I was looking at various polls I’ve put on here over the past couple of years and I was astonished at some of the results of them! In some cases we were completely wrong! These were basically straw polls I conducted over the past year or two. Continue reading
Today, Delaware Governor John Carney delivered his State of the State Address to the General Assembly in the House chambers. On the education front, he didn’t really say anything I haven’t heard before. He made it a point to specifically address Christina School District and the five schools in Wilmington. There was NO mention of Kindergarten to 3rd Grade Basic Special Education funding. He talked about math coaches but absolutely nothing about reading specialists. He wants to pour more money into the Pre-K Stars program. Pretty much everything sounds like a Jack Markell third term. Enough already Carney! How about coming up with some new and creative ideas? Because Governor Markell was a tyrant education Governor. You are putting all your eggs in the Wilmington basket. I’m not saying those kids don’t need help, but there are others across the state who need help as well. I got your message though. We can all expect to pay higher taxes very soon!
I’ve been looking for a common thread in everything I’ve written about what is taking place in Delaware education. One person, so deeply embedded in the forces that are privatizing public education before our very eyes. I believe I found it. A common link to the initiatives taking place. The Public/Private partnerships. Workforce Development. The Delaware Business Roundtable and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce. The Rodel/Vision Coalition. Personalized Learning. The philanthropic ventures into public education. Pathways to Prosperity. I believe I just found the most powerful person in Delaware who is calling ALL the shots. And most of you have probably never even heard the name. Continue reading
Happy New Year! 2018 began with freezing temperatures. Anyone who ventured up to NYC to watch the ball drop is crazy in my book! But you only live once. This is going to be a big year. So what’s coming? A LOT! Continue reading
The 4th Senate District race is on! A few days ago, Democrat Dan Cruce dropped out of the race clearing the way for Laura Sturgeon to take on Republican Greg Lavelle. Taking on the guy who has been in office since 2001 won’t be an easy task, but if anyone can do it, it’s Sturgeon! A teacher, wife, and also a member of the Delaware State Education Association Executive Board, Sturgeon comes with a packed resume.
For Lavelle, who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 2001-2013 and the Senate since then, can he muster the support to continue his Senate seat? Delaware Liberal reported yesterday that there are now more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district. Lavelle is a huge supporter of Right To Work laws whereas Sturgeon is not. In education, Lavelle is known more for flip-flopping on the Smarter Balanced vote than anything else. This is a guy, when presented with the opt out bill for a second time, actually said “I wish I could opt out of voting on this bill”.
The Delaware General Election is still far away but several new contenders are putting their names forward. I expect this particular race to get heated very soon! If I were a betting man, Lavelle will attempt to gain votes by discussing the recent DSEA endorsement of Regulation 225. Sturgeon, a teacher in Brandywine, will gain votes from those opposed to Right To Work laws. This will be a very interesting race to watch!
The first time I heard anyone going off about what eventually became Regulation 225 was State Rep. Rich Collins. A couple of months ago, the Republican State Rep. from the 41st district lashed out against the Delaware Department of Education over the draft for the regulation. He did not like that parental rights were seemingly violated in this gender identity discrimination regulation. Which started off more controversy in Delaware than I’ve seen in a long time. It probably got more response than opt out did. Which I find to be a crying shame cause I think, in the long run, that is a much more important issue. But I’m biased like that. Not ashamed to admit it. But I digress…
Collins fired the shot heard around Delaware. From there, the regulation continued to find many who opposed it. The final day for public comment on it was today, at 4pm. It is now in the hands of Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting. Will she approve it? Disapprove it? We will find out soon. Perhaps as early as December 14th, the next State Board of Education meeting. I would guess she will hold onto it for a little while. Or maybe Carney just wants it over as soon as possible, one way or another.
The part about Collins’ role in all this was he isn’t a state rep I’ve found to get involved in many education-related things. I guess this one hit home for him in his neck of the woods.
Delaware Governor John Carney hasn’t even been in his job a year and already he has managed to irk me more than former Governor Jack Markell. Why? Many reasons. Continue reading
It’s been a while. At least for me.
