Gov. Carney tours 3 high-achieving schools

DOVER — Jayden Barlow, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary, had a great responsibility placed on his shoulders Tuesday morning.

It was his job to greet Gov. John Carney at Fairview’s front door and welcome him into the elementary school located off Walker Road.

Jayden performed his task admirably.

“I met (Gov. Carney) and said, ‘Good morning, my name is Jayden,’ and he asked me how old I am,” he said. “I told him I’m nine-years-old and in fourth grade and welcome to Fairview Elementary. I also told him I like my school because we get to learn a lot and I have a lot of nice classmates.”

Fairview was the second school that Gov. Carney and Delaware Education Secretary Susan Bunting toured on Tuesday. They started their day at Etta J. Wilson Elementary School in Newark and finished it at North Laurel Early Learning Academy.

All three were schools that Gov. Carney mentioned as great achievers during his recent State of the State address.

“These are schools that have demonstrated that they can get high-achievement levels from all students, so we wanted to figure out what they’re doing and replicate that and do that in other places,” Gov. Carney said.

“(At Fairview) I’ve talked with the teachers, and just met with the principal and the superintendent, to understand the things that they’re doing to get their third graders reading proficiently at a third-grade level.”

The governor said he was touring the schools to see exactly what they are doing right and to highlight the proposed Opportunity Funding initiative and other investments in schools across the state.

On Jan. 15, Gov. Carney, Secretary Bunting and education advocates proposed a three-year, $60 million Opportunity Funding initiative to target resources toward Delaware’s most disadvantaged students.

The program, for the first time in Delaware, would provide weighted funding for low-income and English learner students in schools across Delaware. Every Delaware school district and charter would receive a per-pupil appropriation for each English learner and low-income student they educate.

Over the next three years, the Delaware Department of Education would work with district, charter and school leaders, community representatives, parents and educators to evaluate how districts and charters are using the funding, and to measure progress of these students.

Gov. Carney said that making sure students can read by the third grade is a good measuring stick for how far they can succeed in an educational environment and he wants to help provide resources that can make that happen more frequently in all schools.

“The reality is if kids can’t read by third-grade, they’re not going to be able to learn because they can’t read after that and their trajectory is not very good, so our opportunity of grant funding will help schools like this,” he said.

“These (successful schools like Fairview) are the ones that don’t need the help as much as others … they have students that do, but they’re already performing very well.

“It also tells us that it’s not just all about money. It’s about how they deploy their resources in an effective way and that’s really why we’re here, to figure that out and to hear from the people actually doing it.”

Gov. Carney and Secretary Bunting started the Fairview tour at Ruben Blanco-Briongos’s Spanish class before also visiting Jonni Wolskee’s English class and finishing up in Ms. Courtney Clegg’s class, where students were studying different food.

Fairview Elementary Principal Melissa White was beaming with pride as she watched her teachers interact closely with the students in front of the governor.

“I just think it’s great to have (Gov. Carney) come and to recognize the great work that the teachers and staff are doing to help move kids and close that achievement gap, so we’re really proud of the work that we’re doing and the hard work that the kids are doing,” Ms. White said.

“The governor just wanted to know what we’ve been doing as a staff to move kids along and to know just what the next steps may be.”

Dan Shelton, superintendent for the Capital School District of which Fairview is a part, was surprised when Gov. Carney mentioned one of Capital’s elementary schools in his State of the State address.

However, he wasn’t surprised by the governor and Ms. Bunting’s visit on Tuesday.

“What’s amazing about Fairview is that it has taken and really shown an amazing growth in our third and fourth graders, and not only amazing growth, but amazing growth compared to other similar schools in the state,” Mr. Shelton said. “We have a low-income population here and the growth that they’re making is outstanding and it’s a great recognition for the hard work that our teachers and administrators have been doing.”

Gov. Carney and Secretary Bunting were able to get a first-hand look at what Fairview’s teachers were doing on Tuesday, and it gave them a chance to see just how flexible the governor’s proposed Opportunity Funding initiative program would need to be.

The $20 million annually could be used by districts and charters to fund additional reading and math specialists, counselors, trauma-informed training, after-school programming and smaller class sizes, among other potential uses.

Spending plans must be approved by the Department of Education, and spending authorized under the initiative must directly benefit low-income and English learner students.

The Department of Education said that it would work with an independent entity to evaluate results under the new initiative, and a separate commission of community leaders, parents and educators would help evaluate the program’s success and spotlight best practices to achieve results for these students.

“As a former superintendent, I can tell you how valued this extra funding will be by our schools. Our English learners and our students from low-income families need more support,” Secretary Bunting said. “We long have been one of only a handful of states that doesn’t give additional funding for these students.”

Gov. Carney said that his stop at Fairview did provide him with some insight into what creates a successful learning experience.

“Just the enthusiasm of the teachers and the kids,” he said. “You know you’re in a school that works when you see that enthusiasm in the teachers and the children.

“I think what it really comes down to is having good, strong leaders in each building and a teacher corps that’s working and using data to move the students along and having resources that can be deployed flexibly, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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