New Kids On the Block

Says one parent: "Every student seems engaged." Photo Joe del Tufo

Opened in 2014, First State Montessori Academy is growing its enrollment, adding two grades, and finding its downtown location an advantage

Creating a new school can be a bit like completing a jigsaw puzzle. It requires vision to put the pieces together properly.

As it prepares to start its fourth year of operation in downtown Wilmington, the First State Montessori Academy is seeing all its pieces fit nicely.

Enrollment should top 500 students this year as the school adds a seventh-grade class, and could grow to 660 in the fall of 2018 when an eighth grade is added. The school received more than 600 applications for 91 open seats this year, so its waiting list has more than 500 names.
They must be doing something right.

“Every time I go into the school, I’m in awe,” says Meredith Rosenthal, whose son and daughter attend the school. “Every student seems engaged. You can see them engrossed in their learning, working together.”

As Rosenthal sees it, the school’s board of directors and staff adhere to a very basic principle: “They only do things if they know they’re going to do it well.”

That started in 2009, when the leaders of several private Montessori schools in New Castle County began meeting to develop a plan to bring Montessori education into a public school setting. An application filed that year with the state Department of Education’s Charter School Office did not win approval, but the group expanded its membership, refined its proposal and submitted a successful application in 2012 to open a new charter school. (A charter school is a public school, funded primarily by state and local tax dollars, but it is operated by a board of directors, not a local board of education, and is not subject to all the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools.) As originally planned, the school would open in the fall of 2013 with 241 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and grow to 325 students in its fourth year.

“We just did it one step at a time,” says Yvonne Nass, president of the school’s board of directors.
Preparing a charter school application is no mean achievement. The completed document totaled 635 pages, with details about curriculum, finances, discipline policies, health and safety, and the qualifications of the board members and staff.

Head of School Courtney Fox is a former first-grade teacher in the Brandywine School District and Delaware’s Teacher of the Year in 2008. Photo Joe del Tufo
Head of School Courtney Fox is a former first-grade teacher in the Brandywine School District and Delaware’s Teacher of the Year in 2008. Photo Joe del Tufo

But that was just the beginning. As has been the case with many new charters in Delaware, it took First State an extra year to open, partly because of difficulty finding a suitable building.

“We looked all over New Castle County,” says Courtney Fox, the head of school, a first-grade teacher for 15 years in the Brandywine School District and Delaware’s Teacher of the Year in 2008. “Old school buildings were not available. We looked at a lot of empty office space.”

They applied for space in the Community Education Building, the former MBNA/Bank of America office building acquired through the Longwood Foundation and retrofitted with the goal of housing up to four charter schools dedicated to meeting the educational needs of Wilmington’s low-income students.

The application wasn’t approved. “The schools that were accepted had in their mission statement that they would serve certain communities,” Fox explains. “Our mission was to serve a variety of communities.”

The Right Place and Space

As it turned out, First State would settle in another surplus MBNA/Bank of America structure, a former corporate childcare center at 920 French St., just two blocks south of the Community Education Building. “It was the right size, the right space, with the right amenities,” Fox says.
“The kids could move about, there were large hallways, the rooms had observation windows,” Nass adds. “We decided that it was our spot.”

And, since it was built as a daycare center, it didn’t require much retrofitting.
But there was one hitch. First State made an offer to buy the building, but the Buccini/Pollin group put in a higher bid. So First State wound up as BPG’s tenant.

First State faced two other significant start-up hurdles: ensuring that the Montessori curriculum would cover all the items in the Common Core standards recently adopted by Delaware (and many other states) and recruiting teachers trained in Montessori methods.
“Common Core tells us what to cover. We modify our content to fit lesson planning and methods,” Fox says.

“It wasn’t that hard,” says Liz Madden, a 17-year Montessori veteran and the school’s director of education. “The Common Core standards are more challenging, more rigorous, but Common Core doesn’t dictate how you teach something.”

Montessori educators require special certification beyond meeting the standards for a state teaching license. The certification involves taking a seven-week summer course and a series of projects that are completed while working in a Montessori classroom.

