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The Power of Place: Q&A with Evelyn Edney of Early College High School @ DSU

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Dr. Evelyn Edney and her faculty like to joke about the 79,000 hats on the wall of her office, one for each duty she must perform as head of a small but growing—in both size and impact—charter school in Dover.

 

Since 2015, Edney has led the Early College High School at Delaware State University, a public charter high school where students get a true taste (and more) of the college experience. Following their exploratory freshman year, students begin taking bona fide college classes at next-door-neighbors Del State, where they can accumulate up to 60 college credits in addition to a whole lot of learning.

 

Edney preaches about the “power of place”—that is, the stark reality of entering a college classroom as a high school student, sitting next to older college kids and absorbing college-level coursework. “They have this realization that they can do it,” she says.

 

That power is paying off. At ECHS (which the Rodel Foundation helped establish), students are outpacing state averages in SAT language arts scores with a high population of low-income and minority students. In 2014 the school earned a Charter School Performance Fund award from the state.

 

As Edney and the ECHS crew prepared for their first-ever graduation ceremonies, we took the opportunity to ask a few questions.

 

What can you tell us about the Early College High School @ DSU model? What makes it different than the so-called typical high school experience?

 

At ECHS, there are two campuses—one, a Freshmen Academy and the other, an actual college campus. A typical day in the Freshmen Academy involves a half an hour breakfast, then four 90-minute periods that include core courses and electives with a 30-minute lunch, and finally a one-hour Advisory/activity period. The academics are broken into semesters to mirror the college.

 

On the college campus, DSU to be precise, the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders are housed. Sophomores are mainly still taking high school classes, and juniors and seniors are mainly taking college courses (12-15 credits per semester).

 

Why focus on three areas—Agribusiness, Forensic Biology and Community Health—in particular?

 

During the first year of the school, the focus was STEM, and those were the chosen pathways for students. But after some time, students developed interests outside of the STEM focus, so the ECHS administration approached DSU about changing the STEM focus to a STEM+ focus. They have, since then, allowed the students to “major” in 41 out of the 42 majors and concentrations that DSU has to offer (with Aviation being the only holdout due to students not being old enough to fly a plane).

 

Who are the ECHS students? Why do they enroll here versus another school?

 

The 420 students at ECHS come from all three counties in the State of Delaware. They enroll in the program to get a “leg up” in being afforded the opportunity to take up to 60 college credits while in high school. There is no program of its kind for miles around. Parents are also thrilled about the potential savings on college tuition.

 

Why is it important for students to have access to college-level coursework while they are still in high school?

 

Students should be challenged every day in school. Most schools have somewhere between 24-30 credits. Even with that, there are gaping holes in students’ schedules, particularly in the senior year. Students should be challenged in that year and have more access to college courses through dual enrollment programs. Not having access to college-level coursework is a travesty, but it happens every day.

 

We know there can be barriers for students to take college-level coursework in high school. What are some of the supports that ECHS has developed to help students find success?

 

Turning 14 year-olds into college students overnight could be a nightmare if there was not a way to monitor their progress and determine which students needed the most support. In 2015, ECHS school leaders developed the ECHS College Readiness Rubric to do just that. It measures the whole student each grade reporting period in the factors of grades, attendance, behavior, scores on larger assessments, and teacher recommendations.

 

The ECHS College Readiness Rubric allows students to self-govern, so that they can see their strengths and areas for development. The ECHS staff can do the same. This is used to identify students who need more supports in place. That comes in the form of a Response to Intervention (RtI) class, homework help, tutoring, etc.

How is ECHS supporting students to think about college majors and careers that they might want to pursue?

 

There are two ways that ECHS works with students regarding majors/careers. First, having DSU as a partner is wonderful place to start students thinking about the majors/careers they want to pursue. They have worked with our students in many ways to provide experiences that shed light on different careers and about the majors. ECHS students have been invited to participate in science labs, an SAP software competition, math and ecology integration, and other academic experiences. In addition, ECHS students have been able to participate in the DSU band and DSU chorus, mentorships with DSU students in varying majors.

 

The second way that ECHS supports students to think about college majors and careers is through the Advisory program. The role of the advisor is to assist the student in making reasoned choices, acquiring needed skills, and serving as the “reality check” that will make college possible. The “hidden curriculum” of the Advisory program is to create a situation where the student has connected on a much deeper level with at least one person in the ECHS school community.

 

The Advisory program is a four-year program. In the ninth grade year, the focus is on college readiness, so students spend the year learning the skills needed to become college ready. The 10th grade year is devoted to choosing a program of study. Junior and senior years are devoted to working on a Capstone Project, a study of some topic—inquiry-based or problem-based—within the major.

How do high school students usually react to taking courses with college students?

 

At first ECHS students are completely frightened about taking college courses with college students, but after a while, they realize they can hold their own and they are fine. ECHS students tend to do well in the classes with very few of them failing college courses during the last four years.

