to 'hit the ground'
at flank speed as superintendent
Mark Holodick gets the job as Brandywine schools superintendent
-- and no one seriously doubts that he will -- there won't have
to be much of a transition pause. He'll bring to the office
a couple of things his immediate predecessors lacked: Intimate
familiarity with how the district functions and a considerable
amount of personal support among key constituencies with which
he'll have to work.
He also will bring
to the office an agenda which has been demonstrably successful
on a pilot scale.
That was evident at
a pair of get-acquainted sessions which, at first glance, might
be dismissed as disappointing because they didn't attract much
interest or attention. Only half jokingly, he said turnouts of
fewer than a dozen people at P.S. du Pont Middle School on Sept.
8 and at Talley Middle the next evening were votes of confidence
in his candidacy, demonstrating that the public was happy with
the school board's decision to designate him as sole 'finalist'
to be prime administrator.
It appears that he may have been right.
sessions turned out to be one-on-one conversations on a
variety of district and general educational topics. That was in sharp
contrast to the relative extravaganzas staged three and eight
years ago, respectively, for Jim Scanlon and Bruce Harter. Those
sessions included roving microphones to gather audience
questions and even what passed in Delaware for a television
anchor person to moderate the proceedings with the full
seven-member school board in attendance.
contrast this time around was in Holodick's responses.
Instead of coming
back with general professions of allegiance to current
pedagogical fashions, he by-passed schoolspeak and offered
specifics about what intends to do once he's in office. To be sure,
most of the time he qualified his remarks by saying things like
"if I'm lucky enough to get the job," but everyone understood
that to be largely pro-forma.
The board -- which
refuses to say how many serious candidates it considered or
explain the behind-closed-doors process by which it came to
settle on the 47-year-old principal of Concord High as its
choice to be the district's top administrator -- is scheduled to
make it official at its regularly scheduled monthly
open-to-the-public meeting on Sept. 21. All seven board members
have already publicly endorsed Holodick.
Most of the attenders at the get-acquainted sessions already knew him,
either as teachers or former students.
principal at Talley, was particularly effusive as he recounted how Holodick
took the time and exhibited genuine interest in introducing him
to the inner workings of the district. "He'll generate the
energy for people to be out there to perform professionally,"
Carter said. A Concord graduate embarking on his first teaching
assignment, not in Brandywine, said Holodick was primarily
responsible for his having chosen to pursue a career in
The strongest point
in Holodick's resume is his record during the three years he has
had the helm at Concord. Enrollment has increased from 950 to
1,320 and there is a general feeling in the community that the
school is a pace-setter, not only in Brandywine but in the
state. He credits faculty, students and a disproportionate
number of involved parents who, he said, "buy into the Concord
administrators frequently complain that generating parental
involvement borders on being a hopeless endeavor, Holodick said
that many Concord events attracted enough people to fill the
parking lots. "It can be done," he said.
Key to doing that, he explained,
is communication with as much personal contact as possible. "It
takes more than just a newsletter going home," he said. It comes
down to returning telephone calls and responding to e-mail
promptly. "Even if you don't have the answer right away you can
tell them that. And then you make sure you follow up," he said.
He's going to require teachers and administrators, including
himself, exhibit "a sense of urgency in providing good customer
The district also will keep in
close touch with businesses and private organizations throughout
the community with an emphasis on mutual support. "You don't
wait until it's time for a referendum to do that," he said.
Holodick said his first priority
will be assuring safety. "Students have to feel safe and be safe
coming to school, in school and going home. I'll make sure that
After that, he added, it is
important that all students "feel that they're a part of the
school" through personal involvement and a sense that they are
being treated with equity.
Responding to questions and
comments at the meetings, Holodick demonstrated a sharper degree
of candor than is usual in such circumstances.
He denied, for
possibility of closing the so-called 'achievement gap'. Instead
he will target which he called "the opportunity gap" which he
acknowledged still exists in Brandywine. The former refers to
the difference in academic performance of students depending on
their economic, racial or social environments. Although here will always
be differences in abilities, "some students in our district
don't have the opportunities others have," he said. "Teachers
come out [of college] knowing what to teach, but I don't think
they all know how to teach a diverse group of kids."
acknowledged a twin danger in closing the statistical gap in
academic performance: Lowering the upper level while raising the
lower, and squeezing those in the middle. He said there has to
be a continual effort to provide necessary services and support
so that all students are able to reach their potential.
He said he will
focus on a combination of curricular, co-curricular and
extra-curricular activities to motivate students whether they
are headed for high education, technical or vocational training,
the military or other vocations. He added that he is strong on
"We're quick to
brag about our S[tudent] A[chievement] T[est] scores and the
kids who are accepted into Ivy League colleges, but we also have
to be proud when they achieve [other] goals," he said.
"There are still
too many kids graduating from our high schools that don't have
choices. ... If [a child] enters kindergarten slightly
behind the others, they better not graduate far behind other
students. That's our responsibility," he said.
Holodick said a using a variety
of data is necessary to monitor student achievement. "We can't
rely on state assessment [test scores] only. We have to employ
formal and informal was of determining whether we're getting the
job done," he said.
"I'm a huge
proponent of inclusion [of students with special needs] in
regular-ed classrooms where appropriate," he said, adding that
he recognizes that children other than those formally determined
to require special education have needs that have to be
He cautioned against an
overemphasis on keeping pace with the latest programs. "What
works [well] some place else may not work here. We have to
choose what's best for us," he said. And, he added, there has to
be time to determine if a program is effective. "We take what is
new and and hot now and, after a few years, we make another
change," he said, adding that, during his administration, "you
won't see as many changes as you have in the past."
An area that needs added emphasis
is encouraging student involvement in service and volunteerism.
"There are things we could require students to do to give back
to the community," he said.
Holodick said he is "not opposed
to parochial or private schools -- or even charter schools."
With regard to charters, he said his main concern is with those
having "an entrance exam that is selective in nature [which]
could lead to a certain type of children going there."
While respecting parents' right
to choose non-public education for valid reasons, he said the
district must take every opportunity to respond to "parents
[who] are choosing one of
those options because they think they can't get the same quality
of education in a public school."
"We lose a lot of kids to other
schools because of false information or some reputations that
don't exist," he said. The district, he added, "is going to be
very aggressive" about countering that. "As a public school parent you
need to speak up and squash these false comments," he said.
Holodick said that, if the school
board approves his appointment, he is gong to be "a superintendent that is visible,
willing to make mistakes by taking risks, willing to admit
mistakes and working closely with people who want to get the job