Rescuing Delaware’s Schools
The Rodel Foundation dove in more than 10 years ago. Its leaders say they won’t give up until Delaware’s education system becomes a model for the world.
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Bill Budinger would certainly brush aside the notion that he is some kind of hero. But the Budinger family’s Rodel Foundation has worked assiduously for more than a decade to help rescue Delaware’s public schools from mediocrity. They are exactly the type of heroes championed by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim in “Waiting for Superman,” the award-winning and controversial documentary about what ails the American public education system.
School reform is a subject of intense interest to Budinger. The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has become a major player in the move to shake up the First State’s education system and catapult our schools from middle of the pack to national leaders. Budinger pledges that he is “in this for the long haul”—that is, until the state’s public schools are ranked among the best in the world.
Since it began, the Rodel Foundation has worked to build partnerships between schools, their communities and the business world. It has funded research and fact-finding missions. It has influenced public policy and spending. It advocated for school choice. It has pushed for higher teacher quality and leadership training. It has encouraged parent engagement. And Rodel has pushed for higher standards and accountability—just like the headlining federal initiatives that have been effected since Rodel was established in 1999.
Rodel, and particularly its Vision 2015 initiative, is highly credited for helping the state to pick up $119 million in federal money for school reform last summer in the first round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top funding competition. Vision 2015 (originally titled Vision 2012) focuses on six major system reforms, four of which were also building blocks of the state’s Race to the Top plan. So far, 25 schools are part of the Vision Network that is putting Rodel-backed reforms into practice.
“We have needed Rodel more than I ever thought we would as a voice of reason and a tap on the shoulder,” says Delaware Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery. “They drew a line in the sand four or five years ago with Vision 2015 and said, ‘As people who care about Delaware, we will hold the state to a higher standard for education.’ I absolutely do not believe that we would be making the progress we have been if we had not had Rodel as the wind at our backs.”
Budinger, his daughter, Susan, and his brother, Don, established the Rodel Foundation with a chunk of the $400 million received in 1998 from the sale of family-owned Rodel Inc., to specialty chemical company Rohm and Haas. A former DuPont salesman, Bill Budinger founded Rodel in 1968 to market synthetic rollers for printing presses coated with the DuPont urethane polymer Corfam. (The company name is a shortened version of Rollers of Delaware.) It was the development in the mid-1970s of a similar substance to polish the crystals used to make computer chips that brought the company its greatest success.
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