Learning Collab seeks permission to extend planning period

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

The Learning Collab council wants more planning time in order to effectively make changes to city schools.

The Learning Collab council wants more planning time in order to effectively make changes to city schools.

The council of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative will ask the three participating districts to amend their memorandum of understanding to extend the council’s planning period. 

“We’ve got one shot at this,” said councilman Lincoln Hohler, who is Brandywine School District’s superintendent. “We can’t come back to the community with another failed initiative and say we want to reboot, we get one shot and we’ve got to get into it right.” 

The council also reported that 100 people have applied for the executive director role and a few admonished the state for not giving it what they felt like was enough administrative support during planning.

The Learning Collab, created in November 2022 with the signing of the memorandum of understanding, includes nine Wilmington elementary schools from Brandywine, Christina and Red Clay school districts. 

Its goal is to improve academic performance for city students while giving families and educators in the city more of a voice in policy-making for their children’s education.

In the original agreement, the 2022-2023 school year was designated as the planning year. During it, the governing council would be formed and an executive director hired with needs and root-cause assessments conducted at each school and more.

MORE ON WLC: Learning Collab extends director application indefinitely

Councilman Dorrell Green, Red Clay’s superintendent, pointed out the council wasn’t formally formed until January, just a few months ago. 

“That’s a seven-month delay in terms of the process,” he said. “We’re all in different places in school districts really trying to engage our schools and engage our communities.”

He noted that educators are already beginning to plan what they’re doing for next school year, and the good-faith effort the council is putting into accelerating the collaborative’s work is creating a lot of angst for educators. 

“We’re hitting the ground running, we’re trying to identify an executive director, but we’re also trying to conduct and build out policies procedures,” said councilwoman Starr Wilson, Brandywine’s parent representative. “I would say give us grace and mercy, because we’re trying our best and we hear the community very loudly… I would say to all parents, all representatives that see the bigger picture, bear with us.”

Councilwoman Alethea Smith-Tucker, a Christina board member, said representatives from each district on the council will ask during June school board meetings to amend the signed agreement to reflect the actual start date that the council was fully seated.

With no executive director or governing rules in place such as bylaws and policies, the council felt like it’s not able to effectively make changes within the school districts and schools.

MORE ON WLC: Learning Collab hires DSU, Empower Schools to manage projects

Members all agreed that transparency is key, and they need to let the community know that they aren’t in a place yet to make effective decisions. 

The committee plans to narrow the 100 applicants to less than a dozen for interviews. It is creating a rubric and evaluation metrics to quantify the best fit. 

Smith-Tucker suggested that the Department of Education should allocate two administrative assistants to the council, one for communication purposes and the other for tasks and operations. 

Since forming, the council has also hired Delaware State University to provide technical support and project management help, which is especially needed since there isn’t an executive director yet. 

Among some grumblings asking for more state help, councilwoman Adriana Bohm, a Red Clay board member, had some harsh words. 

“All I keep thinking in my head is that here we are, once again, trying to do work for city schools. to improve the working conditions of our educators and the learning conditions of our students, and the building of this ship has really not been prioritized by the state,” she said. 

The Department of Education, which helped push the creation of the collaborative along with Gov. John Carney’s office, has said it was going to step out of the process once the MOU was signed to allow the local members to take over.

Bohm said the amount of time the executive director search committee is spending to find the right candidate is enough work to equate to a full-time job. 

“The emails, I see the work, I see there’s over 100 applications and people going through the applications, they’re vetting the applications, they’re figuring out timelines and rubrics for asking questions and setting community forums and meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting,” she said. “We were not provided with the resources to build that boat at the beginning.”

She acknowledged the state has allocated millions of dollars in its budget for the learning collaborative, but said it needed support beyond financial allocations. 

“It almost seems as if this task before us in a way, through a lack of resources, has been designed to not really work well,” she said. “And that just brings me back to the fact that it’s the exact same things with our city schools: being under-resourced, under-supported, non-prioritized and not providing those infrastructural supports.” 

Secretary of Education Mark Holodick said he understands the frustration and asserts that the collaborative continues to be a top priority for the Department of Education and the governor’s office.

“We want to be helpful and responsive but without being heavy-handed or in any way authoritative,” he said.

Once the agreement was signed, he said, it was turned over to the board and it is the Department’s responsibility and desire to be supportive, and it will continue to look for ways to be.

“I can certainly understand any kind of frustration that exists but it comes from a good place,” he said. “Dr. Bohm and that board want to get things done and standing up a board is really, really hard. Anything that we can do to support them, we will do, we just want to be careful not to overstep.”

The council released its first draft of the learning collaborative’s bylaws and policies and procedures manual. It expects to have several more readings and discussions about them.

It also expects to soon create its own website and Facebook page, independent of the state, for more direct community engagement. 

The council also voted Thursday to have a meet-and-greet, and then a town hall meeting one day in June. It will decide on a date for those two events at its next meeting on May 18. 

To watch the council’s 6 p.m. May 18 meeting, click here.

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