The Public High School Special: A Real Education
With millions in federal funds given to Delaware based on its potential to improve public schools, there’s a lot on the line. Is this another case of the government throwing money at a problem? Here’s a look at the schools’ performance now, and a survey of how they intend to reform education. Plus, find out how your school rates in our High School Ranking chart.
Click here to download the High School Ranking - The following chart ranks schools from best to worst based on the number of AP courses offered, student-teacher ratios, graduation rates, dropout rates and academic performance. Each category is ranked individually, then totaled for an overall school score. Academic performance is based on combined DSTP scores because they were, until this year, the state standard for all students. SAT scores are included in the chart, but they are not factored into the ranking because they are not mandatory. Cost-per-student is also provided as a point of information. It is not included in a school's overall performance.
Education reform is the stuff of recent headlines, editorials and, in some cases, advertisements by groups lobbying for change. Keeping track of the legislation and initiatives is hard enough for administrators, let alone parents.
Most parents know about No Child Left Behind, which supports standards-based education reform in schools that receive federal funding. What they may not realize is that No Child is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
No Child enhanced teacher accountability, which is why most parents equate it with the state’s basic skills test, which measures student performance against state-created standards. Here’s the rub: This school year, the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System has replaced the Delaware Student Testing Program.
With the DSTP, a paper-and-pencil test given in March, educators waited at least a month for results. “You could not make adjustments during the school year, but it was helpful in looking for patterns of achievement,” says Anne Lambert, principal of Concord High School.
DCAS, taken on the computer, is given three times a year, allowing for a more immediate response to the scores. Another difference: the performance levels. The DSTP had five. The new test has four, which are based on higher student proficiency standards. Parents may notice this year that their school skews lower than it did with the DSTP, and that may put the school in a different category, perhaps slipping from Academic Progress, for instance, to Academic Watch.
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Suffice it to say that the pressure is on, especially since Delaware and Tennessee were the first two states selected to participate in the Race to the Top (R2T) program, a federal $4.35 billion fund for education innovation and reform. Paid out over four years, half of Delaware’s $119 million allotment goes to the Delaware Department of Education and half goes to school districts and charter schools.
Schools do not receive equal shares. The allocation is based partly on need. Consider districts with a high population of students at risk or below the poverty line. It’s also based on district proposals that detail where they would allocate R2T funds.
Clearly, there is a lot for parents to consider when judging their child’s school or opting to participate in the school choice program. School choice allows parents to select a school outside the community’s feeder pattern. Each district has criteria for accepting or rejecting applicants—or even deciding if a school is open to choice. For the first year, Concord is closed because it is at capacity.
Though helpful, statistics alone do not offer an apples-to-apples comparison. The Charter School of Wilmington and Cab Calloway School of the Arts consistently rank high in test scores. However, these schools serve like-minded students who have applied to the school, just as students apply to private schools. There is no feeder pattern.
Schools also offer programs and have characteristics that statistics may not reflect. “It all starts with the climate of the school,” says Bruce Curry, principal of Polytech High School. “Students need to be proud that they’re doing well and that it is cool to do well.”
Here are some details about each district’s efforts to distinguish and enhance its high schools, including, when available, some R2T initiatives.
Appoquinimink School District
Appoquinimink High and Middletown High both boast student-run enterprises—a café, store and bank—to give students real-world experience in commerce. The district as a whole has an artist-in-residence program. Dedicated to college readiness, the schools feature more than 20 career “pathways,” including math and science technology, environmental science and graphic design. James Comegys, principal of Middletown High, hopes R2T funds will further district efforts to “create partnerships in the world of work.” Since both schools emphasize a globally focused curriculum, the word “world” is taken seriously. Says Comegys, “We don’t want to be just a good school for Delaware. We want to be a good school for the nation and for the world.”
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Brandywine School District
Home to three high schools, Brandywine plans to use R2T funds to support the initiatives identified in the district's 2007-2012 strategic plan, which covers all R2T reform areas, says Mark Holodick, superintendent. Top priorities for year one include curriculum alignment and best practices, building a culture of college and career readiness, engaging families and communities, and professional development.
Mount Pleasant High plans to hire another associate principal to improve instruction and maintain a positive school culture, says principal Jim Simmons. Mount Pleasant High was Delaware’s first public school to teach the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Brandywine High’s priorities include hiring a business manager so the principal has more time to spend in classrooms, and it plans to upgrade technology with more LCD projectors, Smart Boards and a dedicated computer lab. Principal Al Thompson says the school seeks to add math and English teachers and reduce class size. Other Brandywine High goals include extending the school day for struggling students or students with unique needs, a program known as “twilight.”
