Delaware confirms new education chief

 New Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky (second from right) poses with Governor Jack Markell (center) following his confirmation. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

New Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky (second from right) poses with Governor Jack Markell (center) following his confirmation. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

The Delaware Senate confirmed Steven Godowsky as the state’s new Secretary of Education at a special Wednesday session.

Godowsky has been the First State’s acting secretary since the beginning of the month. He replaced Mark Murphy, who announced his resignation in mid-August.

The Senate confirmed Godowsky by a vote of 19-2.

Unlike Murphy, who lived in Delaware a short while before taking over as its education chief, Godowsky is a long-time figure on the state’s education scene.

The new secretary of education began his career more than 40 years ago as a special education teacher in Wilmington. He later became an administrator, serving as assistant principal at Delcastle Technical High School in Newport and principal of Hodgson Vo-Tech High School in Newark.

From 2003 to 2011 he was superintendent of the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District, and was named the state’s superintendent of the year in 2010.

Godowsky emphasized that experience during his appearance before the Senate’s executive committee.

“I have spent 45 years in public education,” Godowsky said in his opening remarks. “I’m very proud to say, all those in Delaware.”

He later added that he was “a principal at heart” and not “a think-tank person,” highlighting again his long history at the grassroots of state education.

In part because of his resume, Godowsky’s appointment has been received warmly by the state’s education community. The leaders of the state’s teacher’s union, administrator’s union, school boards association, and chief school officers association recently wrote a joint editorial in The Wilmington News Journal endorsing Godowsky.

“It is not always common to get agreement among those in leadership positions who represent the majority of the state’s professional public educators and educational policy makers,” the leaders wrote.

One of Godowsky’s chief tasks will be to foster unity across what has become a fractured education climate. Godowsky’s predecessor, Mark Murphy, earned praise from some for his ambitious policies focused on bringing accountability to schools and teachers. But many saw his approach as top-down, and criticized his reliance on standardized testing to reward and punish schools. That Murphy wasn’t a long-time Delawarean also hurt him in some circles.

Godowsky, by contrast, brings insider credentials and deep relationships to his new job. Many hope they will help him mend fences and broker compromise over the last year-and-a-half of Governor Jack Markell’s tenure.

“I hope you’re able to lay the path forward for Delaware to heal the divide in our education system,” said Bryan Townsend, D-Newark.

Several senators praised Godowsky for reaching out to members of the General Assembly prior to his confirmation. Murphy was often criticized for his failure to communicate with lawmakers, a point raised multiple times during Godowsky’s confirmation hearing.

“What I’m hearing you say is that you will be meeting with us frequently,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “That is something I think I greatly missed in the last three years.”

Godowsky said he will prioritize communication and try to improve relations with Legislative Hall.

“I think it’s critical that as we go forward, we go forward together,” Godowsky said. “We need a thoughtful convener, someone who can bring everyone together for the benefit of the students. I hope to be that person.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal