Last March marked a historic moment for the State of Delaware when it became one of two U.S. states to receive the nation’s first Race to the Top awards from the federal government. Delaware’s new effort builds on nearly 10 years of education reform taking place in the state. While important in positioning the state for education transformation, these previous initiatives have failed to make marked improvements, and the results of our struggling schools are clear.
After ten years of experimenting with education reform, and in the face of new opportunities presented through President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, Delaware’s policymakers, community members, educators, districts, and schools have been forced to ask themselves why reform efforts to this point have been unsuccessful and what can be done to produce new, positive results.
As a parent, former teacher, school leader, and district administrator in Delaware’s public school system, I have witnessed firsthand many examples of how Delaware’s public schools are not meeting the needs of all our students, and specifically the students that need our support the most. Through my experiences, I have come to understand that we must rethink the delivery of education if we are truly to advance our education system into the 21st Century. I believe, in the words of Ron Wolk, Founding Editor of Education Week and Teacher Magazine, that “Our challenge is not to reform schools, it is to redesign them.”
Currently, I am fortunate to serve as the Executive Director of Innovative Schools, a non-profit public school resource center and support organization. In this role, I have had the opportunity to research high performing school models across the country, and have seen first-hand that to remain relevant in the 21st Century, the delivery of public education will need to look dramatically different. Schools across the country are successfully pushing the boundaries of public education with innovative ways of teaching and learning that energize teachers, excite students, and raise achievement. Serving similar demographics and facing many of the same challenges as Delaware’s public schools, these new, successful school models are increasing student achievement at far greater rates and with longer-term success than Delaware’s reform efforts. I believe the most efficient and effective way to bring high-quality education to Delaware and make dramatic improvements in underperforming public schools is by replicating these proven, modern school models in place of our traditional academic programs.
Through a local, grass roots effort, Innovative Schools is positioned to provide Delaware’s schools a comprehensive, coordinated approach to school redesign that will provide students and families with new educational options, and which helps to systematically modernize Delaware’s public schools. The foundation of this work is our effort to support the replication of modern, non-traditional school designs in both district and charter schools. Schools included in our Portfolio of Model Schools exhibit the following characteristics:
- Overlay core subject areas with 21st century themes and recognize that skills such as global awareness, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration need to be mastered in addition to the academic content.
- Offer new and engaging ways of learning for students by reconsidering how time, curriculum, personnel, culture, and technology are used to maximize learning.
- Go beyond “best practices” by making use of classroom structures and instructional methods that lead to higher student engagement and deeper learning.
- Incorporate strong family and community involvement in meaningful ways.
- Embrace high expectations and insist that academic rigor and relevance pervade all facets of the school.
- Teach students to self-assess and articulate the standards for high quality work.
- Utilize a small school model to foster a culture and community of caring where all students are known well by adults and mentors.
- Value their teachers and embrace professional development as a vehicle leading to students’ academic success.
- Measure student success through multiple measures that accurately reflect what students know, understand, and are able to do.
- Utilize student data in meaningful ways so that planning and instruction are based on student needs and actual performance.
- Demonstrate restorative justice and creative problem solving in the approach to discipline, working to solve the root problem of the student’s misbehavior and helping the student plan for similar situations in the future.
- Develop leaders and leadership skills across principals and teachers.
While this work is incredibly important, it will be difficult. I am proud to work alongside educators as they strive to achieve their goals on behalf of Delaware students and families. I invite members of the community to learn more about the unique school concepts included in Innovative Schools’ Portfolio of Model Schools and view videos of these models in action at www.innovativeschools.org. Moreover, I’d like to hear from others, “What do you think the redesign of Delaware’s public schools should look like?”
Dr. Deborah L. Doordan, Ed.D. is Innovative Schools’ Executive Director. Since joining the organization in February 2008, her leadership has provided direction through major restructuring; transforming and reframing the organization as the Center for School Innovation, and has poised it to play an important role in revolutionizing public education in Delaware.
Debbie professionally dedicated more than 20 years serving public education in the Christina School District. As a teacher, her work in special education helped to move students with disabilities out of isolated special schools and into their age-appropriate home schools. As an urban school principal in Wilmington, Debbie’s team significantly raised the academic performance of students at-risk for failure and narrowed the achievement gap among disaggregate student groups. As a district administrator, her experiences broadened to include extensive work in curriculum and instruction, professional development, and secondary education reform.
Among her many leadership abilities, Debbie’s commitment to innovative school reform, dedication to cultivating effective partnerships, and capacity to foster collaborative teamwork have strengthened the organization’s potential to promote outstanding student achievement in Delaware by developing excellent schools.
Debbie earned her B.S. in Special Education from Lynchburg College, and her M.Ed, and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Delaware. Debbie lives with her husband and two sons in the City of Wilmington.