“A couple of our teachers live downtown, and a couple live an hour away,” Fox says. “Because there are fewer certified Montessori teachers, we have to cast our net wider.”

Hiring hasn’t been a big problem, Fox says, partly because teacher salaries at First State, while slightly below the range for teachers with comparable experience in traditional public schools, are higher than those offered at most private Montessori schools in the region.

Mary Falkenberg, who had spent 12 years teaching third grade in the Colonial School District, joined the First State staff last year after spending the summer taking her Montessori training. This summer, she says, she has to turn in the papers she completed during the school year and take a final exam for certification.

As with private Montessori schools, First State uses multi-age grouping, with kindergarten and first-grade students together, then second and third grade, then fourth through sixth.

Two Teachers Per Classroom

Each classroom has two teachers and there’s a Montessori-certified teacher in each one, Fox says.
Having two teachers working together makes a huge difference, Falkenberg says. “If I give a lesson and a student is struggling with it, he or she can go to the other teacher for additional support.”
The arrangement also allows teachers to play off each other’s strengths, she says. “I was more science, my co-teacher was more artistic. I love teaching third grade writing with essays, and she likes phonics and decoding.”

While Montessori teachers spend plenty of time instructing, students do a lot on their own, following weekly “work plans” designed by their teachers and based on their needs. A morning meeting starts the day, which includes some group instruction and special classes like art and music. But the biggest chunks are a pair of two-hour blocks during which students work on their own without interruption.

Look around a classroom and you’ll see some students reading quietly, others collaborating on a group project, and some using blocks or other materials as they work out their math lesson. “If a couple of kids want to do something at the same time, they have to learn to share, or to wait and check in later. They have to figure out a plan for how to get it done,” Fox says.

The biggest difference between a traditional school and Montessori is how students build their sense of independence, Falkenberg says.

“They have their own work places. Kids have more freedom in choosing their own work. Some will pick their favorite subject and work on it first. Others will save the best for last,” she says. No matter how they set up their agenda, “they get so excited at the end of them, saying, ‘I completed my work plan. I got all my work done.’”

Staying with the same teacher and classmates for two or more years benefits young students, Rosenthal says, because “unbelievable relationships are developed, both student-to-student and student-to-teacher.”

Rosenthal relates another positive she has noticed with her son Max, who just completed sixth grade. “Watching him in grades four through six, he really matured,” she says. “He felt responsible for the younger kids in the classroom. He became a mentor and a role model.”

Max’s maturation in the Montessori environment is one reason he is staying at First State, rather than transferring into a middle school in the Brandywine district, as the school adds seventh and eighth grades, his mother says.

Adding the two grades was an instance of a problem becoming an opportunity.
In the school’s first two years, Fox explains, it was losing students who would have entered sixth grade, largely because parents felt their children would be more comfortable moving into a middle school, which typically serves grades 6-8, for sixth grade rather than for seventh grade.

First State contemplated dropping back to a K-5 structure, but a survey of parents indicated that most would keep their children at First State if grades seven and eight were added.

In the fall of 2015, the school forged ahead with that plan, but had to find a second building to house the additional students. At about the same time, the Delaware MET, a charter high school that had just opened across the street from First State, failed. Due to a series of management, curriculum and discipline issues, the state ordered Delaware MET to close at the end of its first semester. The Charter Schools Development Corporation, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that had purchased another former MBNA/Bank of America building at 1000 French St. and leased it to Delaware MET, now had an empty building on its hands. Just as 920 French proved to be an ideal initial location, the building across the street was just right for First State’s expansion.

Downtown Advantages

A large part of First State’s appeal to students and their parents is the array of downtown amenities available through the school.

“Putting suburban kids in a city environment—new sounds, new sights, new experiences. It opens up a whole new world,” Rosenthal says.

