Delaware Educators Celebrate the Transformation of Student Learning

Photos from the event

Showcase how collaborative professional learning is changing Delaware classrooms

Dover, DE – Nearly 400 educators packed a large auditorium at Dover Downs Monday, April 20th to showcase how they are engaging their students more deeply in learning, using techniques and strategies they picked up by participating in the Department of Education’s rigorous, year-long professional learning experience called Common Ground.

The 2015 Bright Spots Common Ground 2.0 Celebration brought together educators from fifteen districts and eight charter schools from around the state. Common Ground was created to support educators as they transitioned to the Common Core State Standards, which are grade level expectations in English language arts and mathematics that are designed with college and career readiness in mind.CommonGround

“You represent an impressive coalition of leaders dedicated to doing whatever it takes to give every Delaware student the best chance for success,” Governor Jack Markell told the group. “You have taken on the tough but important work of making the standards come to life in the classroom.”

Gov. Markell was among the governors who led the effort to create the Common Core standards, which are being used in more than 40 states. “These new standards mean nothing unless our teachers have the support they need to make them work,” he said.

Supporting Educators with Race to the Top

Common Ground provided clinics, online webinars, large-scale meetings of participants, national experts as speakers and ways for participants to collaborate. It was one of the ways the state used funds from its federal Race to the Top grant to support educators as they transition to the Common Core standards.

“Delaware is changing the way educators engage in professional learning,” Michael Watson, the DOE’s Chief Academic Officer, told the group. “We know that effective professional learning is very intensive, it’s ongoing, and 100 percent connected to practice and student outcomes.  That’s what Common Ground embodies.”

In a survey conducted earlier this year, 89 percent of Common Ground teachers and principals said they were using what they had learned in the sessions to give students assignments that required them to have deeper knowledge; 86 percent said the Common Ground sessions had helped them engage students in their learning with expectations aligned with the Common Core.

Keynote speaker Steve Leinwand, a principal research analyst at American Institutes for Research and a nationally recognized leader in mathematics education, praised the way Common Ground was helping teachers make the transition to the Common Core standards.

“The expectations for teachers have really been ramped up,” Leinwand said. “The only places that I have seen consistently high-quality instruction and teaching and learning aligned to the Common Core is where there is collaborative structures and coaching. Teachers need time to interact.”

Discovering Students’ Needs

Educators at Shields Elementary School (Cape Henlopen) used formative assessment techniques learned through Common Ground to discover that their students had not mastered key mathematical concepts, even though their test scores were high. This led to a school-wide implementation of Number Talks, a program that provides students with the computational fluency to prove, reason and defend math answers in the classroom.

“It is exciting to be able to use professional development that really reaches all students,” Shields Elementary Principal Jenny Nauman said. “What we’ve been able to do is give them confidence in the classroom and the ability to share what they are thinking and follow someone else’s reasoning too.”

Nauman and a group of Shields Elementary teacher leaders presented their Number Talks findings at the 2015 National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) National Conference in Boston this spring.

Including Everyone in the Transition to New Standards

Bobbi Kilgore, Principal at Banneker Elementary (Milford) agreed that Common Ground has been a huge benefit to their school. In the two years that Banneker has been a part of Common Ground, not only have Common Core elements been implemented in traditional classrooms, but expressive arts teachers are also implementing curriculum changes.

“We’ve included everyone in our building in the changes we’ve made through Common Ground,” Kilgore said. “What we’re learning has taken on a culture within our school so that teachers really work together. They find out what students are really struggling with and then find a way to reach them.”

Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington is implementing more math reasoning in the classroom thanks to Common Ground. “Common Ground has led me to ask more challenging, more open-ended questions,” math teacher Vassilios Guidoglou said. “We’re getting answers you wouldn’t expect, and that’s really extending student learning to the next level.”

Intriguing Students

Math teacher Brittany Rehrig said the biggest takeaway from her Common Ground experience was learning to construct lessons that intrigue students. “When students are captivated, they’re more collaborative,” she said. “They feed off each other and have really positive communications. It’s not old-fashioned instruction that grabs their attention anymore.”


Partnership Gives Teacher Prep Students Year-Long Classroom Residency

Dover, DE – Aspiring teachers are spending an entire school year working side-by-side with veteran teachers as part of a new partnership between Wilmington University and the Capital, Indian River and Red Clay Consolidated school districts. This year-long clinical residency approach is rare amongst teacher preparation programs nationwide.