 

ECHS talks a lot of about 21st skills that all students will need as future leaders. Can you give us an idea of what that means and how you’re helping to build those skills?

 

ECHS promotes the following 21st skills within the Advisory program, positive behavior support program (Hornet PRIDE, Catch it!), and through project-based learning:  problem solving, creativity, analytic thinking, collaboration, communication, ethics, action, and accountability. The Advisory program allows students to collaborate and communicate while learning college readiness skills. The Hornet PRIDE, Catch it! PBS program helps students with accountability for one’s own actions and words. Students also learn problem solving, creativity, analytic thinking, as well as the other skills through project-based learning.

 

In December 2017, we released a landscape analysis on Supporting Postsecondary Success in Delaware. Through this research, 54 percent of students indicated that parents/family members have been most helpful in preparing them for their future (college/career)—a much higher percentage than teachers or counselors. How do you encourage parent and family engagement?

 

Parent and Family engagement looks different in high school than it does in other schools. It’s not about mom and dad sitting in the back of Johnny’s classroom because he is acting up in class. It’s about having a quiet place to study, a designated time to study, monitoring peer groups, etc. It’s about showing up whenever you can and partnering with the school by monitoring school work. ECHS invites parents to partner. There is a strong PTSA. Because parents come from all three counties, the PTSA meetings rotate between the counties so parents can attend. Also, there is Zoom Conferencing available for all meetings so that parents can attend without physically being there.

 

Parents are on the ECHS Board. They help to make the important decisions about the school.

 

Tell us about some of your students and what excites you about their futures.

 

Willow Bowen and Christy Malone are the No. 1 and No. 2 students in the senior classes respectively. They are attending Stanford and University of Pennsylvania in the fall. They have earned over 55 college credits (or more by the end of the semester), and their futures are so bright because of all they accomplished at ECHS. They have all A’s and B’s on their report cards with all A’s in their college classes. This is what ECHS is all about!

 

Then there are the students who did not start out being college ready who worked hard to get there; countless numbers. We are so excited for them!

Inspiring a Generation of Little Colonials: Q&A with Dusty Blakey

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Dusty Blakey, Ed.D. was named the superintendent of the Colonial School District in June of 2014. Since then—and throughout his 13-year tenure with the district—Blakey has made early childhood education a major priority.

 

We talked to Blakey, who also serves on the Delaware Early Childhood Council, about the importance of early learning to the Colonial community, and about becoming the first district in the state to open a licensed, 5-star early learning center.

 

The Colonial School District supports students starting at age three, and utilizes partners in the community to support even more. Why, in your mind, is early learning so important?

 

Early learning experiences lay the foundation for all later learning, and we recognize that children and families who have access to high-quality preschool programming experience a lifetime of benefits. At our Colonial Early Education Program (CEEP), we actively involve families, who then feel valued and engaged. By hiring highly qualified early childhood staff, providing ongoing high-quality professional development, educating our families about additional resources available at school and in the community, and offering developmentally appropriate experiences, we set our children on the path for social-emotional and physical wellness, as well as for academic success. What we are doing works because we have many families who stay in contact with our pre-k staff and who bring their children back to visit pre-k year after year.

How big of a priority is early learning for you at Colonial?

 

We have four pillars on which we focus our efforts and our core beliefs in Colonial. Early childhood is our first and most important pillar. When combined with our fourth pillar—Access and Opportunity—they provide us with a blueprint for success for all students and families in Colonial. Following the lead of these two pillars, we offer high-quality early learning experiences in the classrooms at CEEP.

We also partner with Parents as Teachers to provide weekly playgroups at The Colwyck Center and we offer itinerant services to our children with identified special needs who attend community Head Starts and child care centers. By partnering with early learning programs in our Colonial feeder pattern, we strengthen the entire Colonial community. Early learning is where it all starts, so we must continue to provide access to these early learning opportunities.

 

Why did you decide Colonial should lead a Readiness Team?

 

Delaware Readiness Teams forge relationships between and among early learning stakeholders in each of the communities that they represent, allowing each team to focus on the needs of the young children and families in their geographic area. By creating the Colonial Readiness Team (CRT) in 2014, we’ve brought together parents, healthcare providers, librarians, public and private preschool and elementary school staff, mental health counselors, nonprofit staff, child care providers, community leaders, home visitors, financial advisors, and so on.

Team members 1) learn about the services that each team member’s agency/program offers then use this information educate and inform the children and families, 2) support and participate in ongoing community events, 3) plan and implement activities for our young Colonials and their families, and 4) advocate for initiatives and policies that support your youngest learners.

 

Tell us about shared professional development that happens in your district between early learning providers and elementary schools? What’s the objective of that collaboration?

 

Our CEEP team and our elementary team partner with our early learning community in a variety of ways. The Colonial Readiness Team and the CEEP team have invited and included our local Head Start staff, Parents as Teachers home visitors, charter school staff, child care providers, private pre-k staff, and elementary staff to professional development trainings, such as Handwriting Without Tears, Ages and Stages Developmental Screening (ASQ), Fine Motor Boot Camp, Conscious Discipline, and Creative Curriculum.