While students at suburban schools might take a field trip to a play or a concert, First State

Students follow weekly “work plans” designed by their teachers and based on their individual needs. Photo Joe del Tufo
Students follow weekly “work plans” designed by their teachers and based on their individual needs. Photo Joe del Tufo

students regularly walk to musical and theatrical performances at The Grand, the Playhouse on Rodney Square or First & Central Presbyterian Church. Kindergarten students take dance lessons at The Grand, and grades four through six visit the Wilmington Institute Free Library once a week. “Their artwork gets displayed in the library. That’s a big deal for them,” Rosenthal says.

First State parents provide strong support for the school, Fox says. Some help with landscaping around the building, others staff the teachers’ workroom.

Another group takes regular assignments handling the lunch program. First State contracts with the Community Education Building to prepare and deliver student meals. Parents sort the lunches by class and take them to each classroom and, when they’re done, they assemble breakfasts for the next school day in the same fashion.

“We’ve got a core group of 10 to 15 parents, and others fill in. They try to take the same day each week. With seventh and eighth grade, we’ll probably need more,” says parent Corey Lamborn, who will be coordinating the assignments this year.

“It’s really fun to be there, to see your own kid at lunch time,” she says.

In addition to contracting with the Community Education Building for its lunches, First State uses the back office services of Innovative Schools, a charter school support organization, for its bookkeeping needs, and collaborates with other downtown charter schools on professional development for staff members.

First State’s enrollment is roughly two-thirds white and 25 percent African-American, Latino or multiracial. About 12 percent are considered low-income, and 8 percent have special education needs, according to the latest school profile report filed with the state Department of Education.

About a quarter of the students live in city ZIP codes; the rest come from all over New Castle County, Fox says.

There’s more than a little irony in those enrollment figures. A generation ago, when court-ordered desegregation began in northern New Castle County, student assignments were made with an eye toward setting school enrollments at about two-thirds to three-quarters white. Most white suburban parents were unhappy with their children having to attend city schools for up to three years; many black parents from Wilmington complained that their children endured long bus rides to the suburbs for up to nine years.

With the lifting of the desegregation order more than 20 years ago, and the subsequent development of charter schools and choice programs, few white children from the suburbs are now attending traditional public schools in Wilmington. But the enrollment numbers for First State Montessori demonstrate that there are suburban families who will choose to send their children to a public school in the city.

The Montessori curriculum is certainly a factor in the school’s popularity, board president Nass says. And it’s a plus that leaders like Fox and Madden were well known in the public school and Montessori communities, she adds.

“Parents are looking for choice. They’re shopping,” Nass says. “And we are very clear about our mission.”

We Asked, The Mayoral Candidates Responded

Our five questions included a variety of topics not covered thoroughly during the campaign thus far

The race for mayor of Wilmington will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 13—the date of the primary election. As everyone in the city (and county, and state) knows, whoever wins the Democratic primary will be the next mayor. No Republican has registered to run for the office in a city whose electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic.

As a service to Out & About readers, we posed five questions to each of the eight Democratic candidates and the lone Independent. The questions were created in the spirit of what O&A is—a lifestyle magazine with strong emphasis on arts, culture and a thriving Downtown. They are questions that have not been asked numerous times in other interviews or debates, and they were worded in a way that we hoped would elicit thoughtful answers.

Candidates received the questions in late June and were given more than two weeks to respond. Thus, they had time to ponder and develop their answers—no pressure, no gotcha moment. We asked that answers be kept to no more than 100 words, although that word count was sometimes exceeded. As a result, some answers were edited to fit available space.

Below are the questions, followed by the candidates’ answers. Candidates appear in the order in which they responded.

