The Path Worth Taking

January 7th, 2011

Category: News

New Year Message 2011

Nine months ago, the game changed in Delaware.


I remember the moment well.  I was sitting in our conference room when the email messages began. Delaware had taken the top spot in Race to the Top—one of only two states selected in the first round.  Coming in first in the nation’s largest competitive grants program in education reform history was huge—it was a powerful moment.


The Race to the Top win is a collective success shared by a broad mix of public and private leaders.  Five individuals in particular were highly instrumental:  Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, Vision 2015 Chair Skip Schoenhals, Delaware State Education Association president Diane Donohue, and Red Clay Superintendent Mervin Daugherty, all of whom represented Delaware in the final-stage interview in Washington, D.C.


It is inspiring to witness our state’s leadership advance some of the most important ideas in education reform:  world-class academic standards; increased support for current teachers and school leaders and new pipelines for top talent; a data system with real-time information about student progress; new school models for district and charter schools that reflect the needs of today’s “wiki students”; and the tools and funding needed to turn around our lowest-performing schools.


Delaware has demonstrated its leadership in advancing this massive new agenda, and it’s gratifying to see so many other states following suit.  Yet a substantial challenge remains:  how to move from idea to implementation.  As a former teacher, and now head of the Rodel Foundation, which supports this work, I understand how daunting the amount of change in our schools and in our state capital must be; yet I firmly believe that this path, even with its uncertainties, is the right one. 


Systems that engage in this level of transformation often face two significant challenges: the need to communicate what’s happening and limits on the capacity required to make the changes needed. It is the Rodel Foundation’s commitment to help address these needs as the state’s reform efforts move forward.  So in 2011, we are dedicating ourselves to:

Enhancing communications

  • Providing updates through the Vision 2015 e-newsletter which reaches10,000 readers every two weeks, and through Rodel’s blog, which we update almost daily.
  • Bringing together leading-edge thinkers and practitioners from Delaware and throughout the nation to explore the work underway and to share counsel and inspiration.
  • Convening the annual Vision 2015 conference in the fall, as well as other events and learning forums throughout the year.
  • Organizing with the Delaware General Assembly the third Education Policy Institute for Legislators in the spring.

Building capacity

  • Supporting the Vision Network, which serves 23,000 students in 26 schools, by helping educators and school leaders focus on results. 
  • Supporting new pipelines of talented teachers and school leaders through such programs as Teach For America, which is training and placing 40 teachers in 13 of Wilmington’s highest-need schools and in the Latin American Community Center. 
  • Working with public and nonprofit partners throughout the state to host model school tours so that public, private and community leaders can see what is possible in high-performing schools elsewhere.  After visits last year to ten states, plans are in the works for several new school models, as well as for the launch of the state’s first New Tech High School in 2011.

2010 was an historic year for education reform in Delaware and the Rodel Foundation was honored to play a small part.  In 2011 I encourage all of us to remain focused on the unique opportunity we have to fundamentally change the lives of tens of thousands of Delaware children and, in the process, to prove to the nation what’s possible.



Best wishes for a Happy New Year,



Paul Herdman



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