Why Delaware’s the First State (Part 1 of 3)

This week features a guest blogger series from Dan Cruce, the Delaware Department of Education’s Deputy Secretary and Chief of Staff.  Dan oversees the day-to-day operations for the department and was a key player in Delaware’s winning Race to the Top application.   He’s smart, dedicated and “gets” educational reform.  Over the next three days Dan will offer us some insights and lessons learned from the state’s Partnership Zone initiative, which was created to turn around Delaware’s 10 lowest-achieving schools.   While Delaware may be small, it has a little bit of everything and makes an ideal laboratory for school reforms.

By Dan Cruce

When Justin asked me to write a blog about school turnaround for STG, I jumped at the chance to describe the work from a state’s perspective — a voice often underrepresented in the school turnaround dialog.   While Delaware is unique, we face the same issues as our bigger neighbors.  Like everyone else, we’ve struggled to find the right response to underperforming schools and have the same persistent student achievement gaps as other states.  Yet we’ve managed to secure the buy-in of the major stakeholders in the educational community on how to tackle these issues and, I’m proud to say, became the first state awarded Race to the Top monies last year.  I hope Delaware and our Partnership Zone will serve as a national model for collaborative school turnaround.

Let me start with what we’ve done well, through both Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grants (SIG).

Now in our second year, the Partnership Zone is a statewide initiative designed to produce dramatic improvement in Delaware’s lowest-achieving schools.  We’ve borrowed heavily from STG’s framework and believe that by fundamentally changing the conditions and building capacity at the school, district and state levels for turnaround, we’ll see dramatic change.

As the name implies, schools are expected to work collaboratively with the state, external partners, and the local community to produce measurable and sustainable gains in student achievement.  By doing this well, we’ll turn around at least 10 low-performing schools (about 5 percent of all public schools in Delaware) so that each of these schools achieves adequate yearly progress (AYP) by 2014.  Through new state laws, we’re able to select which schools enter into the Zone and with Race to the Top resources; we can provide these schools with additional resources and targeted support to bring about much needed improvement.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of our lessons learned.   Until then, take a look at our PZ website.

STG has done work for the Delaware Department of Education, and the state is a member of our multi-state State Development Network.