vocational certificates to be issued from the district as more and more districts around the state incorporate co-op programs.

Senator Bryan Townsend attended the event, along with Braeden Mannering from 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Board members Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, and John Young also attended.  There was a significant amount of energy which was missing in last year’s unfortunate two failed referendum attempts.  The referendum is on March 23rd.

Exceptional Delaware’s 2015 Hero Of The Year: Braeden Mannering

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That family is awesome!

Christina Board of Education member John Young, when asked to describe Braeden Mannering, said the above.

I don’t usually write about individual students on here.  But Braeden Mannering is an exception, because he is a very awesome kid!  Braeden and his mom, Christy Mannering, run a foundation called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Their mission is to provide healthy food for those who can’t afford it.  From the 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags website:

Our mission is to provide healthy snacks to homeless and low-income individuals. Every bag includes a letter from Braeden, contact information for additional services who can provide further assistance. Three healthy snacks (each one is below 180 calories) and a bottle of water.  Our belief is that every person regardless of their financial situation deserves to have access to healthy food. This helps to balance the paradox between obesity and food insecurity.

I first heard about Braeden earlier this year.  All I knew was that he had a business of some sort to feed the homeless.  I had no idea he went to the White House a couple times, met Michele Obama, has won numerous awards, and very recently began appearing in the 2016 Scholastic Almanac For Kids.  His website tells his journey better than I ever could.  So how does a 12 year old boy who attends Gauger-Cobbs Middle School become a Delaware celebrity?

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According to an article in CNN earlier this year, Braeden won a contest for the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.  His “Tortilla Bowl Deluxe” allowed him to become the winner for Delaware.  After an award dinner at The White House, Braeden made a decision that would change his life.  After seeing a homeless man begging for money in Washington D.C., Braeden came up with an idea.

During the trip home from the White House, Braeden asked his mom if he could give his souvenir money to a group of homeless people. A few days later, he came up with another creative way to pay it forward.

“Braeden was rummaging in the kitchen and emerged with a brown paper bag,” his mom, Christy Mannering, said. “Inside was a water bottle, potato chips, fruit snacks and granola bars. He asked me if we could go back and give it to one of the homeless people.”

Two and a half years later, Braeden is still giving nutritional meals to the less fortunate and the homeless.  Braeden and his mom turned it into a non-profit business called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  As of a week ago, 3B handed out 4,500 brown bags to those who struggle the most in our state.  Brae has been to numerous schools around the state, and even to some other states as well.

I talked to Christy Mannering and asked for her permission to write this article.  She happily accepted.  She described Braeden for me.

Brae has an old soul and a huge heart. He is often asked if he thinks he will be “doing 3B forever” and his answer never changes. He says he hopes he doesn’t have to, because he wants hunger not to be a problem anymore, but that he will keep going as long as it is needed.

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Family friend Laura Nash agrees with Christy’s assessment of Braeden:

3B is Huge!  He is truly an amazing kid with a big heart.

A year ago, Braeden won a competition called #MazdaDrive4Good.  The sponsors of the contest, NBC Universal and Mazda, donated $30,000 to 3B Brae’s Brown Bags.  As a result, actress Minnie Driver and a film crew came to Braeden’s home in Bear and presented the check and Christmas decorations for Braeden and his family.  He appeared on the Today Show on NBC, his family was invited to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and he was even interviewed by Al Roker!

Braeden described this adventure on his own blog, in an article called Were You Watching NBC Last Week?

You know my Mom told Mr. Adam that one of the best things about all of 3B has been seeing it spread and help others. She says when you throw a pebble into the water the ripples can spread out all the way across a pond, she is humbled to see the ripple effect that 3B is causing and she’s so proud to know that I’m the pebble.

This fall, the pebble spread and Braeden and his mother created the 3B Ripples Student Chapter.  The first Delaware school to join was Kirk Middle School.  The mentor for the project, teacher Jackie Kook, had this to say about Braeden:

Braeden is an inspiration in that he allows others to realize that, no matter our ages or abilities, we can band together to help those in need.  The outreach of his initial brown bag has been tremendous, and we at Kirk Middle School are proud to continue his work and show our community that Kirk Cougars Care!