Traditional teacher preparation programs generally place candidates in classrooms for a few months for student teaching experiences, and the model is generally not a co-teaching model. This pilot initiative, a direct result of a Race to the Top (RTTT) teacher preparation grant and 2013’s Senate Bill 51 designed to strengthen the state’s teacher preparation programs, provides aspiring educators the chance to spend an entire school year co-teaching with an experienced educator.  For this and other innovations to its teacher preparation programs, Wilmington University has been awarded $230,000 in competitive grant funding via RTTT over the last two years.

Dr. John Gray, dean of Wilmington University’s College of Education, cited the importance of deep partnerships in innovations like these:  “An effort of this magnitude requires partnerships across the spectrum–with our districts, our students, our university leaders and the state. Our team and partners have shown tremendous dexterity in pulling this off, and it’s a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit at WilmU that allows us to adjust to the evolving needs of our teachers and students.”

Governor Jack Markell joined Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to visit participating teachers at North Dover Elementary today.NorthDoverElem

“This initiative directly answers a need identified by our teachers,” Markell said. “So many teachers told us just how challenging their first year in the classroom was and how they would have benefited from having a longer clinical residency, and the Department of Education and Wilmington University responded to their call-to-action.”

Three schools – Capital’s North Dover, Indian River’s East Millsboro and Red Clay’s Richey elementary schools – joined Wilmington University’s efforts as “lab schools” this year.  Similar to the way other professions utilize a clinical residency experience, Wilmington University selected and placed a dozen of its seniors in these schools, pairing them with host teachers who agreed to embark upon the year-long co-teaching model.

Wilmington University plans to expand the program over the next 18 months with additional teachers in these schools as well as the development of additional school partnerships.

East Millsboro Principal Kelly Dorman said this is an invaluable learning experience for the aspiring educators, allowing them to become part of a school culture.

“It allows them to learn what it looks like to begin a school year, and it also provides a window through which to see the growth that students make by the end of the school year,” Dorman said. “It is a hands- on experience that lets the intern learn and grow in a nurturing environment with the support of both the teachers and administrators.”

Senate Bill 51 requires deeper clinical residency experiences to be offered by the state’s teacher preparation programs, but only Wilmington University has taken dramatic and immediate action, adjusting its coursework and model to make this happen.

Photos from North Dover Elementary School Visit


Governor Markell, DOE Announce Effort to Improve Dramatically Lowest-Performing Schools

State commits more than $5 million to robust approach to turn around six struggling Wilmington schools

Gov. Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy today announced significant resources and support for the state’s six lowest-performing district schools, providing the opportunity for substantial changes in their approach to improve their students’ academic performance.Wilmington School Initiative

The newly named Priority Schools will share more than $5 million over four years to implement locally-developed, state-approved plans. The funding comes from several sources including federal School Improvement Grant and remaining Race to the Top resources.

The Priority Schools are: Christina School District’s Bancroft Elementary, Bayard Middle and Stubbs Elementary schools; and Red Clay Consolidated School District’s Warner Elementary, Shortlidge Academy and Highlands Elementary schools. All are located in Wilmington.

Governor Markell joined Secretary Murphy today at Warner Elementary to announce the funding.

“Today’s announcement reaffirms our commitment as a state to the hard work and dramatic changes required to provide these children from disadvantaged communities a real chance to meet their incredible potential. It’s not easy, but we have seen in Delaware and throughout the country that success is possible,” Governor Markell said.

Murphy said we must provide better opportunities for our children, and better supports to the educators who work with them every day.

“This is about ensuring that children are attending schools that have strong leadership and instruction, supported by the necessary resources, to give them the opportunities they deserve,” he said. “They cannot wait for incremental change. When they arrive at school each day, we must do a better job meeting their needs.”

The plan includes a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the districts and the Delaware Department of Education by September 30 to provide the flexibility, autonomy, and financial capacity for school leaders to make progress through the approach that works best for their school, while holding them accountable for implementing significant changes. These leaders would develop a school plan to be submitted for approval to the Secretary of Education by December 31.Wilmington School Initiative

The 2014-15 school year will be a planning year with the Priority School improvements going into effect for the 2015-16 school year.

“We are providing the flexibility, conditions and financial capacity for local leaders to make the necessary changes, with accountability to ensure the necessary changes happen,” Murphy said.

New course of action

Calling the new course of action the most aggressive effort in the state’s history to improve outcomes for students at these schools, Murphy urged parents and community members to support their schools and educators in this work so their children have the opportunities they deserve.

“In some of these schools, only 29 percent of children are reading and performing math at grade level,” he said. “They are beginning the school year far behind their peers, and they are not meeting their individual growth goals by the spring, instead falling further behind their peers. We can all do better for our children.  Their parents want more for them, educators want more for them, and they want more for themselves.”

While Murphy noted that many of the children in the Priority Schools face hardships such as poverty and language barriers that pose additional challenges for educators, he said those challenges are not insurmountable.

“We know that all children can be successful if they are provided the instruction and supports they need. We know this because we see their peers, who arrive at neighboring schools with similar challenges and succeed,” Murphy said.

For example, at Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, where 85 percent of children come from low-income families, students scoring at the proficient level range from 76 to 85 percent in both reading and math with the exception of third-grade reading.

And EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, a school with 91 percent of its children from low-income families, went from having only 15 percent of fifth-graders scoring proficient in reading in 2010-11 to 66 percent in 2013-14. In math, only 30 percent of third-graders were proficient in 2010-11; this year it was 73 percent. The school saw similar gains in other grades.

Indian River School District’s schools across the board show strong student performance despite sometimes large populations of students that often have additional challenges, including low-income and English language learner students. For example, at Georgetown Elementary, about 61 percent of the students come from low-income families and 34 percent are English language learners. Many of its students are excelling. Fifth-grade test scores last year showed 86 percent were proficient in reading and 77 percent were in math.Wilmington School Initiative

Indian River’s Clayton Elementary has a similar population with 61 percent from low-income families and 24 percent English language learners. Clayton fifth-grade scores show 77 percent proficient in reading and 90 percent proficient in math last year. The scores were even higher for the school’s third and fourth graders, where proficiency ranged from 82 to 92 percent, depending on grade and subject.

Call to action

Community leaders stood by Markell and Murphy Thursday.

“This project gives our city schools the opportunity to implement current best educational practices that incorporate school/community-specific programming to address the unique needs of our schools,” said Wilmington City Councilman Nnamdi Chukwuocha, who chairs the city’s Education, Youth and Families Committee. “This is critical, along with the appropriate levels of DOE, district and community support. Only by working together will we prove to be highly effective at turning these schools around.

“Though not the magic wand, it is a step in the right direction and a great example of aligning our resources with our challenges for the sake of our deserving students,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Meredith Griffin is the education chair of the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council.

“The education of our children isn’t the responsibility of the state alone. As a community we need to take opportunities, such as this one, to engage and make a significant difference in the City of Wilmington and beyond,” Griffin said. “Action is needed right now. While there are certainly other issues that impact our children in the city and their education, we must be willing to embrace bold steps that offer opportunities to dramatically improve the education our children receive.

“We cannot allow the search for a panacea to prevent us from supporting efforts that will ensure that the children in the City of Wilmington and beyond are more than adequately prepared to succeed in college or a career,” he said.

Red Clay Consolidated School District Superintendent Merv Daugherty said his district, the largest in the state, is committed to supporting the Priority Schools in this new effort.

“We view this as a great opportunity to offer additional support to the teachers and staff members of these schools so they can meet the academic challenges,” Daugherty said. “We look forward to working with parents, teachers and the entire school community to make sure we have a successful plan.”

Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams agreed.

“The Christina School District continues to be committed to meeting the needs of all children,” Williams said. “We look forward to working with parents, community leaders, and the Department of Education to support the academic growth and success of students in these three schools and across our district.”

School selection

The bottom 5 percent of schools were selected based on their students’ performance in state testing. Those that had less than 40 percent student proficiency in two of the past three years were eligible. Charter schools, which are under a different accountability system than district schools, were excluded. They operated under a system that allows the state to place them under “formal review,” which could lead to the loss of their charter if improvements are not made.

 Photos from the event

Governor Markell and College Board Partner to Increase College Access for Delawareans

Effort supported by Delaware Colleges and Universities, as well as all Ivy League Institutions

 Wilmington, DE – Joined by students in Mount Pleasant High School’s library today, Governor Markell, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and College Board President David Coleman announced a partnership that will enhance the Administration’s work to ensure high school students statewide are best equipped for the college application process.