I haven’t been blogging as much. Like I’ve said before, sometimes you have to take a break and recharge your batteries. But it doesn’t mean things aren’t happening offline or in sidebar conversations. These are just some of the things I’ve seen and heard the past few weeks: Continue reading
On Facebook today, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn announced he will not be seeking reelection for Attorney General in 2018. I was shocked to say the least. This is a man who has dedicated the last 14 years to public service and won every election that came his way. But I get his reasons: he wants to spend more time with his family. Because that’s who Matt is above everything else: a father and a husband. His kids always come first.
I first met Matt at the first IEP Task Force meeting three years ago. It feels like an eternity ago. Since then, I’ve contacted him about various education issues in the First State. Not only did Matt chair the IEP Task Force, but he also recorded the meetings and put the audio recordings on a website so ALL parents could listen to what was discussed. That is very unusual for a task force, but Matt knew parents wanted to know what was going on. Throughout the task force, Matt fought for parent rights when it comes to their child’s Individualized Education Program.
A couple of years ago, I publicly asked Matt to run for Governor in 2016. He obviously declined my request. I don’t always agree with the legal opinions that come out of Matt’s office, but I respect that I have a right to request one. At heart, Matt is a good guy. He cares about people. Even yesterday, he released a video about school bullying urging kids to not bully others.
Now the hunt for a new Attorney General begins! I am sure the Delaware Democrats and Republicans are already making calls. I have one person who I would LOVE to see as the AG, but I will refrain from saying who my pick would be just yet. But in all seriousness Matt, and I know you still have a lot of time left in office, I for one will miss you after January 2019!
Mike Matthews became the next President of the Delaware State Education Association today. Taking over from outgoing President, Frederika Jenner, Matthews will undoubtedly generate news over the next few years. After an actual tie in the election last January, Matthews won in a run-off election two months later.
With the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act in our schools, more personalized learning/competency-based education crap, the usual teacher evaluation based on Smarter Balanced, and all the budgetary/legislative stuff going on, look for Matthews to have his hands full the next few years. Today, he sent out a letter to Delaware DSEA educators:
A Message from DSEA President Mike Matthews
Dear Fellow Educator:
Today I begin a new journey as DSEA President. Throughout my career as an educator, DSEA has been the strongest voice to ensure our members and students have what they need to succeed. I look forward to continuing this strong tradition of advocacy, but will need your help to be successful. Stay informed by reading our e-newsletters Professionally Speaking, which covers all manner of education policy news, as well as Legislative Matters, which provides comprehensive coverage of the legislative developments impacting public education and educators. Also, DSEA maintains active social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and publishes an all-member newspaper, ACTION, on a quarterly basis. These are just a few of the many ways in which you can stay informed and continue to advocate for your students.
Over the next few years, working with our network of strong local leaders, I hope you will share your stories with me about what’s going on in your school. Share with me the good… Share with me the not-so-good. I intend for open and honest communication to be an important piece of my time as DSEA President. To that end, please feel free to contact me to share those stories. My email is Mike.Matthews@dsea.org.
Together, our unified, collective voice can speak up on behalf of our colleagues and the students we advocate for every day. I hope you are enjoying your summer and I look forward to working with you in the near future. Thank you for all that you do.
Every year, on June 13th, Exceptional Delaware celebrates its anniversary. This year is, pardon the pun, no exception. You won’t see what the mission is until you read about it. But it is definitely time to reboot the mission and go back to basics. It’s about the kids. It’s about families. It’s about what is covered up and hidden. In ALL facets of education, people want quiet. They didn’t want the dirty skeletons coming out of the closet. But they are there. Like an ostrich with a head buried in the sand, so it is with Delaware education. Continue reading
Kilroy wrote his last post today. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m not surprised. I’m sad, for many reasons. I will still talk to the man behind Kilroy. Perhaps one day we can go fishing at his paradise in really slower lower. But dammit, Kilroy filled me in on so much with Delaware education before I took a crack at blogging. He lent me his blog for about a month and a half three years ago so I could tell a story about my son. We talked a lot over the past few years. Over time, he became a friend. Not a friend I talk to every day or even see. But a friend nonetheless.
