Delaware leaders holding district accountable

Delaware’s largest school district, Christina, has backtracked on its commitment to implement drastic reforms in two persistently low-performing schools (i.e. proficiency rates under 50%). As a result, the Delaware Department of Education is holding the district accountable for its actions and is withholding more than $11 million dollars of he Race to the Top fund. Kudos to state education leaders for prioritizing students.

The Christina School Board, and union representatives, previously agreed to the staffing changes in these two schools, via an MOU, as part of their inclusion in The Partnership Zone (essentially a state carve-out zone for turnaround). The self-created improvement plans for both schools, based on the federal transformation model, require all teachers to re-interview for positions at the school. The district agreed that the teachers who are not rehired would be placed at another school within the district, and that they would retain employment, benefits, and seniority… A guarantee not common is most professions.

Teachers claim that the interview and hiring process was confusing, which may be a partially valid point. It is the district’s responsibility to ensure a fair, just, and overly transparent process. Without extra precautions, the interview and rehiring process can become a public and human relations nightmare. District leadership must work diligently to keep the focus on the students, and that includes not giving the public, the union, or anyone the opportunity to attack the school improvement model or the implementation process. Any attacks or barriers limit the ability and timeliness of the model’s implementation.

It is also important that the union, if they are supportive of the reform process (which they had been), help their members understand the process, the consequences of not interviewing, or of not being rehired, etc. The union is doing a disservice to all teachers who would benefit from the Race to the Top funds by not actively participating in process and helping clarify concerns of the members. The union commented on and approved the transition plan, but where were they during the actual process? Instead of hurting the kids (and other teachers in the district), the affected teachers should be frustrated with the organization that was supposed to represent their best interests.

It is likely that most of the teachers not rehired need to leave the two schools in question for a variety of reasons.  They may lack the skills required for positions available, the are not quality teachers, or because they are not committed to the reforms and the changes that will be implemented. The fact that the district committed to not firing any of these teachers is a generous concession.

It is unclear if the School Improvement Grant funds, which I assume are being used to fund the Partnership Zone improvements, have also been stopped. If the school/district is unable to implement the federally designed model with fidelity, those funds should be held as well. A public outcry must force the adults in the system (in this case the School Board) to fight for the students and to ensure that they receive the funds, supports, and changes that are needed to drastically improve these schools.

An interesting aside to this story is that the current Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery was the Superintendent of this district before her move to the DDOE. Could there be other politics, between the School Board and the DDOE/Secretary Lowery, in play here?

Read more: EdWeek’s District Dossier Blog, Delaware’s News Journal, DDOE press release.

Disclosures: I ran a youth mentoring program at Christina’s Brader Elementary School in 2005 and helped design the Partnership Zone model while in Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group from 2007-2010.

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