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?
2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.
3. Out & About feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene
reach the next level?
4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?
5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

 

Washington
Steven Washington

Steven Washington

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

A unique and culturally diverse community facing major challenges WE SHALL OVERCOME if we change our mindset and work together for the greater good of all citizens of Wilmington.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

My decades of community work with Wilmington students as a special education teacher and my work with historically black colleges and universities as evidenced on my Channel 28 TV show at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month. Most importantly, I am NOT a machine politician. I am an independent factor dedicated to serving all of the people of Wilmington.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

WE must first change our city culture from the politics of exclusion to the politics of INCLUSION based on EDUCATION, appreciation and communication. As mayor, I will work closely with Wilmington’s artistic, cultural, professional and academic community to encourage a vibrant, lively and attractive cultural scene.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

Ensuring safe and well-maintained streets and other public infrastructure. Making Wilmington more business-friendly by removing arbitrary regulatory barriers and improving city government’s efficiency and attitude towards economic development and entrepreneurship by personally working with business leaders, job creators and innovators at all levels, large, medium and small. I will take a more INDEPENDENT and innovative community-based, post-political approach. As mayor, my office door will be open to all people.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

None of the above. This is a major reason why I am running!

 

Griffiths
Norman D. Griffiths

Norman D. Griffiths

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

I would describe Wilmington as a city on the move with enhanced arts and entertainment venues (e.g., The Queen, the Grand, the Penn Cinema theaters, a minor-league baseball team and more).

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

The development of the arts district, especially The Queen theater and the variety of entertainment it brings to Downtown Wilmington.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

If I am fortunate enough to be elected the next mayor, I will carefully review the city’s current efforts to support the arts and with input from the arts community, move forward to reach the next level. I believe that the arts and cultural events are very important to the community and after I get my arms around our current efforts, work to include appropriate city officials and the arts community as well as other stakeholders to move this important part of Wilmington’s future ahead.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

I believe the City has such a role. Curbing violence is number one on my priority list. People must feel safe in visiting venues in the city. As stated in a prior response, I would look carefully at the marketing efforts of the city currently and improve them as needed to promote the arts to people, not only in the Downtown area, but all over New Castle County. This is not to suggest that I believe all current efforts need to be swept away and replaced. I would want to build on what we’re already doing and based on what I find, suggest improvements or new direction if appropriate.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

If I were not a candidate for mayor, I would support an individual with experience, accomplishment and a broad view that looks beyond the present to what Wilmington can be in growing into an arts destination for people all over our region.

 

Purczycki
Mike Purzycki

Mike Purzycki

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

I often describe Wilmington the way others who visit us describe it. It is a beautiful city with an attractive Downtown, a magnificent Riverfront, an appealing array of neighborhoods, and compelling public spaces. It has great cultural institutions for a city its size, a young tech community, a vibrant arts culture, a number of entertainment venues and some great restaurants. Like many aging cities, it has too many people who live in poverty and our crime rate is a drag on our community’s success and economic growth. But our crime is a symptom of neglected neighborhoods and public policy failures which are fixable with the right policy decisions and initiatives. Wilmington has the potential to become one of the nation’s great small cities.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

After leading the Riverfront Development Corporation for 20 years it is hard not to list the many accomplishments of the RDC as things of which I am most proud: $1 billion of development, the Riverwalk, the Tubman Garret Riverfront Park, 7,000 people working in Wilmington and 1,400 living here. The IMAX, the Westin, the many restaurants and the Peterson Refuge. But maybe the greatest contribution I have made is as chairman of the Hope Commission, leading the construction of the Achievement Center where men coming out of prison finally have a chance to successfully reintegrate into our community.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

I agree that one of Wilmington’s strengths is its arts and culture scene. The only way we are going to move it to the next level is if the city administration is a true partner with our arts organizations. We all must be working towards a common goal—introducing more and more audiences to the diverse arts experiences our city has to offer. I have said many times that the mayor of Wilmington has the second loudest megaphone in the state. I will use this megaphone to promote our great city and its fabulous arts organizations, all across our region.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

The city government is responsible for creating the environment that attracts investment, artists, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. This includes a safe, welcoming environment, economic supports for start-up businesses and employment incentives to encourage economic clusters to locate along the Riverfront and Downtown. Apartment development has been very successful to date. We need to encourage additional developers to build in the city by streamlining our approval process. Lastly we continue to make the Downtown the dining and entertainment center of New Castle County.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

If I did not run I would vote for a candidate with the calm of Norman, the neighborhood knowledge of Kevin, the youthful exuberance of Eugene, the city government knowledge of Theo, the legislative experience of Bobby, and the tenacity of Maria. What a candidate! Then again, this candidate would still lack the experience of building and operating a grand and successful development project.