Some of the commenters over at Kilroy’s Delaware pissed me off to no end. That is no secret, especially that one guy. But I loved the discussion even if I didn’t agree with the point of view. Things got nasty between myself and a few of the commenters from time to time. But Kilroy loved it. He loved his virtual kitchen table. He was the godfather of Delaware education blogs and paved the way for the rest of us fighting the good fight.
Transparent Christina, Kavips, and now Kilroy’s Delaware. We still have other education blogs, but they are either mixed in with political blogs (Delaware Liberal and Blue Delaware) or the other blogs really don’t post that often. They were the big three. I get it. Life moves on. Blogs are not a forever thing. I’m very surprised mine has lasted as long as it has. I feel this insurmountable task of carrying the torch for the giants that came before me. Someday, another irate or concerned parent will take up the mantle. Perhaps a teacher. Blogging is not dead.
I often consider hanging it up though. Is Delaware education blogging needed anymore? Things have calmed down since Governor Markell left his throne. But there are still considerable dangers and concerns going on with education. Perhaps bigger than all that came before. The biggest concerns I have are vouchers, personalized learning, competency-based education, funding, digital technology, and student data privacy. And hovering above all those issues is how students with disabilities will fit in with this new world. I’ve seen the end goals, and any legislator, teacher, or educator can tell me that will never happen. But they aren’t in the corporate world. Not knee-deep in it. That’s where Rodel comes in. They are the middle man between the corporations and the education stakeholders, whether it is the Governor, the Delaware Dept. of Education, schools, teachers, and even parents at times. As long as they are peddling their wares, I will try my best to stick around.
There will never be another Kilroy. He had such a unique identity and style to his writing. Even the best imitator couldn’t come close. I’ll miss his cryptic hints and his crazy codes he would drop. He had a mission, and he accomplished it. I remember taping the Senate session when they passed his digital recording bill (finally) and sent him a copy. I was proud of him because I knew great things don’t always come easy. But with sweat and perseverance, change can come.
Best of luck Kilroy. I will forever be grateful for you taking a chance on an odd parent from Kent County and getting me going in this very surreal blogging world. Because of you, my life was forever changed. Sometimes it wasn’t always good change, but it hasn’t been bad. You were the gateway to my meeting a ton of people (including yourself) who have left a mark on my life, often at times I needed it more than ever. At the end of the day, it is about friendship and trying to help people. Even when you don’t get anything for yourself out of it. You taught me that Kilroy, along with Kavips and Transparent Christina.
Should they ever make a movie about Kilroy’s Delaware, I want Robert DeNiro to play him!
State Rep. Andria Bennett’s House Bill 70 would make cursive writing a requirement for Delaware public education students. This is the second time in the past couple of years a bill like this came before the Delaware General Assembly. Last time, State Rep. Deb Hudson was the main sponsor of this bill but it didn’t move forward. For this legislative session, it looks like the proposed bill has a lot more Democrat support.
I support this bill. You need to know cursive to sign checks and important documents. It also promotes better penmanship for students. Many historical documents were in cursive. Thanks Rep. Bennett!
Let it be known, throughout the State of Delaware, that I proudly endorse John Marino for the 10th Senate District special election on February 25th.
Wait a minute, some of you might be thinking, aren’t you a dye in the wool Democrat? Hardly. I am an issues guy. And I also value consistency and someone knowing what they are talking about. I’ve known John Marino’s stances on public education for years now, since the 2014 election. He supports opt out, wants more resources in the class-room, is not a big fan of top-down education mandates, and supports local control and teachers. He is against Common Core and wants our students to succeed.
There will be DSEA members who will be screaming for my head right about now because of the fear of the Delaware Senate going under Republican control if Marino wins. Right to Work could come to Delaware, but that kind of bill would need to pass the House and get Governor Carney’s signature. The Senate could play games with the budget as well trying to get Right to Work in Delaware. I can picture Delaware Dems sitting in Legislative Hall well into July to prevent that. So I am not as scared of that notion as some left-leaning teachers are. As well, I am not a teacher. I’m a parent, and I am disgusted by many of the stunts I’ve seen when it comes to Delaware education and government.
