IRSD's Bunting tapped to become state's top legislator

Date Published: 
Jan. 6, 2016

Dr. Susan BuntingDr. Susan BuntingThe Indian River School District may be sending another education leader to the state level. This time, it’s for the big chair.

IRSD Superintendent Susan Bunting is to be nominated for Secretary of the Delaware Department of Education. On Dec. 30, Gov.-elect John Carney announced his intent to nominate Bunting for his cabinet to lead Delaware for the next four years.

“It’s been an absolute privilege to be in this district for the length of time that I’ve been here. It’s a very tough decision to go, but I’m hoping to help more people,” Bunting said. Ultimately, the students have been “at the heart of everything” she has done.

Bunting has served as Indian River School District superintendent since 2006, currently responsible for more than 10,000 students and more than 1,300 employees — one of the state’s biggest and fastest-growing school districts.

“Susan is among the most knowledgeable educators in Delaware, and has committed her career to improving public education in our state and doing what is best for Delaware students,” Carney stated.

“She will help us refocus the Department of Education as a support agency to help districts keep high-quality teachers in the classroom and better address the needs of their students — particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’m confident Susan is the right person for the job.”

As Secretary of Education, Bunting would oversee Delaware’s public school system and serve as Carney’s education policy adviser.

Over the past few months, Bunting and other educational leaders had been invited to speak with the governor’s transition team.

“They were conservations. I wouldn’t call it an interview,” she said. “There are various teams out, I guess, gathering information on the state of education in Delaware.”

She definitely knows education, up to the federal standards. Bunting serves on outgoing Gov. Jack Markell’s advisory committee for Delaware’s implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“That’s the federal law, the new version of No Child Left Behind,” Bunting said. “Having experience in the field, you are able to talk about some things that work well, and that there will be challenges and things that might be more easily accomplished because of the flexibility ESSA has” compared to NCLB, she said.

She’s also dipped her toes into the legislative side of things, having advocated for education in Dover and in Washington, D.C., with the American Association of School Administrators.

Bunting will soon sit down with Carney to discuss his vision for education in Delaware.

“I was honored to be asked,” said Bunting, who said the actual timeline depends on state Senate confirmation hearings. Carney will be inaugurated Jan. 17. She said her confirmation process could be done in late January.

She intends to accept the position.

“I think everything I’ve done in the last 40 years has prepared me to take on the role,” including different experiences, assignments, committee work, people and, of course, formal training.

Bunting’s passions always begin with early childhood education and ELL English language learners (ELL), especially in a district where so many speak multiple languages.

But said she she’s also proud of the additional academic programs the school district added over the years: Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), more career training and other programs begun with Race to the Top money.

Before serving as superintendent, Bunting helped start IRSD’s Project Village, a preschool program for children with economic and language barriers. It has frequently been honored in Delaware for helping young children begin kindergarten on the same level with their peers.

“I’m very big on leadership,” said Bunting.

Programs such as IRSD’s Leadership Institute are part of the district’s ongoing professional development of teachers and administrators. As IRSD’s top dog, Bunting has often overseen or led such programs.

Her tenure at IRSD includes numerous school, student and staff awards, including her own honor as a top-four finalist for 2012 National Superintendent of the Year.

Her goal is not just to produce lifelong learners, she said in a 2012 interview, “but healthy lifelong learners, ready to be able to give back to their communities, as their community supported them growing up, helping them prepare for the future. It’s a global kind of thing.”

Accepting this job would mean leaving the IRSD, where she’s spent most of her career, with “too many” proud moments to list.

“I’m very proud of what our staff members and our students have been able to achieve. I think we have come a long way in the last decade, in particular,” Bunting said. “I think our students can hold their heads high in the state of Delaware.”

“I would like to wish her the best,” said Charles Bireley, president of the IRSD school board. “She is very deserving. She certainly knows instruction as well as anyone in the state. She is very well known all over the state and should be able to fit right in her new position.”

In recent years, at least two IRSD school board members have been appointed to the Delaware Board of Education.

Although it’s a now-or-never opportunity for her, Bunting’s potential promotion comes at a challenging time for the Indian River School District. After a failed current-expense referendum this autumn, the district will go to referendum again in March, aiming to keep its finances afloat and begin rebuilding its contingency fund.

There is also some financial policy and transparency issues to be addressed, after the Delaware State Auditor of Accounts presented a less-than-flattering report of finances under the district’s former chief financial officer.

Bunting came to the IRSD in 1977, after six years as a teacher and curriculum writer in Maryland. As a teacher, she won IRSD Teacher of the Year for 1984-1985. She became the IRSD supervisor of elementary instruction in 1991, then IRSD director of instruction in 1996.

Bunting earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and elementary education from American University, a master’s degree in education from Salisbury University and a doctorate in education leadership from the University of Delaware.

Cabinet nominations must be confirmed by the Delaware Senate. If confirmed, she would take over the position currently held by Steven Godowsky.

Other planned nominations by Carney that have recently been announced include:

• Shawn M. Garvin — Secretary, Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC)

• Richard J. “Rick” Geisenberger — Secretary, Department of Finance

• James Collins — (continuing) chief information officer, Delaware Department of Technology & Information

• Mike Jackson — director, Office of Management & Budget

• Perry Phelps — commissioner, Department of Correction

• Jennifer Cohan — (continuing) Secretary, Department of Transportation

• Jeffrey Bullock — (continuing) Secretary, Department of State.

The 2016 Delaware Gubernatorial Transition Team is based in Dover and Wilmington, and can be reached by calling (302) 577-5229. Résumés are being accepted to fill government staff positions. Visit www.transition.delaware.gov or email transitionresumes@delaware.gov for more information.