DOVER — Gov. John Carney’s nominees to head the departments of Education and Human Resources were confirmed by the state Senate Wednesday.
Former Brandywine School District Superintendent Mark Holodick will to serve as the next education secretary, while Claire DeMatteis is the governor’s choice for secretary of the Department of Human Resources, providing support for state employees and managing recruitment and retention programs across the executive branch.
“I want to thank members of the Delaware Senate for their thoughtful consideration of these two important Cabinet nominations,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Both Claire and Mark will bring years of experience and commitment to public service that will benefit all Delawareans. I look forward to continuing to work with these two in their new positions.”
During confirmation hearings, Sens. Bryan Townsend, Gerald Hocker, Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Stephanie Hansen and Brian Pettyjohn each addressed the nominees Wednesday.
Education topics included COVID-19 challenges, like staffing.
“The staffing pressures that our 19 public school districts and our charter schools are experiencing are real,” said Mr. Holodick, who joined the Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware last year. “I’ve seen it firsthand in the current position I am in at UD and working in schools. There is no magic bullet.
“Teachers have to feel engaged at work. They need to know they are being heard and that they have voice. Leadership beyond everything matters most because leadership is what creates that engagement and that voice,” he continued. “We (need) to take a look at school culture and work to improve it. We have to look at the way we are rolling out across our state professional development and make sure it is truly meeting the needs.”
Sen. Townsend, the committee’s vice chair and a Newark Democrat, said he is looking forward to working with Mr. Holodick over the next weeks in regard to the tremendous pressures facing the educational system.
“I will just note that, when I ask these questions and these key topics of you, it is not all to make you think or to make any of my colleagues on this committee think that the legislature does not have a tremendous responsibility and really a duty, frankly, to step up on these issues,” said Sen. Townsend. “It is not something the secretary of education can snap his or her fingers and fix. In so many ways, the legislature has got to act on some of these issues moving forward.”
Mr. Holodick agreed.
“I do see the need for all of us to continue to strive to give each other grace. With all of that said, the department will be leading the efforts around safety in schools, having to do with COVID,” he said. “There is no one way we are going to find ourselves out of this pandemic. We’re going to have to be incredibly smart and savvy, utilize data in real time to make thoughtful decisions.”
Sen. Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, posed the question of policy concerns.
“I am hearing from districts that there is some contention between the individual districts and the Department of Education in terms of policy and (in) terms of things that come out of the Department of Education,” he said.
“You’ve got a lot of districts in the state of Delaware and a lot of personalities and a lot of personalities on their boards. You’re going to have to make decisions statewide that are going to take into account all of those different personalities. How do you see yourself going about, listening to the districts? How are you going to do that balance between what is good on a state level and what the districts on those local levels want to do?”
Mr. Holodick responded by emphasizing his ability to listen.
“It starts with listening to the concerns, whether it is the Delaware School Boards Association, the 19 superintendents. … I’ve always prided myself on the way in which I approach decision-making. It will start with listening and fact-gathering.”
During questioning of Ms. DeMatteis, who serves as a special assistant to the governor and oversees the management of federal stimulus dollars, she said her focus for the human resources secretary position “will really be to further what the governor and you had established as your objective when you reestablished this agency.”
“We are all very much focused on that next generation of our workforce. We are very much focused on a post-pandemic workforce and what that looks like in terms (of) flexibility, while recognizing there is a large segment of our state employees who simply can’t work from home,” she said.
She also plans to work on compensation issues and equity and continue efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion.
Ms. DeMatteis made note that about a third of the state’s current workforce is eligible to retire.
“We have to get creative with our recruiting. But also, to really advertise and promote the benefits of state employment — certainly health benefits, very good pension benefits. Some of that younger generation, that may not motivate them as much, in which case, we’re going to have to get more flexible in alternative work schedules.”
Sen. Pettyjohn said he was pleased with Ms. DeMatteis’ knowledge.
“You know Delaware. You know what we have been going through. It is good to have somebody with such experience and such knowledge to the history of things,” he said. “I just know that, as you go through this, you and I are going to be having a lot of discussions about the state’s workforce and what’s going on and what we can do to not only recruit but retain some of the most talented people that we have there in Delaware.”
Sen. Hansen, D-Middletown, also offered her support for the nomination of Ms. DeMatteis.
“There are some people who (you) know are going to do well. You are one of those. I look forward to supporting you in this job,” she said.