Successful Students

Biden Visit Highlights Collaboration in Delaware

Don’t let challenges become excuses. That was the message delivered by Vice President Joe Biden to a packed gymnasium at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Del., on Monday as students, teachers, administrators, union leaders, and elected officials gathered to celebrate the collaboration that is helping to transform the school.

“There’s no reason why every single kid in this high school can’t do as well as any other kid at any other high school,” Biden told a cheering student body during an appearance that at times felt like a high-energy pep rally, with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” blaring from speakers and the Howard High cheerleaders performing for the crowd.

In fact, it’s a culture of respect that is giving Howard High students more than ever to cheer about. The career and vocational school, where students study core subjects while preparing for a variety of careers, is already benefiting from a union-district partnership that is giving students and educators new tools to create success.

Many Howard High students face a variety of challenges before the first school bell rings each morning. More than 60 percent of students are considered lower-income, and more than half of the students who enter the school as ninth-graders have not scored on grade level for math and reading.

Vice President Joe Biden addresses Howard High students and staff as, from left, English teacher Beth Kudrick, Senator Chris Coons and Governor Jack Markell look on. (Photo: Kevin Hart)

Jump-starting academic achievement at Howard High required new approaches, and the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District found an eager partner in the New Castle County Vocational Education Association, the union representing Howard High educators. The two sides revised their collective bargaining agreement and developed programs to increase training, professional development, data sharing and planning time for teachers.

All teachers at Howard are asked to be on “Partnership Zone” committees — comprised of educators, school and district administrators, and union and state representatives — on which they research high-achieving schools and analyze their own data, with the goal of making recommendations to the district for carrying out the Partnership Zone Plan.

Data show that Howard High students are engaged and committed to their own success. The school boasts a 97 percent graduation rate and a 95 percent daily attendance rate. A spirit of collaboration among all stakeholders “is why our plan is working,” said Howard High English teacher and teacher of the year Beth Kudrick, who introduced Biden at the school event.

Biden said the union-district collaboration that is facilitating progress at Howard High can be seen in school districts across Delaware, and he credited the leadership of the Delaware State Education Association in helping to drive reform. Biden acknowledged that “beating up unions” had become en vogue for some, but credited the key role unions were playing in improving Howard High.

“Do you know what these guys did?” Biden asked. “They said, ‘We’ll take a chance.’”

DSEA President Diane Donohue said educators and their unions are eager to work with administrators as partners in bringing proven reforms that boost student achievement to classrooms across the state.

“Howard High School shows what is possible when there is a real spirit of collaboration and when educators have a voice at the table,” she said. “There is lots of work ahead, but this is an incredible opportunity for our Association and our locals to be part of the process.”

The work ahead at Howard High is sure to bring plenty of national attention. Joining Biden at the school were U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Delaware Governor Jack Markell; a Delaware Congressional delegation that included Senator Chris Coons and Congressman Jay Carney; and union leaders including Donohue and Charlie Hoard, president of the New Castle County Vocational Education Association.

“The eyes of the country are on this school,” Coons reminded Howard High’s students. They seemed more than ready to deliver.

This article was originally posted on Education Votes. Visit www.educationvotes.nea.org.

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