Our Most Important Investment

As a group of toddlers crowded around me for story time, and a reading of Click Clack Moo at a Newark early learning center on Wednesday afternoon, I was reminded once again of our most important work as a state.

Investing in quality education for every Delaware child is the best thing we can do to invest in our state’s future.

Children, such as those young students who joined me at the Goddard School in Newark, will have the best chance for success in school and life when they arrive in kindergarten ready to learn.

That’s why my budget proposes additional funding for Delaware Stars, the state’s quality rating system for early childhood education centers.

This past week, we visited schools across our state, and spoke with educators, students, school leaders, and parents about our collective goal to help give all Delaware children a greater chance of success.

I had the chance this week to visit two schools that received inaugural Opportunity Grants this year: Brandywine School District’s Mount Pleasant Elementary and Woodbridge School District’s Wheatley Elementary.

We know that some of our students, particularly those living in high poverty areas and who are learning English, need extra support. That is why during a very difficult budget year last year I earmarked $1 million for Opportunity Grants to support schools with large populations of students with high needs, which successfully reached 13 schools last year.

In this year’s budget, I’m proposing additional funding for non-competitive Opportunity Grants that will directly target schools with high percentages of low-income students and English language learners.

The expansion will more than triple the number of schools receiving this support. Schools could use this funding for things like instructional coaches, trauma-informed programs, integrated supports and wraparound services for students in need. This will not only bring more resources to the students who need them most, but also help schools build capacity to ensure improvements are sustained.

Mount Pleasant used its grant, in partnership with Children and Families First, to coordinate a comprehensive service center for families of at-risk students as well as implement mindfulness initiatives throughout the school.

Governor Carney visits Ms. Herschlein’s kindergarten class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School.

Principal Matt Auerbach said these investments have made a difference for his educators, students and their families.

“The Opportunity Grant has given us the ability to strategically implement a proven best practice in mindfulness that we believe will positively impact our students, families, and staff. Specifically, we are learning how to slow things down and simply be aware in a non-judgmental way. If we can teach our students to slow things down — allowing them to take a breath and think before they simply react — then I believe we will make a difference for our students and for our community. This is already starting to impact their lives.” — Principal Matt Auerbach

At Wheatley, I also saw the impact of this grant. The elementary school, along with the Woodbridge Early Childhood Education Center, is using its grant to implement trauma-informed practices and enhance its Compassionate Schools model with a focus on English learner students, community outreach and participation. This includes a school-wide curriculum on safety and social learning and music programs and intensive therapies for students along with parent education in topics such as nutrition.

I got the chance to see how students practice yoga to settle their minds. And I saw students practice music as an outlet for stress and trauma during Mr. Joshua Getka’s music class.

Students practice music therapy using the ukulele in Mr. Getka’s music class.

Michele Marinucci, Director of Student Services for Woodbridge School District, explained that when her team drafted the grant application, they looked for innovative supports to help low-income and English language learner students succeed in the classroom.

“What is something different with a proven benefit for students that we can do to give kids an outlet for outside stress? Music therapy is one of those programs. We have a high English language learner population, and not everyone thinks about how stressful that can be for a child or how that impacts them emotionally or socially. While they might struggle to understand their other subjects throughout the day, music is a language we all speak.” — Michele Marinucci

In addition to programming, we also must invest in supporting those who work closest with our children. This is why I have prioritized money in my budget to expand math coaches in our middle schools.

Just before I arrived at Goddard, I visited Capital School District’s Central Middle School in Dover, where I sat down with Annette Roskom, a mathematics coach. She works with a dozen math teachers at the school who teach students of all strengths, helping them enhance their instructional strategies to improve student outcomes. She collaborates with the teachers on goal setting and models effective teaching, lesson planning, observation, reflection on practice, and using data to improve instruction and student learning.

Governor Carney observes students at work during a visit to Central Middle School.

According to the American Institutes for Research, success in middle school mathematics is a key indicator of later academic success. Yet, greater than one out of every four 8th grade students in the U.S. have less than a basic understanding of fundamental math skills. Likewise, Delaware’s state assessment scores show the need for effective mathematics interventions for students in 5th through 8th grades.

As I saw at Central Middle School and heard from Principal Shan Green, Annette, and some of the educators she works with, mathematics coaching is an intervention that has shown promise in improving mathematics instruction and student achievement. This year the state piloted the placement of three mathematics coaches to support four middle schools. The pilot coaches have told us that while early results are promising, sustained student achievement gains will only be realized through the continued coaching and support of teachers.

“The addition of the school level math coach has allowed us to take a deeper, more consistent dive into the data, curriculum, assessments, and instructional strategies used to move our students. And I am very happy to say…they ARE moving!” — Principal Shan Green

An important part of supporting our educators is giving them the time to collaborate with one another. I appreciated the chance to join sixth grade science teachers at Appoquinimink School District’s Waters Middle School in Middletown during their professional learning community (PLC). I got to see first-hand how they work together to analyze data, troubleshoot problems and brainstorm solutions.

Governor Carney joins 6th grade science teachers during a professional learning community.

I also had the chance to hear their concerns. We discussed the need to invest in our public schools, how they are dealing with growing enrollment, and the way each of them engages and challenges all students in their classes, through group work and differentiated lessons.

Their work is critical to the future success of our state.

I appreciated hearing first-hand from these teachers how they recommend that we better support our students and families.

These are some of the issues Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and I were asked about in our Facebook Live education town hall earlier this week. We heard from educators, families and community members who are worried about these issues as well as many others. If you haven’t had a chance to tune-in, you can watch our conversation here:

There is so much promise in Delaware for our children through our strong education system — this week’s tour reminded me of the passion our teachers, communities and other educators have across our state.

That is why my budget will invest in our future by investing first in our children.