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10 Things We Heard from Gov. Carney’s State of the State Address

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As Gov. John C. Carney delivered his (technically first-ever) State of the State address last week, the Rodel team listened intently for any mentions of public education.


Here’s what we heard:


  • Not surprisingly, Gov. Carney led off with the economy. He mentioned some positive steps in tackling the state’s mountainous budgetary issues, including the newly formed Prosperity Partnership, and others.


Naturally his first mention of education arrived tethered to the economy. The governor touted workforce development—and particularly the work of Delaware Pathways—as a major key to improving outcomes on the business ledger and in citizens’ quality of life.


“Investing in the workforce will pay dividends for years to come,” he said, pointing to increased investments in institutes of high education like Delaware Technical Community College, and nonprofits like Zip Code Wilmington.



And he spoke about the still-to-be-finalized plans surrounding the Christina School District—which the governor referred to as “the most difficult thing we will do during this administration, and the most important”—including capital upgrades, early learning centers and parent supports, raised teacher salaries, and smaller class sizes.


  • Speaking of early learning, Carney spoke to the need for deeper investments there, including additional funding to continue to grow and expand the Delaware STARs system in the FY19 budget.

  • The governor touted the success of math coaches in various schools across the state (especially since, as he pointed out, math skills are important for the future workforce), saying he’ll look to increase their numbers in the years to come.


  • And he circled back to Opportunity Grants, which helped provide a range of services to schools statewide, saying he’ll propose to triple the number of schools receiving that financial boost.


  • Carney seemed to emphasize social and emotional learning, saying, “We’ve put a greater emphasis on coordination among state agencies tasked with serving our most vulnerable citizens.” He specifically mentioned implementing a set of recommendations from a Centers for Disease Control report, which aims to reduce youth violence in Wilmington. A good first start for Delaware, he said, will be helping various agencies better share data, and target resources where they’re needed most.

  • On teachers, Carney called them the most important job we have, and said he plans to hire 200 new teachers to match student enrollment growth (which is required by state code). He also mentioned working alongside Rep. David Bentz, Sen. Bryan Townsend, and the DSEA, to create a student loan forgiveness program for educators that will help the state retain educators in our highest need schools and in the highest demand subject areas.


  • He thanked his wife Tracey for stewarding grant funding from the Casey Family Foundation, which, through local hospitals, Delaware Division of Family Services, the Division of Public Health, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and the Office of Child Advocate, will launch Delaware Healthy Outcomes with Parent Engagement, or DE HOPE, designed to help substance exposed infants.


  • The new statewide library card campaign, which aims to deliver social services to more communities, got a brief shout-out.



As we anticipate a first-draft budget next week, Gov. Carney’s punchiest line of the day—“the state of the state is strong, and getting stronger”—will be put to the test. Stay tuned.

Raising the Bar: Q&A with John Hollis

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Image from Delmarva Life


From its humble beginnings as a science-club offshoot of the long-shuttered Seaford Dupont nylon plant, the Minority Engineering Regional Incentive Training (MERIT) program has since blossomed into one of the state’s most successful postsecondary prep programs.


Its founder John Hollis—a former teacher and counselor—is still at it after 43 years, grooming young minority students from Sussex County to aim high academically. Of the more than 350 MERIT students, around 97 percent graduated from college.


The program evolved from a small club during the school year to intensive summer programs, field trips, college campus visits, scholarship programs, alumni events, and more. There are STEM team-building engineering competitions—think fighting robots and wind turbine design contests—and partnerships with local colleges and Delmarva Power.


We talked with Hollis about the MERIT Way, and much more.


We’re 43 years into MERIT. What motivated the creation of the program? What challenge or need were you hoping to address?


It was ‘74 when it started. I was approached by the management at the Seaford Dupont nylon plant, which was the world’s first and largest (at the time) nylon plant.


There was a National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering group, and the folks at the Seaford plant wanted to participate. I was coaching and teaching science for the sons and daughters of the Dupont engineers, who all thought they needed an educator to advise and motivate these students.


So we started with a science club aimed at local African American, Native American, and Latino children. We were addressing the disparity between a roughly 25-percent local minority population, but less than 1 percent of whom were matriculating into higher education in science and technical fields. That was our goal, to address that disparity.


What happened next?


We got nominations and started a club. I had been a coach, counselor, and teacher since the 60s, so I knew that if we wanted to inspire these children to higher ed, we needed to develop the whole child, not just host them in a science club.


So we started with Saturday morning meetings with a lot of science-based STEM programming—this was back before before STEM was invented. We had sixth and seventh graders and we had these great activities that were designed by Dupont engineers.