But let’s take a look at what Democrat control has done for teachers: DPAS-II and Component V. Smarter Balanced Assessment. Not to mention far too many of them cowering to Jack Markell. It is all about a balance of power. Delaware is ripe for change, and it starts with our government. One party control has given us far too many special interest items tucked into the state budget over the years. Money that could and should be going to far more pressing needs in this state. We need a balance of power, and if the Delaware Senate goes red, so be it.
As far as Hansen, she seems to change her education beliefs by the day. She even did that on her website between January 28th and January 29th.
If I want to see flipping, I’ll go on Netflix and watch some old episodes of Flipper! In terms of a DSEA endorsement, keep in mind what that really is. The DSEA Executive Board decides endorsements and it is not an accurate representation of all Delaware teachers. It is a handful of people. What I don’t appreciate is someone not knowing the issues, like Hansen, then getting schooled on them and acting like she knows what the hell she is talking about. Marino has always felt the same way. I won’t even get into the bizarre issues with Hansen and New Castle County government. I will just say it some very surreal stuff.
So how does Marino feel (and consistently) about education in Delaware?
State government has broken our school system. Due to over-testing, heavy-handed bureaucracy and a lack of support for our teachers, our local schools have to work twice as hard to provide a quality education for our young people. I support legislation to reign in and minimize burdensome state tests, as well as an unequivocal policy that parents are the only authority to decide what tests their children take. A parent has the natural right to remove their child from any test or school activity — anytime, anywhere. No government should be given even the smallest opportunity to infringe on parental rights.
I also support letting teachers teach. I support building-level control and more money in the classroom. Our education bureaucracy has only grown and grown. It’s hurting our children, costing more taxpayer money and the people in power in the Senate have encouraged that growth at every turn. We can’t get the schools we deserve unless we change the people making the decisions and restore balance to state government.
I’ve been around Legislative Hall enough to see how the one-party system is not good for our state. We need to end the legislator locks on the budget that allow funds to go towards programs that benefit members of the Joint Finance Committee. We need to stop the political games and get back to governing Delaware and making laws that make sense for ALL Delawareans. We need John Marino to win this election.
In less than 20 hours, Delaware’s new Governor will be sworn in. Jack Markell’s eight-year term as the Governor of Delaware will end. I’ve seen reviews of his term all over Delaware and social media in the past week or so. I believe it is no secret that I view his education initiatives as an unmitigated disaster. But were they? Continue reading
Delaware Governor-Elect John Carney and State Senator Brian Pettyjohn held a question and answer session at J.D. Shuckers in Georgetown this morning. The packed restaurant submitted many questions. A few of them dealt with Delaware education. Carney’s answers provided some insight to one of his recent decisions. Continue reading
As Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky spends his last two weeks in the role, the House Education Committee gave Godowsky a fond farewell at the end of their committee meeting today. Together with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and House Majority Leader Val Longhurst, the committee brought Godowsky up to the podium and a few members gave eloquent praise to the Secretary of Education who could only be seen as an improvement over his predecessor, Mark Murphy.
State Rep. and House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques stated Godowsky became a dear friend which was echoed by State Rep. Kim Williams. Williams thanked Godowsky for always being there to answer her many questions and said she would miss him. Godowsky informed me his last day will be January 24th. Governor-elect John Carney named Indian River Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting as his choice for Delaware Secretary of Education. Bunting will appear before the Delaware Senate on January 18th for her confirmation hearing.
I asked Godowsky if he was counting the days. He stated he has mixed feelings about leaving. He said he is sure on his last day he will be ready but he will miss working with the people. But he is not done with education in Delaware. While no formal announcement has been made about his post-Secretary plans, I have no doubt Godowsky will still be in the education arena. He even joked at the tribute today that he will be “babysitting” education in the First State.
