Reasons to Be Optimistic about the Wilmington Learning Collaborative
Next week marks the potential next step in a multiyear process led by Governor John Carney to bring together the Wilmington community to support schools in the city. As the state’s most populous city, with a history of structural racism and persistent poverty, Wilmington often stands apart in policy conversations—especially when it comes to supporting our city’s children. Starting next Monday, October 10, after decades of efforts, some key votes will be made by school board members of three of the districts serving these children—Brandywine, Christina, and Red Clay. The big question on the table: Should they support an initiative called the Wilmington Learning Collaborative (WLC)?
While there are still valid questions about the structure and governance of the WLC, we are impressed by the commitment the Governor, the son of Wilmington educator, has dedicated to this effort and we’re optimistic about the opportunities it provides. At its base, it provides a focused team dedicated to these schools to help with sharing of best practices and empowering the educational leaders in those schools to build the partnerships with the community they need to better support their students.
At Rodel, we are focused on policy, advocacy and partnerships to help build an excellent and equitable system of public education in Delaware. Here are just a few ideas that we believe could support these schools.
Expand efforts to grow our own strong and diverse teacher workforce. Delaware continues to grapple with two historic challenges when it comes to its teacher workforce. First, there are simply not enough teachers to keep pace with projected student growth. And second, the teachers that are in our classrooms and educator prep programs do not look like the students they serve. Red Clay and other districts have already started new efforts to attract and retain teachers, especially teachers of color, to these schools. This is an opportunity to expand this effort across these schools and build new partnerships with our higher education partners.
Broaden efforts to support our youngest learners. Families in Delaware today struggle to find available, high-quality, and affordable care. Instead, they often find long waitlists, closing childcare centers, and untenable schedules. Childcare workers continue to earn minimum wages and lack health insurance. Local businesses have rallied around childcare as a lever for economic growth.
Gov. Carney and legislators made historic investments in childcare and state-sponsored pre-K earlier this year—including a $3.7 million chunk of funding allocated to the Redding Consortium in next year’s budget is expected to support additional pre-K slots in Wilmington. The WLC is a great opportunity to build a coherent set of services that will improve children’s school readiness and lifelong health.
Accelerate literacy. Especially in the wake of COVID, children statewide have taken a step back when it comes to reading and writing by third grade, a critical benchmark for success in school over time. Of the nearly 37,000 low-income students in Delaware, only 33 percent are proficient in reading by fourth grade. Challenges tend to be more acute in schools like those in consideration for the WLC. In response, Gov. Carney released the Delaware Literacy Plan in 2019 and allocated ongoing state resources to support teacher training, classroom materials, and summer learning supports, and evidence-backed literacy approaches. The WLC provides an opportunity to double down on these efforts and a chance to forge new partnerships across district lines.
Engaging in this new approach comes with some risks, but continuing on the same course presents its own risks. There’s good reason to feel optimistic if these three local school boards move forward in the affirmative on the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Wilmington Learning Collaborative later this month. For our part, we welcome the chance to partner with them in supporting Wilmington’s schools.