Archive for the ‘Teachers & Leaders’ Category

A Big Step Forward for the Rodel Teacher Council

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It was a banner year for the Rodel Teacher Council (RTC). In previous years, we conducted some pretty serious research on personalized learning, and then took our knowledge and turned it into informative briefs, reports, and even workshops for our fellow teachers.

This year was different. We wanted to turn our expertise into action; good ideas and best practices into concrete policy. And that’s just what we did. We started by asking some critical questions: How should I respond to a student demonstrating effects of trauma? Where can I access professional development that’s more engaging and relevant to my classroom needs? Will our school’s internet crash during our state testing tomorrow? Then we went about tackling concrete answers.

Read on below for recaps of the four RTC working groups. We did our best to summarize the teachers’ incredible work, but we still didn’t fully capture all the time, energy, and focus our colleagues  poured into every meeting, every strategy session, every important decision. In short, the RTC changed the game this year. Teachers impacted policy decisions in a more direct way than we ever imagined. Our teachers exemplified the belief that collective voices can lead to meaningful action and significant results.

Broadband Connectivity
Social and Emotional Learning
Personalized Professional Development
Competency-Based Learning

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Growing Early Learning to Meet Growing Needs: Q&A with Sec. Susan Bunting

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Delaware’s Secretary of Education, Dr. Susan Bunting, has a penchant for quality early learning. The Selbyville native, who previously helmed one of the state’s largest districts in Indian River, is a firm believer in the powers of high-quality pre-K. It’s why she helped spearhead the acclaimed Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. program for four-year-olds who came from low-income Indian River families.

We caught up with Sec. Bunting to talk Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E., and her early learning priorities as the head of Delaware’s educational efforts.


As a lifelong educator, parent, and grandparent, tell us about your experience with children who get high-quality learning experiences before they get to kindergarten.


It can be hard to separate my parent/grandparent and educator selves, but in both areas, I see the need for children to be ready for kindergarten to be able to maximize what happens when they get there.


My mother was an educator, so I think this was always bred into me. I am one of those people who was reading to babies in utero and to infants.


We see the impact of high-quality learning before children get to kindergarten—the vocabulary of children who are read to and spoken with, and those who have context about what they are reading so they can understand the story and the ideas.


The children who have had some preschool experience are oriented to school, to a schedule, to finishing a task, and how to interact with each other. While the children who have no experience are not as well prepared. Without something miraculous happening, the gap these children enter with is something that persists throughout their lives.


What can you tell us about your approach and prioritization as Secretary of Education when it comes to early childhood education? Where would you like to see us go as a state?


I am particularly focused on what happens before kindergarten, because for those who have high-quality experiences, their transition is so much easier.


I would like to see Delaware make sure all students are entering with the skills they need to be ready to learn.


In addition, I am particularly concerned about the economically challenged child that might not otherwise have an early learning experience.

One of the success stories you were known for as Indian River’s superintendent was Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. How did that program come to be? And, how did it inform your perspective on early learning?


When I was in the Indian River School District, we had the opportunity to apply for an Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) [Delaware’s state funded pre-K program for four-year-olds from low-income families] grant. We didn’t have anyone to run it, so I was the administrator who ran the program, registered children, and oversaw the staff. And, to our board’s credit, they devoted district and Title I funds to the program.


A member of the community, a local priest, raised concerns about helping new migrant, Spanish-speaking neighbors in Sussex. He saw the need to work with children of workers at agricultural plants, which is why the program focused on English learners. The program has made a major difference for those students, so much that we have been able to track their progress throughout school and demonstrate that they continue to outperform their non-participating peers.


I remember when I was registering a family, a woman in tears said to me, “I always dreamed my children would have the opportunity to go to preschool…you are making it happen for my granddaughter.” I am still in touch with that child, who is thriving today.


The program, which is still in place today, received national recognition from the American Association of School Administrators and the National Association of State Boards of Education, and we were even able to create a scholarship for Project VILLAGE students who go on to college. It warms my heart to see the kids attending graduate programs, serving as leaders in student council, and coming back to teach in the district.


A number of districts have sought to expand their pre-K offerings for four-year-olds and to work with the early childhood community on shared professional development, walkthroughs, and other collaborations. What do you think has driven their efforts? And, how can we prioritize the teachers who are the most important factor in the classroom with students every day?


There is a growing interest in developing relationships with early learning programs and districts. One of the things we did in Indian River was include our ECAP teachers in district professional learning to ensure we had alignment and training for our workforce. Our reading specialists held workshops at night with child care and family child care providers on topics such as how to learn through music and how to read a book to a child. The specialists also went out to child care providers to model how to engage children in reading.


Other districts’ efforts are driven by recognition of lack of preparation for kindergarten. They see in their kindergarten screening/diagnostic tools that children are not where they should be in terms of vocabulary and basic concepts.


We saw last month from NIEER that some of our neighboring states are putting more emphasis on expanding state-sponsored pre-K for four-year-olds. How should we in Delaware approach pre-K?


We have seen a thirst to expand—in districts and in the community, and more can be done through ECAP efforts and other strategies. We see the opportunity, interest, and energy—to truly impact more children who need support. We will need resources and public will.


We are working with districts to leverage federal funding streams and opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the state is being supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and national experts to look at the policies involved in expanding high quality pre-K.


You’re a self-titled “die-hard optimist”—what are the biggest opportunities you see for Delaware’s students?


I am optimistic because we have caring educators, and we have more and more people who understand the importance of high-quality early childhood learning experiences—and that it is not babysitting but true learning and development.


As Hellen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”


We truly can impact forever the trajectory of a child by making sure he or she is ready to learn—and we have lots of work to do for kids!

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!

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