Bill Delbrugge, who took over a demoralized and dysfunctional Flagler County school district as superintendent in April 2005 and transformed it into one of the state’s most stable, high-performing and innovative districts, announced to his staff in a 17-minute video today that he would tender his resignation Friday. He plans on finishing out the school year in Flagler.
Delbrugge’s destination is Cairo, Egypt, where he will be director of the American International School, one of three schools in the Egyptian capital run by the American-based Educational Services Overseas Limited. ESOL runs secular, private schools in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, Aley (in Lebanon), Nicosia (Cyprus) and in two Saudi Arabian locations.
Delbrugge traveled to Egypt in 2008 for talks about possibly leading a school there. Personal reasons convinced him to stay in Flagler longer. Just last month, Delbrugge adopted a son, who is a high school sophomore in the district.
Delbrugge was tendering his resignation early in compliance with his contract, which requires him to give the school board six months’ notice. He says he will be “100 percent Flagler County” until June 30. “This will still be my home base,” he said of Palm Coast, where he plans on keeping his home and travel back on vacations.
“I am very happy here, there is nothing here about me not being happy or anything like that, so any of those rumors that you hear is completely untrue,” Delbrugge said in his video message. “The reason why I’m leaving is I’ve been given one of those opportunities that’s a once-in-a-lifetime, and it’s going to be something very, very special. Anybody who’ll listen to me I’ll tell them the same quote over and over again because it’s just what my personal message is, and that is, to whom much is given, much is expected.”
He went on to describe, in highly idealistic terms, his conviction to share with those less fortunate what he’s learned in the United States, and extend to the developing world the success models of American education.
“I believe that education is the great equalizer in the world, and if we can help young people develop work ethics and study habits and creativity skills and problem solving skills… that’s going to help a developing country become successful and help people overcome some of the obstacles that they’re facing now. America is a wonderful place to be and a great place to learn, and we’re very blessed as Americans, but I also think that the rest of the world gets to experience the blessings that we have here in our country. And that’s going to happen through education…. I do think we have an obligation to help other folks achieve what we have achieved here in our own country, and so that’s what I’m going to go for.”
Delbrugge shared a second video with his staff–Declan Galbraith’s “Tell Me Why,” a plaintive cry over “a world full of upheaval and need.” The video Delbrugge shared is subtitled in Arabic and English.
Quelling School District’s Turbulence
For the school district, Delbrugge’s resignation is bound to shock and disappoint and add to a year of anxieties he had done much to neutralize. Delbrugge’s predecessor, Robert Corley, had between 2001 and 2005 sown turbulence and divisiveness through a tenure characterized by secrecy, severe conflicts within the school board and questionable financial maneuvers, dozens of them flagged by state audits, including Corley’s padding of his own salary.
Delbrugge, whom Corley had hired from Georgia to be the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School, immediately removed the veil from the district’s finances and other functions and replaced it with a transparency that bordered on the compulsive. Corley’s invisibility in schools was replaced by Delbrugge’s knack for seeming to be in all places at all times. He was his staff’s tireless cheerleader and champion, as he showed repeatedly in his video. “And I do have to tell you, I do have a very blessed life. How could you not be blessed for living in Flagler County, one of the greatest communities to live in, and working for this school district.”
Not wanting his staff to hear rumors or read about his departure in the papers, Delbrugge said he decided to speak his intentions directly in a district-wide video that FlaglerLive acquired.
“I did want everyone to know, I’m going to release this information later on Friday, to the public, so I’m giving staff a day’s head notice about this, but Friday I do plan on turning in my letter of resignation as superintendent of schools to Ms. Shellenberger, our chairperson. And first off, even though I am going to leave the district, I want everyone to know I love Flagler County public schools. This is an amazing school district. What we accomplished here and what we have here folks is very special. It is also unusual, and so I want you to know that it is a very, very special school district.”
Tough Words for Crist
Characteristically, Delbrugge opened his video with a bright commandment to his staff to enjoy a long Presidents’ Weekend before he delved in more serious matters. He spoke of the state’s $1.1 billion budget shortfall, and bluntly criticized then dismissed Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposal to raise the education budget by half a billion dollars–a proposal Delbrugge termed unrealistic and expedient: “Our governor is full force more worried about becoming a U.S. Representative than being governor right now,” Delbrugge said. (Crist is running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez.) “Unfortunately, he’s proposed a budget that’s just not reality. And so we really are going to have to go back to square one with the state budget or where the Legislators are, and figure things out. As we all know, education gets used as a pawn and a lot of silly games and politics.”
Delbrugge cautioned his staff against falling back into a mire of panic and second-guessing locally, as many did last year during the state’s budget struggles. The Flagler school district was among Florida’s few that survived without cuts.
“The bottom line is when it comes to the state budget and our school budget, yes, we know it’s bad, we get it, OK?” Delbrugge said. “But the sun is going to come up tomorrow, the world is not going to come to an end, and we’re going to continue doing what we do best and that is to take care of our kids and to educate them and make them bright young folks who’s going to take over our community and be the leaders of the future. That’s just the way it’s going to be for us. We’re not going to rile our people up or get everybody concerned because it accomplishes nothing.”
The superintendent mentioned a couple of issues to watch at the Legislature, spent several minutes commending his leadership team and the distinctions achieved in the district (Rymfire Elementary, for example, was named an Apple Distinguished School for use of technology in schools for the second year in a row, while the district’s two high schools doubled their Advanced Placement slate of classes while maintaining their achievement standards), and again commended his staff.
It was seven minutes into the video. It was at that point that Delbrugge began making his announcement that he’d be leaving.