Delaware – Transformation Tour in Wilmington
By Len Paolillo, NEA Executive Committee
After several informative visits to priority schools in Dayton and Lima, Ohio, I was really looking forward to learning about the transformation process at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware. With the help of my knowledgeable guide, Marlene Lacy, a visual arts teacher and building rep for Mount Pleasant, I got to interact with many of the school’s educators.
My day began with a great conversation with Mount Pleasant Principal James Simmons III and Dr. Mark Holodick, the Superintendent of Brandywine School District. Through RTTT and SIG, Dr. Holodick says professional learning communities will have the greatest impact. The professional learning communities are currently working on common planning, common assessments and tracking student data to create quality and collaborative learning that is focused.
Principal Simmons told me about how SIG enabled him to hire an additional guidance counselor to focus specifically on struggling students and a family engagement coordinator. The new family engagement coordinator has a large office with meeting space and they plan to add several computers to the office for family to visit and access the Internet. He also shared some of the business partnerships he’s formed to benefit students. AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company, is going to provide bicycles and clothing for the school to start a cycling club, in addition to providing mentoring.
I was surprised to hear that the SIG money has been allocated to Mount Pleasant, but they have yet to actually receive it. It’s difficult to pay for new programs and plans through the current budget, hoping to get the SIG check soon.
After my morning meetings, I spent the rest of the day talking to staff at Mount Pleasant. I got a great tour of the school, visiting several science, English and social studies classes. I have to say though, my favorite visit was to a Theory of Knowledge class with the school’s IB students. They happened to be discussing education reform, and groups were presenting their ideas on how best to structure the education system. Of course one proposal included financial incentives for students.
It’s evident that the staff is working hard, but they are also stressed. Just as I heard in Ohio, some teachers are worried that this is just another education reform effort fad. One teacher expressed that sometimes she feels that “What I’m doing now will have no value for me next year.” The staff needs better communication and more collaboration in drafting plans.
The sentiment expressed at Mount Pleasant is echoed all across the country. Educators feel that education policy makers are disconnected from the reality of what happens in classrooms. Delaware was one of the first states to win Race to the Top, and now Mount Pleasant has a School Improvement Grant to figure out. There seem to be many changing requirements that can disrupt progress the educators had been working on.
Despite the frustrations and changing mandates, the staff at Mount Pleasant remain dedicated to boosting student achievement. One teacher told me “We’re determined to make this work, no matter what.” Passion for public education is what helps students above any test or any professional development program. Ms. Lacy put it best when she said, “If you love teaching, and love what you do, your students pick up on that and are with you every step of the way.”