The new head of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative pushed back Tuesday night on suggestions that the new agency expand to include more city elementary schools.
“This is a long journey, this is going to take many years to get our schools where they need to be,” said Laura Burgos, the group’s executive director.
That’s not going to happen by adding expansion into the mix now, she said.
“We have so much to do, systems that we need to reimagine, and we need to look at everything from curriculum to staffing structures to accountability,” she said. “I said it before. Funding alone is not enough without strategy and accountability. We’re going to keep throwing money, throwing money, throwing money and wondering why outcomes aren’t shifting.”
The issue popped up in a meeting devoted mostly to finalizing contracts and budgets with community partners at the governing council’s monthly meeting.
The learning collab was created to help nine elementaries, which are in the city but operated by suburban Red Clay, Brandywine and Christina school districts.
Its $10 million annual budget, plus $6 million rolled over from last year, is devoted to creating programs dealing with challenges faced by city students.
It hopes to empower city students and families, as well as on-the-ground workers, by giving them a voice in policy making to improve student achievement metrics like test scores, absenteeism and graduation rates.
Three council members continued to stress that there are city schools not included in the Wilmington Learning Collaborative – a recurring community theme – that face the same social and educational struggles of the students and families in the nine collaborative schools.
“I wanted to bring this to the council’s attention, especially as we talk about expanding our committees and our workgroups, to make sure that we’re not just focusing on those students who attend the WLC schools,” said council member Shanika Dickerson. She’s also a Brandywine school board member.
“Those students are living in these respective communities and facing the same challenges that students attending the WLC schools face on a regular basis,” she said, “so we need to be intentional about casting a wider net to meet their needs.”
Brandywine Superintendent Lincoln Hohler, a council member, agreed.
“Those students experience the same level of trauma that we know our students face on a daily basis,” he said, “so keeping them in mind as we continue to develop and build the WLC is really important.”
“I would imagine that the work that we’re doing in this part can be leveraged, scalable and expanded through our representative districts easily,” said Alethea Smith-Tucker, a council member and Christina school board member.
“I hear your point…to be able to lift up some proof points and some new innovations that can then be scaled,” said Burgos. “but it remains the charge of the council and of the WLC and as myself, as an executive director, to first and foremost focus on building a community in our nine schools.”
The collaborative has its first office, Burgos announced.
The collaborative will spend $28,420 annually ($2,368.33 monthly) to rent an office from Delaware State University, located at 1 S. Orange Street in Wilmington.
DSU, a top-ranked Historically Black College, is already contracted by the collaborative for about $160,000 to help manage projects.
“Our office space was never a huge conversation because there were so many other things to focus on,” said Laura Burgos, executive director of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative. “But I will say it hasn’t been easy meeting in different nooks and crannies and not having a home base, and it’s also taken a financial toll.”
She said the group doesn’t have time to waste on submitting reimbursements and figuring out where their next meeting will be.
“We can set up shop, so I have some place to welcome our school community stakeholders and to welcome my team,” Burgos said.
The collaborative also plans on connecting families with social services to address issues like homelessness, poverty and hunger.
The council also voted Tuesday on the contracts for two district liaisons.
Brandywine’s liaison Lavinia Jones-Davis will have a salary of $78,809.50 and Christina’s liaison Paul Dunford will have a salary of $78,479.57. The collaborative will pay for half the salary, with the district funding the other half.
It is unclear what the salary of Red Clay’s liaison – Susan Hoffman – is, but Red Clay chose to fund this position by themselves without help from the collaborative.
Smith-Tucker pointed out that those three are already district employees, but are now being brought into the Wilmington Learning Collaborative as well.
She said the liaisons are responsible for being the connector and collaborator between districts.
They help increase efficiency for creating partnerships and building the infrastructure of the collaborative, Smith-Tucker said, citing how they helped with identifying and hiring Burgos as the executive director.
They’re now charged with building the collaborative’s parent advisory group, Smith-Tucker said.
In Tuesday’s meeting, the council also explained some of the work that Empower Schools – also contracted as a project manager – will complete over the next year.
Empower School’s budget, in the scope of the collaborative, is $130,000. It’s tasked with executive team hiring, school planning and coaching, launching programs and structure support.
More specifically, here are some of Empower School’s responsibilities:
- Execute small group learning visits for WLC leadership and school teams to unique districts.
- Collaborate on the creation of detailed school planning objectives, process steps andapproval timelines.
- Create a mini-grant process (documents, review teams/training, technical assistance, update/reporting process) for WLC school-based programming.
- Customize timeline for launch, including department-level collaboration, staff recruitment, enrichment programming and communications.
- Continue supporting development of holistic school performance framework to guide school support and inform stakeholders about school and WLC progress.
For a full list of the “key outcomes” of Empower School’s work, click here.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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