Braeden doesn’t believe it is his job alone to help those in need.  His outreach to students across the state is something I can only look upon with awe.  He is building community awareness in ways many adults are unable to do.  To speak in front of an audience is a talent learned over time, but this seems to be a natural gift for Braeden.

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Braeden’s story is amazing.  I agree with his mother that he is an old soul.  But he is also a new soul.  He is a pre-teen, not even in high school yet, who has a passion for those less fortunate.  It is enough to make a huge difference.  Braeden is a unique soul in Delaware.  He gives and gives and expects nothing in return.  The fact that he can help those who have less is a comfort for him.  I can only imagine feelings of that sort are a part of Braeden’s family dynamic.  In addition to running the business with Brae, his mother was also one of the key figures in the Christina School District referendums earlier this year.  Even though the referendum didn’t pass, Christy gave countless hours of her time to help the struggling district.  Her husband and Brae’s step-father, Brian, serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and writes for Delaware Liberal and his own blog, Those In Favor.  I met both of them this year, and they are very compassionate people.  While I have not met Braeden yet, I see the values he holds so dear in Brian and Christy as well.

Braeden was invited back to the White House in 2014 for the Annual Kids Dinner.  He was a speaker and he actually introduced Michelle Obama to the crowd.

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But something that stood out for Braeden even more than meeting the First Lady and President Obama, was an honor he received on May 1st, 2014.  Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution #48.  This legislation recognized the boy who knows more about giving than receiving.

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I remember back in 1989, Phil Collins released a song called “Another Day In Paradise”.  It was a song about the homeless, and the words really impacted me.  I went into Philadelphia with family the day after Thanksgiving that year and it was freezing out.  I saw the homeless, shivering along buildings and laying on vents.  Grocery carts were their best friend on a holiday weekend.  It saddened me that there are those who don’t have homes for whatever reason, especially during the holidays.  I always wanted to do something about it, but the everyday trappings of a non-homeless life pushed it out of my mind.

One of the Delaware blogs I follow religiously is Homeless1 in Wilmington.  The author of the blog, a former homeless person, helps the homeless in Delaware as much as he possibly can.  It is an excellent blog, and you can find it on my sidebar.  When I read the articles on there, it brings me back to that 19 year old me who wants to do more, but doesn’t know how.  I live in Dover, and the homeless are here too.  I see them from time to time when I am driving in Dover, and I always say a prayer in my mind that they find themselves out of whatever circumstances they are in.  And then I see a bright light in Braeden Mannering, and my feelings of helplessness lift away.  Because I know that one 12 year old boy, who could be doing many other things with his life, has made it his mission to end hunger.  I’ve been reading Brae’s website for the past week, and I am overwhelmed at his unconditional love for those who are hungry, or don’t have a home.  Homeless1 said it best:

there is no such thing as a small effort in fighting homelessness. every effort has an impact. every person involved in advocacy, outreach or street ministry has an impact. the type of impact we have is a direct result of how honest we are with the homeless, with the public in general and with ourselves. every effort matters. every statement matters. every truth, or untruth matters. they both have far reaching effects whether or not we realize it. we need to become conscious of that fact.

Braeden’s impact on Delaware is huge.  Braeden sees the simplest truth of them all: helping others is the right thing to do.  Thank you Braeden Mannering for renewing my faith in humanity this holiday season.  You are the Exceptional Delaware Hero of 2015!  I write about education all the time, but I am still always learning.  As a state, we talk about improving education for low-income and poverty students all the time.  But if we can’t eliminate hunger and homelessness for all the citizens of our state, we will constantly be fighting a losing battle.  We can change the conditions of a classroom all we want, but for some students it is not what they need the most.  We can give grants to schools and open up wellness centers, but as long as one child comes to school hungry we are not doing everything we can for Delaware students.  I salute Braeden Mannering for teaching us all that if we allow our hearts to open up, change can be a very powerful force.  I may be late to catch up on Braeden Mannering, but he is definitely someone who gives with an open heart, one brown bag at a time…

As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, an article by Zoe Read with WHYY/Newsworks showed up on my Facebook feed.  Called The face of Delaware’s homeless children, the timing was uncanny.  This is what Braeden is all about.  Helping these children.

To see a recap of Braeden’s journey in 2015, please watch the below video: