Patrik Williams Promoted To Smyrna Superintendent To Replace Outgoing Deborah Wicks

Ian Gronau with the Delaware State News is reporting Assistant Superintendent Patrik Williams is the new Superintendent of the Smyrna School District as of June 1st.  Current Superintendent Dr. Deborah Wicks gave her resignation notice to the board last year.

I’ve only written about Patrik Williams one time, and it was a very funny post!  If there is one consistent thing in Delaware education, it is change.  Replacing Williams as Assistant Superintendent is Summerside Elementary School Principal Debbie Judy according to the article.

In regards to the Delaware Education Hunger Games issue (budget deficit) for Smyrna, Williams said the following in the article about that:

It’s going to be a challenge but I will say that we are one of the few districts that are preserving all of our permanent staff. We’re conservative financially and that has put us in a really good spot. We are well prepared to make adjustments.

Good news for Smyrna teachers!  Smyrna is a growing area in Delaware and Williams expressed excitement about that:

If you go down to Rabbit Chase and look at all those houses for instance — we have about 2,000 new housing permits in the district. It’s exciting to envision what that’ll mean for the district.

Congrats to Patrik Williams!  I’m sure his letters regarding Delaware regulations will be more tame with his new role, but I hope he keeps that same fighting spirit!

Mike Matthews On Personalized Learning And Digital Technology In The Classroom

The upcoming Delaware State Education Association President, Mike Matthews, just wrote an excellent post on Facebook about the rise of digital technology and personalized learning in the classroom.  His post was in response to the recent announcements by various Delaware school districts of Reduction in Workforce notices going out to schools based on Governor John Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.

For the past several years, personalized and blended learning have been strong dialogue points in education circles. The thinking behind personalized and blending learning is that it offers different environments to meet students’ needs for learning. One of those environments is digital, where some of the learning is done on devices as opposed to direct teacher instruction or small-group instruction.

There is a belief out there by some that many education reformers and corporatists are supporting personalized and blended learning because, ultimately, it could reduce personnel costs by getting rid of large numbers of teachers. Me? I’m a fan of “personalized learning” in a very basic sense: that all learning, in effect, should be personalized to meet student needs. However, I am beginning to have some concerns with the personalized and blended learning information I’m seeing as well as the propagation of 1:1 devices in classrooms across the state.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Technology is a must in today’s digital environment and students MUST be exposed to its responsible use. However, eight years ago, then-Gov. Jack Markell made a series of devastating cuts to education. And we still haven’t recuperated from that.

Governor John Carney is proposing a series of devastating cuts to his education budget now. We never saw Gov. Markell’s cuts come back to education. Will we see Gov. Carney’s cuts come back if they’re passed by the legislature? Will these layoffs — these hundreds of human beings about to lose their jobs — be victims to technology because it’s cheaper to purchase a Chromebook than it is to pay a teacher’s salary?

Two years ago, I had a very open mind about personalized learning when I was president of the Red Clay Education Association and some fellow members introduced me to personalized learning. And, to an extent, I’m still VERY open to what personalized learning is and can be. I made sure to share with those teachers that at no time should personalized learning EVER be seen as a means to layoff and cut teachers in our schools and the they agreed with that. However, I’m concerned that these heartless and cruel layoffs coming could only grow worse as policymakers embrace the idea that technology can do cheaper or better what humans can for children.

I will never accept a world where computers take the place of living, breathing, caring human beings. We must fight like hell to bring these positions back to our school districts as quickly as possible. Anything less should be cause for direct, organized action by educators and the public that supports us across the state.

Amen Mike, Amen!  With that being said, the reaction of the state and local education associations to this technology push in our classroom will be instrumental in making sure that future never comes to pass.  DSEA will have to be at the front of the line opposing this future.  When Mike said “some believe”, those numbers are growing fast and it isn’t just a belief.  It is happening in districts across the country and it will happen here if we don’t get enough educators, parents, citizens, and students to fight it.

In Delaware, the Rodel Teacher Council has been pushing personalized learning a lot in the past couple months.  They met with legislators and the State Board of Education.  As I have said many times, I don’t believe these teachers are the bad guys.  But I don’t trust Rodel at all.  For the life of me, with everything I’ve written, I can’t understand why these teachers continue to listen to Rodel and do their bidding.  These teachers spend a lot of time working for Rodel with little to no pay for their time and effort.  At the end of the day, Rodel is a corporation.  They may say they are a non-profit, but when their CEO Dr. Paul Herdman makes over $350,000 a year, that gives me considerable pause.

The personalized learning push goes beyond computers replacing teachers though.  There is the matter of massive exposure to screen time and what kind of effects that has on students.  There is the massive amount of data collection.  There is the presumption by many that the algorithms in many of these apps and learning programs are being used to push students toward certain types of future careers.  There is the competency-based education aspect of it all that has a severe danger of putting at-risk students even further behind than their peers.  While I don’t expect many to get this yet, they soon will.  Right now, I am John the Baptist, wandering around in the wilderness warning everyone.  A madman?  No.  One who would rather prophet for students than profit from students?  Yes.

After-School SAIL Program Stuck In Harbor

The Delaware SAIL program, the legislation created by Valerie Longhurst is dead in the water, at least for this General Assembly.  As per the latest email from the Delaware House Democrats…

SAIL Program Put on Hold

With the state facing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall requiring many difficult cuts, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst on Thursday announced she would put on hold her bill to create a new afterschool program providing homework help, enrichment activities and an extended school meal plan.

The program, dubbed the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Program, was designed to help students become more effective learners and achieve better outcomes both in and outside their classrooms. However, House Bill 240 carried a $7 million price tag. Even with a drafted amendment to make it a pilot program and decrease the cost, Rep. Longhurst said Delaware’s budget crunch necessitated hard decisions.

“I am committed to creating a quality afterschool program that will keep kids engaged, boost attendance and enhance literacy, improving the likelihood that our students will stay in school and earn their diplomas,” said Rep. Longhurst, who sits on the board of directors for the Bear-Glasgow YMCA and Police Athletic League of Delaware.

“However, when I look at the full picture of our budget, I know we cannot afford it this year. It’s hard to ask for money for this program when we simply don’t have the funds for many basic state functions and have to make tough cuts across state government. This was a really difficult decision because I have seen firsthand the need to increase children’s access to quality afterschool programs.”

As part of the move to put a hold on HB 240, Rep. Longhurst also announced her intention to create a task force including afterschool stakeholders that would review afterschool programs in Delaware; how funds are spent; how to target children not currently being served; and how to best close those gaps.

Will New Education Legislation Adding $11 Million More To Delaware’s Shrinking Budget “SAIL” Through The General Assembly?

Amidst all the craziness surrounding the SAT/Smarter Balanced Announcement yesterday, this one flew under the radar.  Delaware State Rep. Valerie Longhurst is introducing legislation next week to add $11 million dollar to the Delaware State Budget to fund afterschool programs in Title I schools across Delaware.  Whether this is part of the WEIC funding, Matt Denn’s plans for the foreclosure settlement funds, or new allocations of state funds is not certain.  But with Delaware facing a deficit of unknown amounts for FY2017, we sure are spending a lot of money fast!  From the Delaware House Democrats website:

Lawmakers Plan New Statewide Afterschool Initiative

DELAWARE CITY – Thousands of Delaware students across the state would gain access to new, high-quality afterschool programs providing homework help, enrichment activities and an extended school meal plan under a bill unveiled today at Gunning Bedford Middle School.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, lead sponsor of the legislation, said the measure is designed to help students become more effective learners and achieve better outcomes both in and outside their classrooms.

“We know that quality afterschool programs keep kids engaged, boost attendance and enhance literacy, improving the likelihood that our students will stay in school and earn their diplomas,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “We have a great core of organizations in our communities that have spent years showing us these outcomes, and it’s time for the state and our school districts to step up and bring these proven practices to even more kids throughout Delaware.”

The bill announced today would establish the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning Program, dubbed the SAIL Program, to provide grants to high-need schools as identified under federal Title I regulations. To qualify for SAIL grants, schools must offer at least three hours of afterschool programming four to five days each week during the school year for students in kindergarten through 10th grade. With a ratio of one teacher to 10 students, qualifying programs would consist of at least one hour of homework help and one hour of enrichment activities each day, as well as a healthy meal.

The legislation also provides for a direct link between the SAIL Program and school-day learning activities by requiring communication among SAIL staff and teachers via existing computer-based student information systems.

Working partnerships with longstanding afterschool program providers would be encouraged under the legislation, allowing them to expand the reach of their services.

“After school programs have proven to strengthen student performance, particularly their ability to complete daily assignments in a way that truly helps them grasp the subject matter,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “Not only do after school programs offer an environment conducive to learning, but they offer a support structure of educators and peers that together can build confidence and self-belief in our students.”

According to a 2014 parent survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, more than 26,000 Delaware students participate in afterschool programs. But, the survey also found that a total of 48,000 students would be likely to participate in an afterschool program if one was available.

“Quality after school programs are important for helping kids learn and grow, and for keeping kids away from people and places that might lead them down a bad path,” said Attorney General Matt Denn. “They show kids that people care about them and they help make neighborhoods and communities safer.”

Criminal justice research also supports bolstering afterschool programs. The hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are routinely cited as the most dangerous time of day for youth and crime, representing the peak time when young people are likely to commit crimes or become victims of crime. An estimated 11 million youths in the United States are unsupervised afterschool each day.

“This legislation will provide much needed help to our schools for extra time assistance,” said Colonial School District Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey. “It will allow more students to receive afterschool help or provide time and resources for other activities that support student growth and students success.”

Initial funding for the SAIL Program grant fund is slated to be $10 million, subject to the appropriations process in the House and Senate. The legislation will be filed next week and will be assigned to the House Education Committee.