An academic leader among the non-charter public high schools, Concord High also would like to offer a transitional program to prepare middle-school students for high school. With R2T funds, Concord High will further academic programs, including professional development for teachers who have special education students in their classes. The school takes its college-readiness initiatives seriously. The best-selling T-shirt reads “Concord Nerds” on the front. On the back: “Your Future Boss.”
Caesar Rodney School District
R2T is “a great opportunity for us,” says Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District. “We’re trying to launch innovative programs to reach students and provide enhanced instruction.” The district would like to increase training that helps content teachers and special ed professionals work together more effectively. Integrating technology is also a top priority. “iPads, Smart Boards, laptops—there are so many different things coming into the classroom,” Fitzgerald says. The high school would like to add Arabic and other languages to its already diverse offerings and create a transitional program for middle-schoolers. “Our goal is to enrich and remediate,” Fitzgerald says.
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Cape Henlopen School District
The district’s sparkling new high school building may salute classical architecture but it houses all the current bells and whistles, including Smart Boards in every classroom and multiple technology learning labs. R2T goals include upping the graduation credit requirement from 22 to up to 28 credits. The school wants to increase the number of students in honor and AP classes and improve math achievement levels. To that end, the school will implement a new ninth-grade math program that takes a real-world approach. The district has already seen the results of this approach in eighth grade, where student scores in math were the highest in public schools for two years running.
CapitAl School District
Dover High has no shortage of scholars. There are currently 59 students in 21 College Board-accredited courses, two of which are online courses. The school consistently wins awards for its music and chorale programs and its Air Force JROTC (understandable, given the school’s proximity to Dover Air Force Base). Students have won state and national recognition in the Odyssey of the Mind competition, and they earn high honors in the Science Olympiad. As part of R2T efforts, Capital seeks to remove or decrease classroom obstacles so teachers can do their jobs better. Both Dover and Caesar Rodney have a part-time attendance officer and a full-time behavior specialist, and the Greater Dover Committee coordinates a mentoring program. The district has lengthened the school year into summer for students who need extra help.
Christina School District
Christiana High’s instructional focus, “Read It, Think It, Write It,” encourages students to extend, refine and apply critical thinking skills through written responses. Meanwhile, Glasgow High is focused on increasing math and language arts through research-based practices, including reasoning, graphic organizers, opinion-formulating and note-taking. Newark High, which adheres to a tradition of “classical firmness” in designing and recommending programs, features the Cambridge Program, a college-preparatory curriculum for academically gifted students. R2T funding will support the goals of college- and career-readiness.
Colonial School District
William Penn High has restructured its school office to better manage this large school, whose student body tops 2,200. Jeffrey Menzer is manager of school improvement, Susan Fois is principal of operations, and Kevin White is principal of curriculum and instruction. There are five assistant principals. Initiatives benefiting from R2T funds include Reaching Balanced Achievement, a professional development program for teachers. Planning has become key. Teachers in the same core subject areas, such as math and English, all have free periods at the same time each day for personal planning.
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Delmar School District
The middle school, high school and district office are all under one roof, so this district is a close community. Though small, the high school is mighty. “We thrive and succeed despite our size,” says Shawn Larrimore, principal of Delmar High. “We’re the epitome of teamwork.” This year, the school started an extended-honors program, and seniors who previously may have qualified for early dismissal now may leave only if they are pursuing their career pathway with an internship or job. With R2T, Delmar High would like to expand free tutoring for students.
Last school year, the district—which has two high schools, Indian River and Sussex Central—participated in Focus on Results professional training and expanded twilight programs to boost graduation rates. Reading coaches at both schools represent an effort to boost standard test scores. Sussex Central for the past two years has continued to do well in Delaware’s Adequate Yearly Progress ratings. The progress is notable considering that more than 55 percent of the student body enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meal Program. The schools have overhauled many programs and added medical and biotechnology pathways to their curricula. “We’ve made significant growth in technology,” says principal Timothy Capone, who’s been on board for two years. Smart Boards should be in all classrooms within a year.
Lake Forest School District
Proud of its football team, Lake Forest High is also tackling academics. “We, like most high schools, have our work cut out for us in improving math and language arts scores,” says Glenn Davidson, the district’s administrative assistant for curriculum. The district will use R2T funds to implement Learning-Focused Strategies, a school improvement model. Each school is sending two teachers to the Learning-Focused Strategies training camp to become program trainers.
Laurel School District
Career pathways at Laurel High include criminal justice, marketing, early childhood education and plant and soil science. (There are two large greenhouses on the property.) With R2T funds, Laurel High would like to improve graduation rates and prepare students for college and careers.
