Excellence in Education grant program kicks off

Unveiling the Excellence in Education booklet are, from left, Glen M. Howell (Levy Court commissioner), Michael J. Petit de Mange (Levy Court county administrator), Linda Parkowski (Kent Economic Partnership, executive director), Tonda Parks (Delaware State News, director, Event Marketing & Community Outreach), George Sweeney (Levy Court commissioner), Allan F. Angel (Levy Court commissioner, Darel LaPrade (Delaware State News, publisher); Terry L. Pepper (Levy Court commissioner), Shelly Cecchett (Greater Kent Committee, executive director) and Eric L. Buckson (Levy Court commissioner). (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — The role education plays in economic development was at the center of the conversation for the inaugural Excellence in Education event, where organizers touted a new grant program designed to assist central Delaware educators in preparing students for the workforce.

Excellence in Education, driven by community partners Greater Kent Committee, Kent Economic Partnership and the Delaware State News, officially launched last week during a dinner that brought together community leaders, businesses and educators with a presentation that highlighted Kent County’s educational assets.

“Some people may ask: why schools and economic development? Do they really go together?” Linda Parkowski, executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership, said. “And they do.”

Ms. Parkowski noted that in a recent survey, the top three most important location criteria were workforce skills, transportation and infrastructure and workforce development.

“As you can see, two out of three are workforce and workforce training. And that’s why schools and economic development go together,” she continued. “Think of any existing business in central Delaware, and they’ll tell you their number one challenge is talent attraction. That’s their number one challenge. So we could ignore our existing businesses are having challenges or we can step up as a community, as we did, and do something about it.”

Tonda Parks, Delaware State News, director, Event Marketing & Community Outreach, presents a check for $54,000 to the Excellence in Education Fund and thanks all who made it possible.

For the first grant cycle, which will be announced at the second Excellence in Education in November 2020, the hope is to have at least $25,000 to support workforce development in schools. Grant application details are forthcoming through the CenDel Foundation.

Between multi-year commitments and the initial investment from the county, over $60,000 has been raised, said Tonda Parks, Delaware State News director of Event Marketing & Community Outreach.

“The mission for the Excellence in Education grant program is focused now on workforce development initiatives and it’s all about getting our young people to stay in Kent County and to work in Kent County and to have the skill-sets to meet and close the occupational shortages that we have,” Mrs. Parks said. “There are a lot of job opportunities here. We’re looking toward filling those positions with skilled employees and residents of this county and we know that our schools have the programs to meet that. We hope to give them the funding they may need to highlight or tweak to meet the needs of the businesses.”

The dinner, which celebrated funds already generated — such as the $25,000 commitment from Kent County Levy Court and an additional $10,000 from businesses — also helped raise proceeds, bringing in donations from Century Engineering, Delaware Electric Co-Op, Harrington Realty and Jennings and Lisa Hastings.

Dan Shelton, superintendent of Capital School District, said the event was a good example of how the district endeavors to be embedded in the community and a “catalyst for economic development.”

“Really, the groundswell of support was touching. It’s moving,” he said. “We’ve made that turn, where education is recognized as something to support in Kent County.”

Ryan Fuller, principal of Polytech High School, said that having a forum for K-12 and higher education to come together and share what they do was a great opportunity.

He noted that Delaware is a growth area with a labor demand.

“When you look at businesses that relocate, they are looking for strong schools. They often require more than a high school diploma. At Polytech, we have strong programs that focus on career and technical education and certification for high schoolers as a stepping stone so they can get the pay that supports a decent living,” he continued. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”

He noted that he brought a couple students from Polytech High to talk about their education to those in attendance at Wednesday’s dinner.

“That made their night. We want to invest in students, and have opportunities for them to network and be a part of that experience,” he said. “It’s nice to have students there to represent that.”

Mrs. Parks described the kickoff as “energized.”

“That was a term that I heard from multiple people that attended the event and that were there,” she said. “It was exciting to see how many people who were going to be affected by the grant program.”

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