I was getting my master’s and doing my doctoral work on motivational science, so I incorporated a lot of that theory with activities on things like time management.


And before long, what started as a science club morphed into a total youth development program. We were helping these young people with motivation, goal-setting, time management, and more.


And the program just kept evolving, right?


If you told me back in in ‘74 that I’d still be doing it in 2017, I wouldn’t believe it. We now have meetings every other Saturday during the school year and three intensive weeks in summer. And over 35 years of pretty elaborate science activities. When the nylon plant closed, Delmarva Power became the sponsoring corporate entity.


We’ve had several significant developments. At one point in the late 80s, I was concerned with this observation that many African American males lacked the motivation toward academics. So many wanted to be professional entertainers or athletes. I knew from being a coach that the chances of making it a career were minimal.


There was a motivational speaker in Salisbury, Md.—a surgeon—who had just separated Siamese twins who were conjoined at the head, which had never been done before. That surgeon was an African American who grew up in poverty in inner-city Detroit, a “hoodlum” by his own description, who went onto became the youngest department chair in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.


So I took MERIT students to hear him speak, and they were enthralled. And eventually I got him to come to the community, and invited his three sons to be part of MERIT. They came up from Baltimore and stay with me and [my wife] Linda during the summer.


By 1994, Ben Carson had become such a fixture with us, we had established the Carson Scholars Club.


What other developments have you seen?


We’re aspiring to get first-generation children plugged into MERIT. Which is why we developed the Touch Greatness program, where we bring in scientists and motivators like Sam Beard, founder of the Jefferson Awards, to connect with these families.


And our partnerships with Delmarva Power and others continue to grow. Recently we built wind turbines as part of a science experiment. We worked with University of Maryland Department of Environmental Safety, where they have 3D printers, to design the blades of a turbine. The UMDES folks then 3D-printed our designs, and Delmarva Power provided their wind farm where we tested them out. Three MERIT teams actually generated more electricity with their designs than the test designs at Delmarva Power.


You talk about motivation. What, do you find, are key motivating factors?


I think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—how natural and logical consequences are a powerful teacher. Encouragement is the vehicle to that environment. The motivation aspect of seeing goals, setting a bright picture of the future, and then the knowledge of, if you work, you get results. If you want to enjoy the harvest you have to first labor in the field.


I was studying that theory, but then Ben Carson comes into my life and we now have a living practical example of a world renowned scientist, who went through this same process. He would envision himself as a doctor one day. We use the same formula to inspire kids. And it wasn’t just Ben—we recently had reps from six local colleges come visit us to describe the college experience to our students so that they could visualize it.


Today we have over 30 former MERIT students who hold doctorate degrees.


What keeps you motivated?


About 15 months ago I had a pretty severe stroke, and a lot of people assumed I would stop MERIT, because it’s a lot of work. Especially when you go to sleep at night not sure if you’re going to wake up the next day.


But when a young man, who I remember as a not-that-motivated sixth grader, comes back with an M.A. from Wake Forest, that’s my motivation—knowing that I played a part. When a young lady who came to the U.S. in second grade from Puerto Rico not speaking English gets up on stage to get her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech, well that’s the big leagues. That’s my motivation.


How can the rest of the state replicate what you’ve done to create opportunities for students?


A few steps I’d recommend:


Step 1: When is the last time you were in some extended involvement with a child who is challenged by poverty or a lack of formal education by their parents? Don’t just talk about, get direct involved with students.


Step 2: Become proficient in goal-setting. We set victory logs, and kids writing the good news they heard.


Step 3: Empower parents. Get them directly involved.


Step 4: Empower the community. Those engineers from Delmarva are blown away by what these kids can do.


Step 5: Go learn from lessons of the past. Seek out those people who have gone through what your students have gone through and find their lessons.


Do you think MERIT has influenced others in Delaware to carry on your example?


I think of MERIT as where the rubber meets the road. We don’t dwell in theory, we dwell in results. As a result we’ve had 14 kids graduate from Ivy League schools. If you want to talk about how to break the poverty cycle, there it is.

10 Questions with Michelle Shaivitz of DEAEYC

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With momentum continuing to build in Delaware, there’s never been a better time to get involved in early childhood education.

We talked with Michelle Shaivitz, executive director of the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children to learn more about advocacy, supporting the workforce, and where our state should focus next.


  1. Tell us a little about DEAEYC. What’s your goal and how to you work towards it?


DEAEYC is the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children. We are an affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. We’ve been around a while, however, within the last 20 years we’ve really pushed to increase the level of quality in the classroom with kids birth through age eight.


DEAEYC serves and acts on behalf of the needs, rights and well-being of all young children and their families in Delaware.


