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A Case for City Schools


As I edited “Running the Race” by Theresa Gawlas Medoff, I was reminded of discussions about creating a city of Wilmington school district. There is some support, and no small amount of resistance, yet I believe it’s an idea whose time has come.

Proponent William E. Manning recently reminded me that no recent mayor of our largest city has ever said anything significant about improving education in Wilmington. Indeed, it was the deplorable state of city schools that got us into the deseg mess 32 years ago, and in many ways, we’re none the better for it. I repeat: 32 years.

A great city needs a great school system. Manning, a pioneer of charters and choice during his 13 years as president of the Red Clay Creek School Board, suggests a model that would essentially turn Wilmington into a district of charters. Could it work?

Two of Delaware’s best schools are charter schools that call the old Wilmington High home, and students are knocking down the doors to get in. Now, place those kinds of schools in the places that need them most. Given the will to succeed and the very best teachers, they would perform as well.

Could such an arrangement lead to the problems of class and race that doomed Wilmington schools in the 1970s? I am a great believer in diversity, but we are way past the pointing of asking which is better: desegregation or a great education for all. If you believe that the solutions to big issues begin with education, as I do, the choice, if one must be made, is clear. Look at the success of Jack Perry’s Prestige Academy for at-risk boys. Those kids are receiving the excellent education that every child deserves.

A city district would require real commitment by all involved, significant investment, strict measures of teacher performance and a real culture of accountability—a fair system of penalties and rewards. There is so much to gain.

Excellent education for our children is the main goal, of course, but I can’t help believing that truly local control of high-performing schools will strengthen communities, and the ripple effect that is true greatness.

The Day Book

  • Wilmington needs more affordable housing, so it was great to see the progress of Norman Oliver’s new Xanthia’s Place on Vandever Avenue. Having grown up working for a builder dad, I can tell you the Casale brothers’ construction is top notch. Keep it up, team.
  • I’m not sure whether Dina was trying to get a glimpse of my misspent youth, which she never witnessed, or aiding and abetting my attempt to recapture it, but taking me to the Stone Balloon reunion at Ruddertowne was a highlight of the summer. Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers still rock, even if they went on way past my bedtime.
  • This time last year you read here about my friend Tammy Brittingham’s Starrlight Fund for women with ovarian cancer. This month we say goodbye. I saw too little of Tammy in recent years, but whenever I did, she was smiling. I know she fought bravely against her disease. I wish her and her family peace.

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