Beginning this month, the College Board is sending resources to students who have demonstrated the potential to succeed in college, but who may be at risk of either discounting the best schools for which they may qualify or of not applying to college at all. In addition to the support from the state’s colleges and universities, Delaware’s effort is backed by a group made up of all of the Ivy League schools, MIT and Stanford. That group was represented at today’s event by Yale University’s Dean of Admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan.

“We know the increasing importance of education and training beyond high school to succeed in today’s economy,” said Markell. “Our education system must prepare students with the skills most valued by colleges and employers, while also ensuring they have access to education opportunities after high school graduation. Too many students are turned off to a college because they don’t know about all of the available financial assistance or they underestimate their qualifications. Our partnership with the College Board is a significant step toward solving these challenges.”

The project grew out of research by Stanford Professor Caroline Hoxby, who discovered that relatively few high-achieving, low-income students attend highly-selective universities. She found that these students are often unaware of available financial aid and are unlikely to have had a mentor who attended a selective university, leaving them without positive examples. The College Board is working on ways to reach out to this group of students nationwide and encourage them to apply to a range of schools.

The Delaware-College Board partnership will specifically reach this group. Those students will receive college application fee waivers, detailed information about affording college and a letter from all of the Ivy Leagues institutions, Stanford and MIT encouraging them to apply to top schools.

Delaware has expanded the project to reach a broader set of students to help them recognize all of their options. In addition to the high-achieving, low-income group, more than 2,000 other seniors will receive materials tailored to their needs, including information about how to research colleges, details of Delaware scholarship programs and a letter of encouragement from Delaware’s colleges and universities. All students who qualify will receive application fee waivers. These waivers already are available to low-income students, but these students often either are unaware of the waivers or struggle with the complex process for requesting them.

“The College Board is delighted to partner with Delaware on this critical effort to expand access to opportunity for students,” said Coleman. “The Delaware partnership is at the forefront of the College Board’s efforts to ensure that students across the country pursue the opportunities they have earned.”

In reporting on the Stanford research, the New York Times noted the consequences of economically disadvantaged students not taking advantage of potential education opportunities: “The colleges that most low-income students attend have fewer resources and lower graduation rates than selective colleges, and many students who attend a local college do not graduate. Those who do graduate can miss out on the career opportunities that top colleges offer.”

At today’s announcement, Murphy stressed that the Delaware-College Board partnership would be a key addition to the state’s robust plan to improve college access.

“Our department’s vision is to ensure all students graduate college and career ready, and we are working toward that goal by addressing four key areas: affordability, academic readiness and persistence through college, alliances across K-12 and our post-secondary system and connecting highly qualified students with top schools,” Murphy said. “This project touches on all of those areas.”

Delaware Efforts to Assist with College Access and the Application Process


  • Through the College Access Challenge Grant, the state has been working to increase the number of students in dual enrollment courses, giving them a college-going experience and college credits while in high school.


  • Race to the Top funding has supported graduation coaches, who are assigned to students to ensure they remain on track and pursue the path that best suits them.


  • Through the School Improvement Grant process, districts have split high schools into multiple schools that focus on specific career interests, such as business, arts and STEM.


  • Through ‘Summer Nudge’—a partnership between the Delaware Department of Education, the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and the College Board—the state is actively reaching out to students identified as ready for college who have not enrolled, with the intent of providing support and resources to facilitate their transition to college.


  • This year, the state will expand last year’s pilot of College Application Week to a College Application Month, offering this program in 19 high schools across the state.

The state is working with U.S. Department of Education and state Office of Volunteerism to support and expand FAFSA nights, which provide chances for families to get information about and support for filling out the federal student financial aid form

Governor Jack Markell and Lt. Governor Matt Denn Unveil Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Education

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visits, highlights President Obama’s Preschool for All proposal

Wilmington, DE – Governor Jack Markell and Lt. Governor Matt Denn presented a long-term, strategic plan today to strengthen and sustain Delaware’s early childhood system. Developed by the Delaware Early Childhood Council, the plan focuses on whole-child development, family engagement and community collaboration to reach milestones and meet established goals over the next five years.