 

Dennis Williams
Dennis P. Williams

Mayor Dennis P. Williams

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

If I were describing Wilmington to a friend, I would share that we’ve started defining a new Wilmington. We started working to build safe and strong neighborhoods. We are creating sustainable job opportunities for local residents. We opened our doors to welcome new businesses and development projects that have created new economic growth across the city. We introduced new arts and cultural events and free music festivals to bring a vibrant energy Downtown. We started establishing new opportunities for our youth through job programs, internships and countless extracurricular activities. Wilmington is becoming a city that is approachable, fun and vibrant.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

I take the most pride in creating more opportunities for city youth by increasing the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program and Mayor’s Scholarship Program. Over the past three years, my administration continues to increase the funding for and number of participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program. In 2013, 425 youths worked in the program; in 2014, 487 youths participated; in 2015, 520 youths participated; and in 2016, with the support of Bank of America, 548 youths will participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program. My administration has also more than quadrupled the funding for the Office of the Mayor’s Scholarship program.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

I believe embracing and engaging with the arts community will further the arts scene in Wilmington. As mayor, my administration has supported existing arts institutions. For example, giving $50,000 to help save the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and more than $200,000 to the Grand Opera House to produce “Summer in the Parks,” a program of free arts and cultural activities in parks across Wilmington. We also work to create new arts and culture activities, such as the first-ever Rodney Square Summer Stage concert series, a free concert series taking place in the heart of Downtown Wilmington, where attendees are able to enjoy free, live performances.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

Under my leadership, Wilmington is becoming a center for new small businesses, an attractive place for a new wave of residents moving Downtown and along the Riverfront, and a municipality operating a more effective government. However, we must also ensure our city is rich and full of arts and culture. Year after year, my administration has filled the streets and parks with free concerts, live musical performances and block parties. Our production of live music festivals, film events, holiday celebrations and monthly art shows will continue to encourage more people to experience Downtown Wilmington.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

If [the current candidates] were my only choices I would have to come up with a write-in.

 

Marshall
Bob Marshall

Bob Marshall

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

Wilmington is a diamond in the rough. It is a friendly and great place to live and work, it is situated in the middle of some of the most popular cities in the U.S. and you can live here for a fraction of the cost. I am confident that we are a city on the move to a better and safer quality of life for all residents. Just know Wilmington is a place with nice people, a growing Riverfront for entertainment and a Downtown that has the capacity to grow an arts community where the sky is the limit to its potential.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

During my career in the Delaware State Senate, a chance meeting at a Memorial Day parade with former Gov. Russ Peterson led to my sponsorship on June 25, 1992, of Senate Resolution #62 that created the “Blue Ribbon Task Force to Make Recommendations Concerning the Future of the Brandywine and Christina Rivers.” On June 14, 1993, Gov. Carper issued Executive Order #8 and continued vision for the rivers task force that led to a $300 million investment by the state—the rest is history through 2016.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

I’m not an expert but I appreciate the value and importance of the arts and culture for our city. Within the last few months I learned and made an effort to secure a state-owned land for a Rock Garden Downtown on West 7th Street and secured from the Senate/House Capital Improvement Committee $70,000 for the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation to sponsor a city-wide neighborhood mural program. The concept is to create canvas murals that can reflect the proud history and rich cultural heritage of all Wilmington. Most recently, I supported Delaware Fashion Week, created by Maria Beauchamp.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

The city’s role I believe is based on a need to think big, recognize the state government is a necessary partner to grow a vibrant Downtown with people living, entertainment and green space. My strong recommendation is for the city elected officials, city, county and state business community leaders to urge Gov. Markell to adopt and appoint as recommended in Senate Resolution #12 a “Blue Ribbon Task Force to Make Recommendations Concerning the Future of Downtown Wilmington.” This resolution reflects the same state policy approach that led to the Riverfront Development.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

(Chose not to answer.)

