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Murphy steps down as head of Delaware Ed. Dept.

Delaware Public Media

State Education Secretary Mark Murphy will soon resign his post according to state officials.

Gov. Jack Markell (D) will nominate Steven Godowsky, former superintendent of New Castle County Vo-Tech School District to replace him later this fall. The state Senate will consider Godowsky’s nomination during an Oct. 28 special session.

During Murphy’s tenure beginning in 2012, the department and its policies were often embroiled in controversy, frequently clashing with teachers and parents – especially in school districts in northern New Castle County.

That includes the months-long fight over the Markell Administration's Priority Schools plan, which offered extra funding to failing schools to turn themselves around or be taken over by the district or a charter school.

The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, entered a vote of no confidence in Murphy in March after its local chapters in the Christina and Red Clay School Districts made similar decisions.

He says those votes had no influence on his decision to step down, noting that controversial policies will have their detractors.

"As we do that work, we know there are tremendous challenges that we face as we undertake large improvement efforts and as we take on those challenges, not everyone is going to be satisfied," Murphy said.

Delaware's high school graduation rate increased to 84.4 percent during his time at the department – an all-time record for the First State. Murphy has also expanded dual-credit enrollment and the number of students taking and passing advance placement course tests.

"He has always been very much focused on the student and believes that we as adults need to be making sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to support these students so that they can be successful," said Markell.

State officials say he’s currently still in talks with a new employer and details of his next move were not made public. In a call with reporters, Murphy dodged a question asking if his new job will still be within the Delaware Department of Education.

Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South), a vocal critic of the Markell Administration's education policy and one of the faces of the recent "opt-out" movement to allow parents to exempt their kids from standardized tests, says the agency needs to make a 180-degree turn from its current trajectory. 

"I think there's been a significant erosion of public education opportunities and public education capabilities by this headlong rush to charterize and privatize public education," said Kowalko.

The president of the Delaware State Board of Education, Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, offered a statement praising Murphy for his "passionate commitment to all of Delaware’s children."

“Under his leadership we’ve raised the standards and expectations of student performance; the
state’s graduation rate has exceeded the national average; and when our students do graduate,
they are better prepared for college and a career," said Dr. Quinn Gray in the statement. “The State Board of Education looks forward to partnering with Acting Secretary Godowsky and working with him closely as we continue on the path of educational excellence. No doubt his lengthy experience in Delaware’s schools will be an invaluable asset as we continue this very important work."

One of Markell and Murphy's most ambitious projects still left on the table after years of work involves revamping how much the state pays for its portion of a teacher's salary and how to keep experienced teachers in the classroom. Earlier this year, a task force recommended a basic framework for the new system, but new working groups made up of educators and others still need to refine final details.

Before leading the New Castle County Vo-Tech District, Godowski worked for two decades as assistant superintendent, principal and assistant principal at schools within the district.

If confirmed, Godowski says in a statement, "I look forward to successfully continuing the Governor’s priorities, while building on the critically important relationships among school districts and charters, teacher groups, parents, legislators, and community leaders for the benefit of our students."

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