Our Public High Schools
Public schools face bigger challenges than ever, yet many succeed where others fear to tread. Herein, the high schools ranked, with the latest on testing programs, new charters, the budget crunch and more, so that you may plan your child’s education wisely.
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Surrounded by the noise of bulldozers, power saws and nail guns, Appoquinimink School District Superintendent Tony Marchio stands in the crisp morning air, beaming with pride.
He ignores the patchy lawn and mostly empty parking lot, walks past the drivers ed car—still displaying temporary tags—and admires the four blindingly white pillars that welcome people to the new, state-of-the-art Appoquinimink High School.
“This is my home,” he says.
In retrospect, it might not have been the sanest idea to leave a stable post in West Virginia for a small but growing school district in Delaware. Back then, in September 1995, the district was a work-in-progress, and having seen its student population double over the past 10 years, it remains one. Yet due to high academic performance and a vigorous building program, it is the envy of districts across the state.
“I used to work in the district, but we never dreamt it would become as huge as it has become,” says outgoing Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff. “They are growing, as well as putting out a reputation of doing a good job. He’s doing a great job of adjusting to their changes.”
Change has been most apparent at Middletown High School, where a fairly new building designed to hold 1,600 people had been surrounded by trailers to house more than 2,300 students.
Where most people would have seen a problem, the district saw an opportunity. Over the past decade, it has expanded the AP program from three courses to 17, passed four referendums for new schools, and had all six of its elementary schools ranked as five-star locations.
A key to the successful growth is the staff’s ability to incorporate students’ opinions into strategic plans. When students feel they are an important part of the system, they are more likely to leave satisfied, says Middletown High principal Donna Mitchell.
“The more people you have, the more opportunity there is for students to feel disenfranchised,” she says. “Our challenge is to make sure every student feels like they belong.”
Marchio has applied the same philosophy to the whole community. By including everyone in the process, the district created a boom of parents who are focused on their children’s educations, which Marchio says has led to successful referendums to fund construction. Appoquinimink plans to finish five new schools by 2015.
The most recent addition to the Appoquinimink family is still trying to find its place. With only two of the four grades in the new Appoquinimink High, it still feels empty, but it is allowing Principal Felecia Duggins, a veteran of the Middletown High administration, to drive home her motto.
“Failure is not an option,” she says. —Bob Thurlow
Page 4: The Budget Crunch