Delaware’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan clearly highlights the need for professional development collaboration and partnerships between LEAs and early learning providers. As stated previously, when we partner with early learning programs in our feeder pattern, we strengthen the entire Colonial community, which benefits all Colonial children and families.

 

What’s the significance of connecting the early learning world to k-12?

 

We want to support the transition from the early learning setting to the K-12 setting as well as we can, and we want to make the transition as seamless as possible. Children and families should feel confident and comfortable when moving from the birth-pre-k world to elementary school and beyond. In Colonial, we offer personalized tours for all interested families at all of our Colonial schools. Families can contact any school via phone or website to schedule these tours. Our elementary staff partners with our local Head Starts and CEEP to have pre-k students visit local elementary schools prior to kindergarten. All schools in Delaware need to continue to work toward stronger and more effective early learning and K-12 partnerships.

 

 

What unique strategies does the Colonial Early Education Program employ? Tell us about where your district has pioneered in services offered—not just those that are traditionally educational, but also more holistic approaches to wellness.

 

We have made great strides toward our goal of making sure that all of our students and families are aware of the services and programs available in the community, and that they have access to those services.

We recognize that Colonial families need access to high-quality early learning programs that are affordable and full-day. While our children with identified special needs attend for free, our children without identified needs pay a tuition. Our tuition is lower than any pre-k program in our feeder pattern, but it was still difficult for some families to afford. In 2015-16, we began accepting Purchase of Care (POC) for our students without special needs. That year, we also moved from half-day pre-k programming to full-day pre-k programming for all of our four-year-old students and for many of our three-year-old students. We also began offering onsite before- and after-care.

Partnerships (with the Department of Public Health’s Dental Screening Program, 211/Help Me Grow, the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, Vision to Learn, and others) allow us to help our families access basic needs such as housing, food, and medical care, and to educate our families about community resources, such as parenting classes, financial/budgeting support, and job training.

Our future goal is to use our newly created partnership with The Life Health Center and Nemours at the state’s first elementary School Based Health Center (SBHC) at Eisenberg Elementary to further provide preventative behavioral and physical health services to our pre-k students.

 

What does Colonial offer in terms of developmental screenings—and how do you ensure follow up to ensure children get the identified services?

 

Developmental screening is a huge priority in Colonial. Decades of research demonstrates that when children who are eligible for early intervention services receive those services and participate in high-quality programming, they are more likely to read on grade level, graduate from high school, and not need special education services later in life. Studies show the Return on Investment (ROI) for early intervention to be about 13 percent and high-quality preschool programming to be seven to 10 percent.

Colonial School District is committed to offering free ASQ developmental screenings to 100 percent of the children ages birth-five who live in our district or who attend early learning programs in Colonial. This screening is available online for all Colonial families, and the ASQ link can be found on our CEEP website. In addition, all Colonial Elementary School secretaries offer developmental screening information to families when they register their children for kindergarten, just as all family and center-based child care centers, Head Starts, and private pre-k programs in the Colonial feeder pattern have been invited and encouraged to utilize Colonial’s developmental screening portal for free.

 

What is your team doing to ensure kindergarteners are registered on time?

 

We hold annual Kindergarten Carnivals at William Penn High School, and all Colonial families with a rising kindergartener are invited. We advertise kindergarten registration on billboards, buses, and banners, as well as in email blasts, and flyers that get distributed to community partners.

 

Where would you allocate more resources if they were available?

 

Federal funding for preschool programming is extremely low, as is pre-k finding in our state. While our K-12 students in Delaware are funded at approximately $9,500 per student annually, our preschool children ages three to five with identified special needs are funded at about $500 per student per year.

Delaware’s Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) is available for children whose families are living at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and ECAP funds 845 children per year. We are grateful to be able to offer 40 full-day ECAP slots at CEEP, but with Colonial’s high poverty rate, we have many children who are eligible for ECAP, but not enough slots to meet the need. With additional resources, I’d definitely allocate additional funding to open more full-day preschool classrooms. At CEEP, we are operating at capacity, and we have a long waitlist. Our families desperately need access to affordable or free full-day, high-quality early learning programming.

 

Did your kids have positive early learning experiences? And did those experiences set them up for success later in school and life?

 

Yes, my children had positive early learning experiences as well as grandparents that were educators so expectations for them were high. Those experiences and expectations led them to educational and social success as they’ve grown into productive adults. Their early learning foundations helped lead to their love of learning that continues into today.

 

 

What’s the significance to you and the Colonial community to have CEEP be a 5-Star center?

 

This is extremely significant because 1) being a Star-level 5 indicates the highest quality of early learning programming in Delaware, and 2) Colonial families have access to a limited number of level 5 centers, particularly in the northern area of our district. As always, it is important that we strive to offer highest quality preschool programming at our district-run program.

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.

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