 

Eugene Young
Eugene Young

Eugene Young

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

The first thing I would say is that our greatest asset is our people. I was born and raised in Wilmington, which is where the importance of service was instilled in me. Growing up, neighbors treated me like their own son and I learned change happens when we each do our part. This sense of community responsibility and engagement is why I believe Wilmington has the opportunity to be the proof point for the nation for how to turn a city around. I would tell my friend that Wilmington is a city full of opportunity.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

Outside of the titles of “husband” and “father,” the title that will always mean the most to me is “coach.” I co-founded Delaware ELITE, a leadership development program designed for inner city youth and for the past 10 years offered students access to skills training, cultural events, educational opportunities and internships. I worked with students, many of whom experienced trauma in their lives, to move into high school, college, and now into careers. Wilmington needs to focus more on its young people if we ever hope to stop cycles of violence and poverty.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

The next mayor of Wilmington needs to prioritize arts development throughout our city, from Browntown to Hilltop, and from Southbridge to the North East. What we need to do is help jump start growth by taking proven models of public-private partnership and investment and, through close collaboration with community groups and civic associations, explore ways that these models can be custom tailored to celebrate the unique character, and address the unique challenges, of our many and diverse neighborhoods. City government needs to ensure that opportunities are available to facilitate partnerships and empower our neighborhoods so they can lead the way.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

The Downtown suffers from a lack of housing stock, limited walkability and perception of high crime that impacts development and ultimately the city’s economic and social health. The city needs to take a more active role in programs like the Downtown Development District, which makes it possible to attract real estate investors by incentivizing them to invest in revitalization projects in underserved areas. Programs like this help to leverage public and private investment to boost the development of the Creative Arts District, create new housing opportunities, and better connect communities to create a flourishing Downtown area.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

There are three qualities I believe are essential to being an effective mayor. They need to have a proactive long-term strategy of where they want Wilmington to be 10, 20, 30 years from now. They need to create new policies that drive towards this long-term strategy. Finally, they need to be engaged with all areas of the community (e.g., civic, business, faith, legal, academic, labor, etc.) to bring about this vision. I believe all the other candidates care deeply about our city, and also believe I have the right balance of skills in all three of these areas.

 

Theo Gregory
Theo K. Gregory

Theo K. Gregory

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

Wilmington is a small urban paradise. Its diversity is reflected in its neighborhoods, restaurants, nightclubs, parks and many spring and summer festivals. We are, in fact, the City of Festivals.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

In my efforts to ensure the development and education of our children, I initiated and led efforts in the creation of the Police Athletic League Activities Center, Maurice J. Moyer Academy (Public Charter School), an athletic field in Eden Park as well as renovations and enhancements to P.S. DuPont athletic field. As president [of Wilmington’s City Council] I created nonprofit Education Voices, Inc. to advocate for special needs students in public education.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

As mayor I will enhance our Office of Cultural Affairs. I will ensure that the office is connected to all of the art communities. I will ensure that the art venues and opportunities are plentiful and diverse.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

The mayor must be the voice and ambassador for the city. The Office of Economic Development must work closely with all communities in this effort. We must have such things as events, attractions and incentives that will encourage people to live, work and visit Downtown as well as other neighborhoods.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

I’d rather not answer this question as all have something to offer and the vetting process has not concluded. It’s premature to answer, so I’m an undecided voter in this regard.

 

Maria D. Cabrera
Maria D. Cabrera

Maria D. Cabrera

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

I love Wilmington. I raised four children here. We are the city of untapped potential. We have a thriving arts scene. Our neighborhoods come together to celebrate good times as well as times of crises. We have potluck dinners in a small café or porch parties with neighbors. We are close to major cities, for those who need to conduct business in this region. We have two rivers, beautiful parks and neighborhoods. We are affordable in terms of buying property, taxes and rentals. We are the city of festivals! We highlight our jazz greats like Clifford Brown, legends like Bob Marley, as well as our ethnic backgrounds. Many of our neighborhoods are tight-knit. And although we need to expand those values into our blighted areas, we are the city of opportunity!

