Delaware unions vote no confidence in secretary of education

 Warner Elementary School teacher Equetta Jones (center) speaks to the media. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, WHYY)

Warner Elementary School teacher Equetta Jones (center) speaks to the media. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, WHYY)

The Christina and Red Clay Education Associations say they’ve lost faith in state officials.

State education officials targeted the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated School Districts when they announced an aggressive plan to turn around six Wilmington schools.

Now the teachers in those districts are targeting them.

The Christina Education Association and the Red Clay Education Association have voted no confidence in Delaware’s Department of Education, Delaware’s Board of Education, and Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

The associations represent teachers in the state’s two largest school districts and have roughly 2,500 members combined.

The districts also house Delaware’s six priority schools, which the state has slated for turnaround due to low test scores. The initiative has been a source of tension since it was announced last September, in particular because it originally included replacing teachers and administrators.

Mike Matthews, president of the Red Clay Education Association, said the priority schools push was “the major impetus” behind the teachers’ votes of no confidence.

Added Mike Kempski, president of the Christina Education Association, “They took the designation of a priority school as an attack on their commitment to their children.”

The no confidence resolutions passed by each union listed a number of grievances with the state Department of Education, including its disbursement of Race to the Top dollars, its use of standardized tests, and its perceived proclivity to order change from the top down instead of in concert with teachers.

In addition to voting no confidence, the unions also called for the state’s Board of Education to be elected by popular vote, instead of by appointment.

In a fiery and lengthy press conference, teachers unloaded on state officials and shared personal stories of classroom struggles. Veteran kindergarten teacher Jane Marshall, for instance, decried what she believes is an overabundance of exams, saying, “After 36 years if they want to fire me, fire me. I’m not giving your test.”

Donna Johnson, executive director of the State Board of Education, declined official comment on the votes of no confidence. A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the department was aware of the resolutions, but had no response.

Matthews and Mike Kempski said both resolutions passed unanimously. They were passed by representative bodies that consist of one member from each school building in the district. Teachers outside this body were not made aware of the resolution until afterward.

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

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.