My job as executive director is to elevate the entire state of Delaware to be aware of how important early learning really is. Not just for the children, but for the overall wellbeing of our state and our country. Early education is one of the number one deterrents for any social issues that a child will face later.


What we strive to do is focus on the whole child. Those who are with them in the classroom all day, the parents and families that surround that child, the neighborhood that these children come from—we’re looking at the whole child and the continuum of care they get all day. We do a lot of advocacy work. We have an advocacy day in Legislative Hall each year. And we try to educate our legislators and state leaders about the importance of early education when it comes to funding, but also policies and regulations and procedures.


DEAEYC staff at Legislative Hall for Early Childhood Advocacy Day


  1. Tell us about the WK Kellogg project.


The State of Delaware has to realize that if a child comes to school hungry, if they’ve been through the trauma of homelessness—they’re not coming to school ready to learn.


Our goal is to get them into the classroom ready to learn. With this Kellogg grant, we were given a grant for two years at $500,000, and it is a community school model for early education centers in the City of Wilmington. We have human service representatives that are employed by DEAEYC, and they are advocates for the child and families and they meet people at the level of need—not just children and families but the people that work in the classroom.


We have two family service advocates that go onsite to early learning centers and work with families and early learning educators to secure many human services such as food, housing, Purchase of Care assistance, WIC, health care referrals, Food Stamps (SNAP) program, and more.


  1. We’re excited to promote the state’s recent early learning workforce survey. Why is the workforce so important?


I don’t think the average person knows that the person taking care of your child Monday through Friday in an early learning center makes less money than the person who served your coffee at Starbucks. And that’s the truth. We need to know who’s in our classrooms teaching our children, and we need to know how we can help them succeed. Because if we’re not supporting them, we’re not supporting early learning at all.


  1. What does DEAEYC do to support early learning educators?


DEAEYC runs programs like T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Delaware and the WAGE$ Program. T.E.A.C.H. gives scholarships to those working in early learning and wanting to advance their careers. We offer people who are just starting out in college, first-generation college goers. We give out hundreds of thousands of dollars to service hundreds of educators with scholarships throughout the year.



  1. What, in your mind, are some potential solutions to building up the early learning profession?


One of the things that we see is the level of professional development that is provided to our early learning workforce—the quality needs to be increased. We also have to expand different learning techniques for infants and toddlers. We also need to understand that those in the classroom are at or below the poverty level. And that’s a problem. We have to find ways to compensate those who are in the classroom, and level the playing field between our early learning teachers and our K-12 teachers. Just because you’re leaving preschool and going to kindergarten, there shouldn’t be a $20,000 or $30,000 difference.


  1. Is there anything from your background—either personally or professionally—that drives your focus and passion for this work?


I have been in education my entire professional life. I taught pre-school to college, and still continue to teach master’s-level courses today. I think education is the most important things we can do. What has motivated me to turn to early learning—when my husband and I spent over a decade as foster parents to some of the most needy children you can imagine.


What I learned from that experience—taking in children who were transient, who had the least amount of access to good, solid education—is that we were able to change the trajectory of their lives even in the short time they were in our homes, because we valued education, because we could focus on the child and met them at the basic level of their needs, and we knew what exactly what kind of classrooms they needed. That’s what led me to really believing the key to success for future generations—and everyone, really—is educating our youngest learners. It is the biggest return on investment you can get in this country today. Period—bar none.


  1. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for improvement?


There are quality opportunities for all children in Delaware, but there are large barriers. Arguably the children who have the most need have the least access. Children who are from the lower economic echelon have the least access. Middle-income families as well. One of the biggest components for Delaware is these very deep pockets of poverty, very low-income families who can take advantage of government support but still can’t access early learning. Then you have middle-class families who do not qualify for government support, and they’re stuck somewhere in-between. So there are two huge sets of populations of children who are missing out on high-quality early learning.


  1. As someone who’s been around Delaware for a while, can you put into words just how far we’ve come in terms of building out the early childhood system?


We’re not there yet. But we’ve gone from a system where early childhood centers were glorified babysitters and come so far. Now we understand that children that age learn things throughout the day and need quality care and formal educations in these centers. Research has demonstrated over and over again that higher school achievement and social adjustment are connected to quality early learning.


  1. What’s next for DEAEYC?


We’re shifting our focus to the whole child—not just children and families but also the workforce. We have a new membership structure that we’ll be rolling out this fall, plus a new website and logo coming out this fall. Lots of great new initiatives that will show people who we are, what we do, and why early childhood education is so important.


  1. Any final thoughts?


Just this: Good early care in education is going to require a lot of people sitting at the table making good sound judgements—and reasonably compensating our workforce in order to move things forward.

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