Education forum debates public schooling in Delaware
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:04
Four local educational professionals came together Thursday in Clayton Hall to discuss how to strengthen the state’s public school system, which ranks 40th nationally and graduates only 65 percent of its high school students.
The lecture, called “Delaware’s Race to the Top: Strategies for world-class schools,” and moderated by The News Journal’s executive editor David Ledford, was part of a larger “Imagine Delaware” lecture series.
One of the topics was charter schools which, according to Ledford, make up 8 percent of the public school population.
Lillian Lowery, Delaware’s secretary of education and overseer of federal and state policy for Delaware’s district and charter schools, said state taxes support charter schools. She also said their existence gives parents more choices about where to send their children to school, something she fully endorses.
“Charter schools are public schools,” Lowery said.
This response was greeted with applause from the audience.
Lowery also suggested that teachers should have more of a leadership role in establishing school policy, because they interact with students on a regular basis.
“We need time in the school day for teachers to come together to talk about students and how they can be better,” she said.
Lowery said those in charge should not be afraid to make choices that might be considered drastic, if they could truly benefit public school system students.
Jason Bernal, who is currently the president of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, discussed how different approaches to education have fared in his schools.
He said students and teachers in YES Prep Public Schools are challenged by the system in place. Students are put through a demanding courseload and teachers are paid based on their job performance, rather than their length of employment.
The schools are free alternatives to traditional public schools aiming to increase the number of low-income students who graduate from high school. He said leaders are what make schools successful.
“A school needs fantastic school leadership,” Bernal said. “If a school principal is a winner, he or she will make sure to hire teachers who are winners as well.”
Panelist Tena Gladney, a community engagement coordinator at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, said a misconception about parental involvement in education exists.
Howard High School administrators make parental involvement easier and information more accessible, Gladney said, instead of rating parents’ interest by how many functions they attend, like some schools do.
“Our PTA meetings occur in the morning and night, so parents who work can attend at their own convenience,” Gladney said. “We even offer the option to conference call in, so parents who cannot leave work can still be involved.”
She encourages parents to support their children’s academic careers through direct, individual communication and school-wide initiatives.
“I want to build a capacity for faculty and family to work together,” Gladney said. “We need a strong partnership between the school, the student, and the child’s parents.”
Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association and a former middle school teacher, said at Thursday’s event that there is a need for universal assessments early in kindergarten, especially for underprivileged children. She is concerned about early childhood education and development.
“This is a crucial time for children to beat the achievement gap,” Jenner said. “Some children come into class with significant differences from their peers that need to be addressed immediately.”