Despite my many articles about education policy and procedures, Godowsky was very much a sea change from Mark Murphy. On a personal level, Godowsky was always approachable when I saw him and he would always say hello to me. I can’t imagine leading the entire Delaware Dept. of Education. The honest truth is I have no idea how Dr. Bunting will be as Secretary of Education. So much of that will be based on the environment around her and what John Carney plans to do with that environment. One issue she will face right off the bat is the education funding issue, especially in relation to Delaware’s projected $350 million dollar deficit heading into the FY2018 state budget talks. I’ve been a bit rough on her on the Indian River audit investigation and the fallout from that scenario. Time will tell. In the meantime, best of luck to Secretary Godowsky and may good health and luck find you in your next plans.
What happens when you close one door and open another? Continue reading
Every once in a while, Kilroy posts something about me. It is usually in regards to some comment someone made over on his blog. But lately, especially on social media, I see Kilroy taking potshots at DSEA and a couple of members in particular. This led to a dust-up on Kilroy’s Facebook page tonight, over all things, social justice.
It appears Kilroy didn’t understand the context and went into a tirade over it. This led to other commenters talking about the validity of unions and how the dues work. Steve Newton completely evaporated the opposition and proved conclusively that union dues come with the application for a teaching job in Delaware school districts. It isn’t a question of right or wrong, it is just the way it is.
Kilroy needs to stop trying to poke holes into DSEA and their upcoming elections and really focus on the things that are happening outside of teacher unions. Like the complete and utter privatization of public education if certain parties get their way. Like the Rodel-led hijacking of Delaware’s Every Student Succeeds Act state plan. Like the Christina-charter school settlement that will take away funds from every single school district in the state for things that are rightfully excluded from charter payments. Like an incoming Governor who has not announced any leadership positions for Delaware education with a little over a month before his inauguration. Like the swarm of education technology in our classrooms that is collecting a plethora of private student information with algorithms we will never know about. Like how it doesn’t matter who won President of the country, that march to privatization continues. Like the “Bad News Betsy” that will make Arne Duncan and John King look like rank amateurs. Like the stealth tests coming our way sooner than we think in Rodel’s when you wish upon a star personalized learning and competency-based education environment.
For someone who claims to support teacher unions, he sure does talk about them a lot. Especially their role in Race To The Top. Six years ago. Which, I might add, all nineteen school districts signed up for, along with the Delaware PTA and every other education organization in the state. To say DSEA was the only party that led RTTT into Delaware is very misleading. Being real here, I wasn’t involved in all of this when RTTT came out. So my window on this is seen in perceptions of that time from others after the fact in the past few years. But there comes a time when beating it over us is not productive. Who is still in DSEA leadership from that time? I don’t think anyone running for DSEA leadership was instrumental in the decisions from six years ago. But if Kilroy has a grandchild in Red Clay, he needs to get up to speed with what is going on in education. Cause it is not pretty and he needs to be on the right side of things. I admire the hell out of Kilroy. He got me my start in the Delaware blogosphere. And I want him to focus on more because he has a great deal of influence on education.
In terms of social justice, I’m not sure what context Kilroy took it in, but as a result of Kilroy’s post, Mike Matthews updated his status to show what his definition of social justice is:
Social justice means to me…
…standing at a school board meeting begging for more supports for special needs students.
…going to Dover and speaking in support of the Opt Out movement before the House education committee.
…reading a book to kindergarteners on why sharing and respect are key values.
…protesting the State’s attempts to shut down community schools because of test scores.
…letting a Black student know that when all around them they feel like the world hates them, that their life DOES matter.
…demanding that Delaware get off the list of four states that doesn’t fund ELL students.
…ensuring that ALL students know that a classroom is a place where they can be themselves — no matter how different — and be accepted.
…organizing educators to make sure they understand their rights to speak up and ADVOCATE for their students when the time comes.
Social Justice, to me, is about education and NEVER indoctrination. Social justice is about respect. Kindness. Acceptance. Organizing. Advocating. Speaking up. Believing in who you are as a human being and being able to take action to fight for the most vulnerable.
That’s what social justice is. While that phrase may be dangerous to some, I will always wear it like a badge of honor.
Besides, it’s too much fun being an outspoken pain in the ass sometimes.