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

I served the city in the mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, then at the Grand Opera House as director of education and community relations, and now as at-large Council member. I believe my greatest accomplishment has been making an impact on economic revitalization through the arts and special events, expanding upon the city events, creating new ones, and growing existing programs at the Grand. As a Council member I have been active in problem-solving and implementing legislation around public safety and quality of life.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

As mayor, I would work to make sure the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs reestablishes The Wilmington Arts Commission or an arts roundtable for all arts organizations and request their input in our strategic plan. In Delaware, $9.9 million is generated through the arts. The Office of Cultural Affairs would lend the necessary support and serve as a clearinghouse for services and possible grant dollars to not only local arts organizations but businesses and individual artists. Expanding arts programs into the community and bringing more entertainment into the city will help revitalize our economy and neighborhoods. The Office of Cultural Affairs should not be competing with the community it serves but working hard for that community in enhancing the arts in Wilmington!

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

The Mayor should be the number one cheerleader in attracting businesses, as well as people to reside in our city. The city needs to be more user-friendly for businesses and residents through incentives to businesses and residents versus fines and predatory enforcement. This should be a priority of the next administration. We need to stabilize distressed neighborhoods that are adjacent to Downtown. The only way to do this is by addressing public safety issues within these neighborhoods. Investment in those neighborhoods is crucial, and so is elimination of the criminal activity that takes place there.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

The reason I am running for Mayor is because when I stood back, waiting for someone to convince me as to why I should not run, no one stood out among this field. If I had to choose one candidate, I would choose Kevin Kelley. I believe that Kevin and I are the candidates most connected to the community, with the most foot power in our neighborhoods. We are passionate about serving the community, and always out there, no matter how dangerous or dark it is. Our city needs a leader that communicates, who is accessible, and is their voice. Not an administrator, a leader! We are not the same, nor is our plan for the city identical. In spite of that, we share many of the same values, and that’s why I would support him.

 

Kevin Kelley
Kevin Kelley

Kevin Kelley

1. How would you describe our city to a friend or colleague who has never visited Wilmington?

We are small, but look at what we have to offer! Arts, innovation, culture, location, and a diverse population of passionate people. In close proximity to a majority of the country’s population, the corporate capital of the world, Wilmington has a great business environment and a spectacular growing cultural scene.

2. Describe a specific accomplishment benefiting the City of Wilmington for which you take the most pride.

I believe neighborhoods are the foundation of a city. Our neighborhoods should be strong, clean, safe and bursting with culture and small business. This is why I am most proud of my work in developing neighborhood planning councils and community associations. The needs of each neighborhood are so different; Wilmington is not a one-size-fits-all city, we need to be rolling up our sleeves with the residents in each neighborhood and putting plans in place to address their specific needs.

3. O&A feels the arts and culture scene is one of the city’s strengths. What plans do you have to help the scene reach the next level?

Supporting arts is a key aspect of the resurgence of our city. We need to be doing more to support the arts community and we need to start by taking a critical look at the Office of Cultural Affairs. Is it providing what the community needs? We should be letting the arts community drive our direction here, and give them better access to resources to achieve what is possible. We also need to make sure that we stay open-minded and current on what “the arts” mean. Trends change, and we need to be supporting what creative things our young people are doing. We need to support the arts in all areas of the city, not just Downtown.

4. What is the city’s role in attracting more people to live, work and visit Downtown?

We need to make the environment in Wilmington one that is inviting. Right now, with the current parking situation, for example, we are sending a message that we don’t want your business. Providing better support to the arts community is one critical way, but also to the innovation community to modernize our city and make it a place where creative people with big ideas want to spend their time.

5. If you were not a candidate for mayor, which of the declared candidates would you support? Why? (Name only one.)

(Chose not to answer.)