by James DeChene
Principal for a Day week at the State Chamber happens every year in Mid-October. Representatives from the business community, including Chamber staff, pick a school to attend for the day in an effort to see how Delaware children are being educated, and to provide a bit of feedback on the latest skills needed and career paths available to graduates.
This year Chamber President Rich Heffron chose Archmere Academy and I chose Newark Charter. What we saw gave us hope that Delaware students have access to a quality education, and that opportunity exists in both private and public school settings.
At Newark Charter, I toured all three of their buildings, spanning K-11 (12th grade will be added next year). Inside each classroom I saw not just the typical English and Math taught, but just as, if not more importantly, was the teaching of critical thinking—the foundation of why a concept was being applied instead of rote memorization. This approach was used for students across the academic spectrum, from those enrolled with Down’s Syndrome, those with more generic special education needs, all the way through those who will go on to excel at higher education institutions. Interspersed with conversations on the adoption of Common Core and the subsequent Smarter Balanced Assessment, I was given a feel for many of the challenges faced by our educators in ensuring students are learning the necessary skills to become successful as adults and in their careers.
Rich Heffron, who has been Principal at schools across the state since the program’s inception in 1993 saw a similar approach this year at Archmere Academy. The Academy’s focus is on making its graduates prepared for college interweaving the Catholic faith as its backbone including a focus on community service. Instead of the Common Core, though teaching critical thinking is an underlying theme as at Newark Charter, the Academy is able to properly prepare its students for life beyond high school. The main obvious difference is that there is a higher parental involvement threshold being met when compared to many of the underperforming schools across the state.
Not as prevalent at Newark Charter or at Archmere, but felt there nonetheless, is the transient nature of student populations, the difficulty in teaching kids that are forced to travel substantial distances out of their neighborhood into their assigned school, the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers—all have a role in why Delaware’s record on education is poor. Solving these problems is not easy, and not one the Chamber can do alone, but we are committed to participating in the discussion and offering suggestions on how to make sure Delaware students are prepared for their futur
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.