Well said Mr. Matthews. That is some social justice I can get behind. While I have been critical of DSEA leadership in the past, I have always seen the potential of what a united and strong DSEA could become in this state. A DSEA that will have to align with parents in the coming years if they want to save public education. Perhaps that is why I have been critical of DSEA at times because I have high expectations for them to be the voice that has the power to influence public education in this state, not be an observer while others feast on the scraps.
We ALL need to be concerned about Donald Trump and his very poor selection of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education. Trump really doesn’t have a clue about education. But he will surround himself with people who do. And what they know and what they have planned is not good.
Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor. He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat. In this land, the people chose their Governor every four years. The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced. As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window. He saw the sun setting in the distance.
John was anxious to get things going in Delaware. He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017. “Only 47 days,” John said to himself. He had been so busy for so long. Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that. His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails. Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware. He knew not everyone could get a piece. He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head. Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed. John drove to the nearby park. As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat. It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered. John walked down the trail…
Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair. The elves were busy preparing for the big day. Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year. As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted. Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t. Today was his day off! Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware. Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country. Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year. The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business. He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him. Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit. While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted. At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.
As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans. He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election. All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning. But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it. The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C. His office was frantic over the mess. John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything. Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well. John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too. The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education. Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way. John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in. It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone. Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.
Santa knew John’s mind was heavy. As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders. Leadership always carries a heavy burden. Santa knew that better than anyone. Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy. He always knew John would become a leader. John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people. He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont. Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College. Santa remembers John’s awards. As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration. From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom. From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger. He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor. But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race. Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them. A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won. For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works. But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor. After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness. It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.
John walked down the path. There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright. He used to walk down this path many times. It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand. John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground. As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him. A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.” John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car. He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.” He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day. “Who are you?” John asked. “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.” Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John. His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was. “I do have security watching me right now. They are watching you right now. So I wouldn’t try anything They will find you if anything happens to me.” “No they won’t,” Santa said. “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?” John wondered how this guy would know that. “It’s me, John. Santa.”
John couldn’t believe his eyes. As a child, he always believed. But as children grew older, that magic disappeared. John saw Santa everywhere this time of year. He began seeing him in stores as early as October. But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods. John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does. John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him. Did he visit all the new leaders? “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids. Come with me.” John felt the world spin beneath him. Santa’s words captured him. They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time. John looked at his watch. It was 6:30pm.
Santa and John got in the sleigh. The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path. John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night. “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked. John read letters every day. There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy. John shook his head. “Did you send it to me?” John asked. He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance. He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk. “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up. I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.” That was a name John was familiar with the past six months. The blogger. “You mean the crazy education blogger from Dover? That guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John “Watch yourself,” Santa warned. “I have the utmost respect for the blogger. He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.” John responded to Santa. “But he tends to tick off a lot of people. People I’m going to have to work with. I was warned to stay away from him.” Santa’s eyes widened. “Oh really? Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized. “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is? Let me tell you something John. You will be a leader of Delaware. Any state has a foundation from which it must build on. That foundation is the kids. Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kids. There are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth. You surround yourself with them. But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear. But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”
John was familiar with what was going on in education. He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed. The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow. As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting. When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing. Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did. Some never got the jobs back that made them more money. The cities were becoming too violent again. Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street. But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money. John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places. He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems. Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems. Not now, but down the road. But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed. This was happening all over the country. There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind. They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.
“Santa, where are we going?” John asked. “To see the children John.”
“Uhm, Santa. We are flying into downtown Wilmington. No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.” Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket. “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.” Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John. “They won’t see us now.” Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building. The duo went down through the building and to the streets below. They walked over to the playground next to the building.
In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight. The boy was shivering as he turned a page. “Why is this boy out here Santa? Why doesn’t he go home?” Santa sighed. “This is his home John. He lives on the streets. During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt. She is at work right now.” John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy. Covering it was a blue tarp. John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes. As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground. The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth. He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket. The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips. Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago. He belonged to one of the gangs. During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain. He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night. “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.” John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.
