Office of the President
Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
Vision 2015: “Getting It Done … and Done Right”
October 18, 2011
Welcome to Delaware’s Race to Deliver: Getting It Done … and Done Right. I thank the Rodel Foundation for sponsoring this important conference, and for its leadership in ensuring top-tier schools for Delaware’s students.
Systemically improving public education is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for those with a short attention span. The Rodel Foundation has been on Delaware’s school-reform front lines for a dozen years, and a force behind Vision 2015 through the plan’s inception and implementation. Without doubt, Delaware owes the Rodel Foundation a great debt.
I thank the foundation’s Board of Directors, its Advisory Council, its President and CEO Paul Herdman, and the entire staff for the extraordinary work they do every day for the children of this state.
This is our 4th annual conference on public education, and I’m so grateful we’ve committed to this journey of continual improvement, to regularly assessing our progress and fine-tuning our approaches. The path to transformation isn’t an easy one. I think we all know that. And that’s why today is so important—a day dedicated to talking out what’s working and how to replicate it.
It was five years ago this month that Delaware unveiled a plan to reform public education, focused on six goals that, if achieved, would yield schools that are predicated on excellence, and able to deliver
it—no exceptions, no excuses.
The goals are ambitious: high expectations and world-class standards for all students; early education that prepares every child for school; great teachers in every classroom; principals trained and empowered to be effective leaders; a system that encourages innovation and demands accountability; and a funding structure that’s equitable and adequate.
This vision isn’t a reality … yet. Fundamental reform like this takes time and a tremendous amount of effort. But we are putting in place those things that make this vision credible. And it’s important that we celebrate what we have accomplished. Because every effort we’ve put forth requires courage to do things differently, conviction that the path we’re on is the right one, and strength to follow through on sometimes difficult decisions.
We’ve adopted the rigorous Common Core Standards, and I thank Gov. Jack Markell, our lunchtime keynoter, for his national leadership in this movement. We’ve implemented an assessment system that returns better, more timely data on students’ achievement. We’re strengthening early childhood education and the qualifications of early educators, and we’re documenting children’s school readiness statewide. We have a teacher evaluation system that better links educator effectiveness to student performance, and we’ve expanded initiatives to get effective teachers and leaders into high-need subjects and schools.
We’ve established the Partnership Zone to focus resources and best practices on the schools most in need of help, and we’re supporting these schools as they implement their turnaround plans. Talk about an effort requiring courage! I thank the schools and districts, the school boards, the teachers and administrators, the parents and citizens—the entire communities—that have come together to engage in challenging conversations and, in the end, to do only what they believe is best for students.
A Community of Support
Some of these activities are further along than others, but we’ve charted a clear course and identified the measures by which we’ll judge our success; we’ve committed to more transparency in our actions and more inclusiveness in our decision-making. We have a range of stakeholders who agree that reform is needed, who agree on the principles of this reform—if not always the details—and who are willing to discuss publicly and substantively where we’re doing well and where we’re falling short.
It’s these commitments and this community that predict success more persuasively than any discrete improvement activity. In fact, it’s Delaware’s keen insistence on large-scale buy-in that secured our Race to the Top success. I’m grateful to Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, who will talk this morning about where Delaware’s Race to the Top dollars are going, and how they’re being deployed at the school and district levels to help us meet our reform goals.
We’ll have substantive sessions on the role of local school boards in reform; how to fairly evaluate teachers and distinguish effective teaching from ineffective; what we’re doing to develop and support good instructional leadership; how schools and districts are preparing students for college and career success; how the first cohort of Partnership Zone schools are handling significant turnaround efforts, and what the second cohort might learn from their work.
UD’s Role in School Improvement
Clearly, the University of Delaware has a vested interest in improving the state’s schools. Eight in 10 college-bound Delawareans apply to UD. We want all of them to be ready for college-level work, and able to keep pace through four years of a steadily more rigorous curriculum. We want them to compete with the world’s best graduates for the world’s best jobs, and to enrich Delaware by contributing their time and talent and resources here. This is how you keep the state vital.
But UD isn’t just a beneficiary of the state’s reform efforts; we’re a partner in them. We prepare a significant share of the teachers who go to work in Delaware’s classrooms, and focus on coaxing them into the disciplines and schools that need them the most; we provide professional development that helps teachers become more effective; we coach principals and school administrators through the challenges of leadership and change; we intensively research curriculum and pedagogy to influence what and how students are taught.
And as partners, we’re not immune to significant changes in the education landscape. We’re not exempt from examining our role in school improvement. We’re working to better prepare teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom and the needs of students who, today, must be globally competitive. We’re working to meaningfully evaluate the effectiveness of prospective teachers, to be good and reliable partners to the many constituencies involved in reform, and to serve them and the cause with good data, good research, and good practices.
We know that “world class” education doesn’t happen without all of us at the table, willing and able to make it so. I’m sincerely glad you’re at this table with us—that you’re eager to make a difference. You’re our best chance for exceptional schools and exceptional students.
Introduction of Skip Schoenhals
It’s now my honor to introduce the chair of Vision 2015, and a visionary himself, Skip Schoenhals. Since the launch of Vision 2015 in October 2006, the plan has been lauded by national and international experts as one of the most promising state-level reforms of public education. For five years, Skip and all those on the Vision 2015 Implementation Team have been working tirelessly to move the plan into practice.
Skip is a trustee and former chair of the Delaware Public Policy Institute, a member and former chair of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Delaware Business Roundtable and chair of the Roundtable’s Education Committee, and a member of the board of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. For his contributions to the state and society, he won the coveted Josiah Marvel Cup Award, and he’s enshrined in the Delaware Business Leaders Hall of Fame. In his spare time, of course, Skip is chairman of WSFS Financial Corporation and WSFS Bank.
Please help me welcome a man wholly dedicated to delivering excellence in public education, Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals.