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State coalition unveils new 10-year education reform plan

Annie Ropeik/Delaware Public Media
Newark High School senior Halim Hamroun, left, and Kuumba Academy Charter School sixth grader Genesis Lyons speak to educators and policymakers at the unveiling of the Vision Coalition's 2025 plan Wednesday at DelTech.

Education policymakers in Delaware unveiled a new 10-year plan to help students get more out of public school with flexible funding and a focus on college and career from a young age.

The biggest difference between this plan and the one the Vision Coalition of Delaware wrote for 2015 is student input. The Coalition talked to thousands of Delaware students to develop the Student Success 2025 plan - hoping it'll reform the state's system in a way that prepares kids for a changing world.

Dan Rich is one of the coalition members who spoke Wednesday. He's a UD professor and the policy director of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission. Rich says their first plan focused on equal access to higher standards of learning and achievement. Now, he says, they want to dig into how students are learning -- in and out of the classroom.

"What we need is a cohesive, integrated system that focuses on the developmental needs of our children and extends from preschool through higher education. We need that whole system to be connected and reinforcing and frankly, we're not doing it well enough as yet," Rich says. "We've often gotten off-track because instead of emphasizing collaboration, we've emphasized compliance."

The Student Success plan offers recommendations to make education more personalized and accessible from early childhood through high school with an emphasis on funding.

Brandywine School District superintendent Mark Holodick is also a coalition member. He says the state's current funding model, based on enrollment, is outdated and needs to give local administrators more latitude to shift funds around.

"Using myself as an example as a superintendent -- with 16 schools, [it might] be best to have one, based on its student population and needs, have a pre-K program in that building that's really large and expansive, and  … in other schools, it might be beneficial to have more after-school programs," he says.

Holodick and Indian River School District superintendent Susan Bunting spoke about what their districts are already doing to enact some of the plan's goals. They're focused on blended learning, which works with technology and community partners to create opportunities for students outside of their classes -- the same way adults can get things done outside work.

"And our students have the same desire and demand, and blended learning provides options for them as well as more relevant experiences for them, and that's a key," Holodick says. "If you listen to the students that were here today … what I heard them saying was we want to meet with -- whether it's in school or out of school -- professionals and others who have expertise in the areas that we find interesting."

One student who echoed that was Genesis Lyons. She's a sixth grader at Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, and says more Delaware teachers should do what hers already do: listen and take action when a student shows an interest in a certain field.

"When a person says they want to do something, they should say, oh, you should see a person who already does that career, so you can get a few pointers and advance your skills," Lyons says.

Lyons emceed Wednesday's event alongside Halim Hamroun, a senior at Newark High School. He agrees that input from kids like him sets this plan apart-- and that the best thing educators can do to make school more effective is to engage their students.

"You gotta tell the kids that you're relevant. You have importance," Hamroun says. "It's important for students, ourselves, to support our underclassmen, and for teachers to facilitate that."

The Student Success plan also recommends ways to better support teachers -- and help them succeed with all kinds of students and classes. Gene Montano is an instructional supervisor for the Capital School District. He was at Dover High School when the Vision Coalition's 2015 plan was rolled out.

"I think looking at this, it goes into some more of the nitty gritty with the early learning of kids, and it goes into the budget, the finance that kind of impacts all that, and what decisions we make and how we can get the kids to start caring about job opportunities and career," Montano says. "Because a lot of kids aren't, at middle and high school, really focused on what are they gonna do. They're just going to school to go to school."

10 years in, the Vision Coalition says the state has implemented about three-fourths of its original recommendations. But that decade has also been defined by something else -- a focus on standardized testing. Mark Holodick says that contentious issue - absent from Wednesday’s discussion - is related to their goals -- but it doesn't define them.

"Testing fits into this plan, but it's not, as currently written, a real strong component of it. It assumes we're going to have a state assessment that can be used to gauge student learning," he says. "But we also recognize within this plan that that state test is not the only means of measurement that can help us gauge teaching and learning."

Instead, it focuses on metrics like student engagement, youth employment and college completion -- aiming to bring them all up significantly by 2025.


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