“One of the most important investments we can make is in our state’s youngest children,” said Governor Markell.  “Our vision is to create the nation’s finest early childhood system where quality programs prepare all of our  children for success in a competitive, global economy.  Early childhood development is fundamental not only to later educational success but virtually all facets of a child’s health, prosperity and quality of life.  Studies show:  children receiving quality early care and education are more likely to be successful in school, become better citizens, earn greater wages, contribute more to their communities and require government support.  Education is not only our moral obligation – our state’s economic future depends on it.”

The plan includes four strategic goals:

1.  A Healthy Start for All Children: create an environment where Delaware children become the healthiest in the nation– physically, emotionally, and behaviorally.

2.  High-Quality Early Childhood Programs and Professionals: provide all Delaware children with access to high-quality early childhood programs and professionals.

3.  An Aligned and Effective Early Learning System, Birth Through Third Grade: create a system that enables all children to arrive at school ready and eager to succeed and prepares K-12 schools to further enrich their early learning.

4.  Sustainable System Improvement: develop and sustain policies, programs and partnerships that address the comprehensive developmental needs of all children.

“There is work going on in classrooms all over this state that is not only exciting, but also critically important,” said Lt. Governor Denn. “We are creating a comprehensive early childhood system that serves all children and families in our state and, in doing so, Delaware has the opportunity to change the future in a fundamental and enduring way – to impact the lives of children and their families for generations to come.”

Accompanying the four strategic goals are strategies and objectives for implementation.  They include: strengthening young child developmental screening and access to health services; ramping up participation in Delaware Stars, the state’s quality rating and improvement system for early childhood providers; offering professional development and wage enhancements for early childhood teaching professionals; and building bridges between the early childhood system and the K-12 system using cross sector professional development and the Delaware Early Learner Survey at Kindergarten entry.

“This strategic plan charts a clear path for us to follow,” said Jennifer Ranji, Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.  “This work has intensified in focus and momentum in recent years and this plan will further accelerate that activity.  If we help children succeed when they’re young, we can make the hurdles they face more surmountable and their full potential achievable.  We owe them our best efforts.”

“This initiative is about community ownership,” added Dan Rich, Chairman of the Delaware Early Childhood Council. “Mobilization of partnerships across all sectors is the key to sustainability.  This strategic plan was developed over the last year by the Delaware Early Childhood Council with the participation of hundreds of stakeholders across the state. The Interagency Resources Management Committee (IRMC) with the enthusiastic support of all three relevant Cabinet Secretaries – Children’s Department Secretary Jennifer Ranji, Education Secretary Mark Murphy and Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf then recommended the plan to the Governor.  We are grateful for the participation of our partners and their commitment to our implementation efforts going forward.”

Today’s unveiling occurred immediately following a visit by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who toured St. Michael’s School and Nursery to observe its early learning program. He also joined the Governor, Lt. Governor and Delaware’s Congressional delegation to highlight President Obama’s Preschool for All proposal to expand access to high quality preschool for all children. The President’s 2014 budget proposes $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all four-year olds. Funding would be provided to states and distributed to local school districts, or local school districts in partnership with other early learning providers, to offer high-quality preschool programs. An additional $750 million would provide competitive grants to states to strengthen their early learning systems.

“Under the leadership of Governor Markell, his education team and many others across the state, Delaware is setting a high bar for educational achievement and better outcomes,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper. “Focusing on early education is fundamental to student success and building a first-class workforce that is ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.”

“In child after child, we’ve seen proof that early education results in kids who are better prepared for the classroom and ultimately more successful in school and in life,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said. “Developing and implementing a long-term strategic plan shows real leadership and commitment to investing in our kids and ensuring they have every opportunity to succeed. When we invest in our kids, we invest in our own future.”

Building a strong foundation for Delaware’s education system is a top priority for this administration. In 2011, with the support of the General Assembly, the State invested $22M in early childhood education.  Later that year the state won an additional $50M in the federal Early Learning Challenge grant competition that will allow Delaware to significantly increase the number of early childhood programs participating and attaining the highest levels of quality in Delaware Stars – the state’s quality rating and improvement system for early childcare and education programs. Those funds will also support efforts to grow the percentage of low-income children in child care enrolled in quality-rated early learning programs. In addition, an annual investment of $1.9 million will allow 10,000 Delaware students to participate in Delaware’s World Language Immersion Program over the next decade. Students enrolled in the program spend half their school day learning science, social studies and math in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.


Photos from today’s events are available on Flickr.