Calming force takes helm at Delaware’s biggest school district

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Dorrell Green is the new superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District, the largest in Delaware. One of his challenges will be improving student proficiency at Warner Elementary School. (State of Delaware, Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Dorrell Green is the new superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District, the largest in Delaware. One of his challenges will be improving student proficiency at Warner Elementary School. (State of Delaware, Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Delaware’s largest school district has a new leader, and he’s the same man Gov. John Carney tapped in 2017 to help improve struggling schools statewide.

Dorrell Green will be the new leader of the Red Clay Consolidated School District, after being approved by the board 5-2 this month.

Green will take over a diverse district of 17,000 kids that includes part of Wilmington and the suburbs west and southwest of the city.

Some schools in the district are known for innovation and success, such as the Conrad Schools of Science for students in grades 6 through 12. Others are high-poverty schools known for abysmal student performance, like Warner Elementary, which was once slated for closure but has made small gains in proficiency.

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Overall, 39 percent of Red Clay students scored proficient in math and 51 percent were proficient in math last year in standardized tests — both below the state average.

Green, 43, has spent the last 18 months as director of the fledgling Office of Innovation and Improvement. His main achievement was leading the effort to consolidate several schools in Wilmington that are part of the Christina School District.

[Watch: Dorrell Green on WHYY’s Delaware television newsmagazine, “First”]

But the former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent said he missed working for a district. So he applied for the Red Clay post that was vacated when Merv Daugherty, who held the job for a decade, became superintendent of a vastly larger district in Virginia.

Daugherty was a popular leader and a fixture at school events, so Green knows his own performance will get serious scrutiny from parents, faculty, students and the community at large, as well as his own successor in the state post that Gov. John Carney created last year.

Green is a former University of Delaware football player who captained the 1997 team and played strong safety. Despite his imposing size, Green has a gentle and calm air when dealing with kids. He had to call on that trait when talking to Wilmington parents who were upset over schools being closed in the city while they were expanded in Christina.

During an event about the Christina plan on Wilmington’s East Side in 2017, for example, Gov. Carney was having a difficult time with the irate audience but Green came to the rescue, taking the microphone and deftly easing the tension and calming parents.

Green said he’ll approach the new job like every other one he’s held over more than two decades in education — with a laser focus on good outcomes for students.

“I think through it all we have to be mindful regardless of what level of the system we are working for or working in that children are truly at the center of this work,’’ Green said. “Keep the main thing, the main thing and it’s been my experience that we come to a more positive outcome.

Green said one major focus will be giving teachers resources and training to educate kids who experience trauma, which also was a focus of his work for the state.

Daniel Walker is the state outreach manager for the educational nonprofit Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now (CAN). The group focuses on making sure Delaware’s school system works for all students, especially kids of color and those living in poverty  “who have been traditionally overlooked by the system.”

Walker said Green has credibility with students and families from all walks of life.

“We’re hopeful that Dorrell can make some very positive change on behalf of students,” he said. “I’ve seen the interaction he has with black and brown boys and building them up to believe they can sort of buck the status quo and buck the system and not to perpetuate cycles that they see around them.”

Carney and Education Secretary Susan Bunting both praised Green, and are seeking candidates to replace him.

Carney said Green “has taken the lead in our partnership with Christina School District, to get more supports and results for children in Christina’s Wilmington schools.”

“Although we will miss him, we are truly excited to see the amazing work he can do for the students of Red Clay,” Bunting said.

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