On March 9, 2015, S. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman stepped onstage at the Chase Center on the Riverfront where, before a full house of community members, leaders, and policy makers, she joined a panel of education specialists to discuss school redistricting in Wilmington. It wasn’t a place she had planned to be. But here she was, at the Imagine Delaware Education Forum with the governor in attendance.
Tizzy had long been an outspoken advocate for education reform, first through her local Parent Teacher Association and then as a member of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee. She was in the final stages of finishing her master’s thesis on choice in Delaware’s public schools. As a mom, she was watching her daughter go through the same Red Clay school system as she did years earlier, but much had changed.
“I am a product of Red Clay,” she shared. “I came back into the system in 2008 as a mom and have a child in a local school. After she was in school for a few years I became the PTA president, and being that her school is a high poverty, urban, traditional school, we certainly have a lot of the challenges that everyone is talking about tonight.”
Tizzy was raised in the Cool Spring neighborhood on Wilmington’s West Side. She was educated in Red Clay Consolidated School District and graduated from A.I DuPont High School in 1997. She went on to earn a degree in film and linguistics from NYU and a master’s in urban affairs and public policy from UD.
Tizzy was first drawn to community service through Public Allies Delaware in 2004, where she served as Program Manager for the Hearts & Minds Film Initiative of Serviam Media, developing outreach programming, film festivals, and youth media workshops from the Riverfront studios of local media production company, TELEDUCTION.
When her daughter enrolled in kindergarten in Wilmington, Tizzy joined the Parent Teacher Association at her school, Highlands Elementary School, where she served as President from 2010 to 2013, increasing engagement around school climate and district issues. She volunteered extensively running projects supporting public schools, arts and urban revitalization in Wilmington.
During this time, Tizzy noticed a troubling trend in schools across Wilmington: performance was falling, schools were resegregating, and the opportunities that Red Clay’s schools had afforded her were increasingly out of reach for younger generations.
“When I was doing PTA, I got more involved in doing things like going to school board meetings, and one of the things that became really clear to me is the fact the city is split into pieces has really muted the voice for any advocacy,” Tizzy said to The News Journal in 2015. “To make any coherent, cohesive change, you have to go to a lot of different people just to have your voice heard…With all of the thousands of kids that we’ve got, they’re not all necessarily receiving the same resources.”
In 2014, Tizzy was appointed to serve on the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee (WEAC), a task force established by Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s Executive Order 46, led by chair Tony Allen, to assess the current landscape of Wilmington public schools and develop recommendations to improve educational attainment for all Delaware students, particularly those who struggle.
When WEAC issued its first public report in 2015, the conclusions reflected what many parents know is happening in our schools but few public officials had ventured to put into words:
“Today thousands of Wilmington children, most of them poor, black, or Latino, still do not have access to high-quality public education. Judged on most outcomes—test scores, truancy, graduation rates, college attendance, socio-emotional well-being, drug use, homelessness, arrests, and unemployment—these children have become data points for a system of failure. Various groups address these challenges by blaming each other; government officials, parents, educational advocates, community and business leaders, unions, educational administrators, teachers, and, at times, even the children themselves are blamed for the failures of public education. This confrontational dialogue, which has generally focused on how one group can hold another group accountable, is now an embedded feature of Wilmington education.”
Unfortunately, that same pattern of “confrontational dialogue” persists and has created a toxic environment that has made meaningful education reform difficult and frustratingly slow. In the meantime, Tizzy said to Delaware Today, our kids “have gotten the short end of the stick,” and legislative inaction “has denied the right of those kids to get a good education.”
When WEAC transformed into the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) in 2015, Tizzy was appointed to serve as Vice Chair.
Growing more active in education policy and community advocacy, Tizzy also completed her master’s degree in Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Delaware in 2015, writing her master’s thesis on the legacy and promise of school choice legislation in Delaware. During her study, she worked as a graduate assistant for the University’s Center for Community Research and Service, first supporting Public Allies Delaware and then supporting Wilmington City Council as an Urban Policy Fellow, researching and drafting advocacy and policy proposals to address issues directly affecting Wilmington.
In 2016, when WEIC presented another report with similar conclusions to the General Assembly, along with a proposal to redistrict schools and reform school funding with the goal of improving student performance overall, the legislature was unable to reach a critical mass of support, despite coming closer than any significant reform had come in decades.
Tizzy continues to fight for reforming public education, and leads a grassroots organizing effort to develop community leadership on this issue as the director of the Parent Advisory Council on Education (PACE) initiative at the Christina Cultural Arts Center. The initiative pursues a vision to raise awareness about effective participation in the public education system to improve it for students living in the city of Wilmington and focuses on building recognized parent leadership, driven by local outreach and a community-built advocacy agenda.
“Everyone of us deserves to have hope for a bright future,” says Tizzy. “We must make the choice now, at this critical moment, to elect leaders who are committed not just to speaking for others, but to elevating voices and empowering the actions of residents, to listening and creating policies that put people first.”