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Vision Coalition leaders named Taylor award winners

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From left: Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, Ernie Dianastasis, Skip Schoenhals, Gov. John Carney, Gary Stockbridge, Paul Herdman, and Mike Quaranta pose after the Superstars in Education awards ceremony May 9 recognized the Vision Coalition leaders. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSCC

WILMINGTON – What started as an effort to bring a variety of stakeholders to the table to improve public education and workforce development in Delaware 17 years ago has blossomed into a lasting effort that has opened opportunities for thousands of students annually.

For its work, the leaders of Vision Coalition of Delaware, a public-private partnership that includes business leaders, elected officials, district superintendents, charter school leaders, teacher representatives, advocates, and more, was honored with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s John H. Taylor, Jr. Education Leadership Award.

“The award was established for our dear friend John, a fearless editor of the News Journal for many years, and the director of Delaware Public Policy Institute here at the State Chamber. In every role, he was a truth speaker, a man who cared deeply about young people and doing what was right. And he was never shy about sharing the uncomfortable truths to those in power and our three recipients embody those traits,” said Michael Quaranta, president of the DSCC. 

Paul Herdman, president and CEO of Rodel, presents the Vision Coalition honorees during the awards presentation May 9. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSCC

The Vision Coalition’s first three chairs, Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals, former president, CEO, and chairman of WSFS Bank; Ernie Dianastasis, CEO of The Precisionists Inc.; and Gary Stockbridge, former president of Delmarva Power, were honored at the Monday night Superstars in Education banquet with the Taylor award, which recognizes leaders within the community who have provided sustained leadership in advancing Delaware education and who, by doing so, has also made the community a better place in which to live and work.

“I was so grateful and humbled by it. It’s been a passion for a lot of people,” Dianastasis told Delaware Business Times. “There are so many folks involved and we’ve all been kind of working together to focus on the things that we agree on and know that we can move the needle on for stronger education.”

The coalition, which operates under the support of the education-focused advocacy nonprofit The Rodel Foundation, is believed to be one of the longest-standing coalitions of its kind in the country, Paul Herdman, Rodel president and CEO, told DBT.

“That’s notable, particularly in this very politically polarized world that we live in right now, where you have people in the business community that tends to be more Republican and union membership that tends to be more Democratic,” he said. “I think the key to it is that early on we had a ground rule that basically said, ‘This coalition of the willing should stay at the table if they agreed with 85% of what was being agreed upon.’”

Since its founding in 2005, the coalition has produced two 10-year plans, with about 75% of the recommendations made in the first plan adopted by the state. The second plan, Vision 2025, is still underway.

“We actually saw that other high-performing countries, like Singapore and Finland, had 10-year plans and we felt, given that this stuff takes a long time to move, why not put a stake out there that’s reasonably long term, but not so long term that it’s sort of impossible to imagine,” Herdman said.

Among the Vision Coalition’s successes was the creation of the Delaware Stars for Early Success system, which established standards for quality of instruction at early childhood learning centers, and the Delaware Pathways program, which provides more than 20,000 high school students annually with instruction in post-graduation career and trade fields.

The Pathways program, which Gov. John Carney recently announced will expand to middle school students, was the product of $100,000 in research funded by the state, Rodel and the Delaware Business Roundtable.

“That got some research going with a group called Jobs for the Future, which laid out a blueprint for what we could do from there. Since then, we’ve generated and leveraged $20 million of public and private resources that have helped tremendously,” Herdman said.

Since that time, Delaware’s progress in areas like career and technical education has been a highwater mark – in fact, education policy leaders from across the country were in Delaware this week to learn more about how the Pathways program operates.

For Dianastasis, who led the Vision Coalition during the drafting of its Vision 2025 plan, the coalition’s impact was also one of economic development.

“The goal is to really create a great education system in Delaware so that the folks who live here are going to want to stay here. The folks who don’t live here, when they hear about how great our system is, are going to want to come here and raise their kids. And with a better education system comes better life outcomes for people, which improves our quality of life,” he said.

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