Santa and John flew once more into the night. It was very quiet between them. They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them. John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning. Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights. “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly. They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses. A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft. Her mom asked her if she finished her homework. “I sure did,” the girl said. “You can check it on Schoology.” “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked. “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes. She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry. “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled. As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left. As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.
They flew down to Georgetown. John was last there on Return Day in November. All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”. But they flew away from the town to a trailer park. Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother. A man came into the room. “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked. “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered. The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day. Kicking around the same ball. “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty. What did they say?” John asked. “The father asked if his children did their homework. They couldn’t because they can’t read the words. They don’t know English very well. They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know. Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift. One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally. The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country. He doesn’t know English at all.”
John felt his mind stir as they flew north. He was very troubled by what he saw. When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware. In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him. When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit. He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight. He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand. “Santa, I should really be getting back. It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.” Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. “Look at your watch John. What time is it?” John looked at his watch in bewilderment. It was still 6:30pm. No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail. “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?” Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.
The odd couple went into the house. Inside, a boy was crying on the couch. His parents were arguing in the kitchen. “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked. “I got a call from school. They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room. When another teacher found him, he pushed her away. The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him. David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained. “I didn’t get the call until two hours later. By the time I got there he was so upset.” “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked. “I don’t know. But this is not what his IEP says. They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him. He isn’t learning anything there. He’s depressed all the time. He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.” John knelt down in front of the boy. He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes. “This boy has no friends John. The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.” Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism. He could do the work, but only under certain conditions. If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that. His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli. Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early. “Special education John. If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.
John could see what Santa was doing. He understood that not every kid is the same. But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change. The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years. Legislative Hall. Where all the laws in Delaware happened. John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right. Inside, a meeting was taking place. John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room. There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members. He knew them. A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table. A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act. Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed. She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system. It was all about proficiency and growth. Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better. John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware. They sit around a table and talk. This was how things got done. They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.
“You don’t get it!” John cried out. “We can’t keep testing these kids. They aren’t the same. We can’t keep doing this. Their lives mean so much more than these tests.” Santa looked at John. “They can’t hear you. Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen. They think they know what is best. They forget what it was like when they were kids. Even that man over there.” Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington. “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained. “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school. The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better. And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington. They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom. The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row. They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state. In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room. The little boy we saw on the playground tonight? He goes to the poorest school in the state. Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school. They don’t understand what he needs. That legislator over there? She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state. In their eyes, it did. Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%. To them, that is growth. The Superintendent over there? She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school. She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English. She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them. See the man over there? He runs a charter school in Newark. They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District. In return they will get more money in the future. Remember the girl in the mansion? She goes to that charter school. That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school. He will get less than he has today at school. The man over there? He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation. He sees opportunity. He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this. He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools. He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of. He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies. Sometimes they get jobs. While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow. They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools. All that data, all that blessed data. They store it all. They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries. They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law. It is the way the modern world works John. Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed. And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education. They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community. They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools. They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about. That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department. Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment. When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test. She sees numbers. Results. Scores. Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4. She doesn’t see David’s disability. Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage in Spanish about the stock market. She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets. But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity. How does she know this? It’s what her bosses tell her every single day. She hears the lie so much she believes it.”
John and Santa left the building. As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do. What he needed to change. They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did. “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John. I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight. If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.” John knew this to be true. “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives. These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight. For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was. They are fighting for these kids, their kids. And their grandchildren. They are fighting for their jobs. They see beyond the results and the growth. They see what needs to change but no one listens. No one who can really make a difference. Some do, but not enough to make the changes. When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers. Given less importance. It isn’t right John. What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything. It will only cause more damage. You can’t incorporate education. These are children. You need to change all this.”
John walked out of the sleigh. He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before. The two shook hands. “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself. You know if I try I will make enemies. Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.” Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder. “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face. Some succeed and some fail. Some do it alone and some have support. All I can say is this John- remember what you saw tonight. Every single time you make a decision. Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults. You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t. When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that. Let that be your shield against your enemies John.” John hugged Santa. “Merry Christmas Santa.” “And to you as well Governor Carney.” Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”
John looked down at his watch. It was 6:31pm. Santa was gone.