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New Castle County Vo-Tech
The district runs four schools: Delcastle, Paul M. Hodgson, Howard and St. Georges. The newest of the four, St. Georges, is an original member of the network organized by Vision 2010—now Vision 2015. All four schools are now members. For its R2T initiatives, the district is enforcing the link between career and academic programs. “We want the academics to be relevant to students,” says superintendent Steven Godowsky. For instance, math teachers might use a carpentry example to illustrate a math principle.
Hodgson plans to use curriculum developed by Project Lead the Way, an organization that prepares students to be leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The school would also like to pilot environment-oriented classes, starting with construction trade students. Howard seeks to improve measures that assess students’ readiness for college. It is also considering a twilight program for students who need extended school hours.
Polytech School District
There are five academies in Polytech High School and 21 technical concentrations. To enroll in a specialty area, students must submit a cover letter and electronic portfolio, then interview for a spot. To graduate, seniors must prepare a research paper on a topic concerning their area and defend it in a PowerPoint presentation. Principal Bruce Curry credits the high graduation rate with students’ desire to attend the school. “They make a commitment,” he says, noting the long distance some travel to school each day.
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Red Clay School District
Red Clay has three traditional high schools—Alexis I. duPont, John Dickinson and Thomas McKean—and the magnet schools Cab Calloway School of the Arts and Conrad School of Science. Dickinson is a burgeoning STEM school. The approach moves the classics—reading “Beowulf,” for instance—into today through activities such as using high-tech tools to create a video about the story. Culinary arts programs, complete with café spaces, are on the way. If all goes as planned, so is participation in the International Baccalaureate Programme.
McKean, which added a fourth assistant principal this year as an academic dean, is devoting additional resources to career and technical programs. Upgrades have been made to design and engineering areas. Next up: the culinary arts and broadcast facilities. The school has a freshman advisory program that fosters mentoring. A partnership with Delaware Technical and Community College and the state’s biotech industry benefits Conrad Schools of Science students in biotechnology and allied health fields. R2T funds will support SAT prep classes for 10th-graders and increase AP classes. “I could give you a million things I’d like to spend it on,” Conrad principal Mark Pruitt says of the R2T allocations.
Seaford School District
Seaford High is going through a “school transformation,” says principal Michael Smith. And he isn’t kidding. In the 2011-2012 school year, the school will unveil the Delaware New Tech Academy, only the second New Tech program in the Mid-Atlantic. A national program, New Tech Network adheres to a project-based approach. “There’s a one-to-one ratio for student to computer the entire school day, and students collaborate,” Smith says. “They are accountable for each phase, which teaches them college and work skills at the same time.” Some R2T funds will go toward the new effort. The school in the next few years will also unroll tracks in agricultural science, leadership and perhaps hospitality for “schools within a school.”
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Smyrna School District
When Principal Anthony Soligo in 1998 joined the school as assistant principal, only 48 percent of graduates went on to college. That number has since jumped to 83 percent. Soligo credits community support and programs that stress computer skills. In February 2010, more than 6,000 people headed to Smyrna High for the annual I Love the Smyrna School District Day. Smyrna High’s business and agriculture programs win state, regional and national recognition. Biotechnology, mechanics, human services, early childhood development, criminal justice and building infrastructure are also popular pathways. The school’s career prep programs fall in line with R2T goals.
Sussex Technical School District
A high achiever when it comes to state test scores, Sussex Tech is not about to rest on its laurels. Tutoring is available both before and after school. As part of its R2T initiatives, the school opens an hour late once a week so students and teachers can collaborate. There are 14 technical areas, and Sussex has boosted professional development for technical teachers.
Woodbridge School District
One of the top schools in the nation, according to Newsweek, Woodbridge High has a strong program that pairs students with a teacher or administrator. Principal Bob Adams, for instance, mentors 15 students. When parents visit the school to learn about their child’s progress, they meet with the advisers, not classroom teachers. Career-oriented courses put students where the action is, whether they are on clinical rotations at Nanticoke Hospital or on the school’s farm. Woodbridge will apply R2F funds wherever they help most.
Some charter schools were created as an incubator for gifted students or students with a particular interest. Take, for instance, Delaware Military Academy, which takes the JROTC to an everyday level. There are 20 graduates in the Naval Academy, one at West Point, three in the Air Force Academy and four in the Merchant Marines Academy. “All 553 kids want to be here,” says Col. Jack Wintermantel, the superintendent, CEO and founder of the school. Other charter schools serve students who are at-risk for problems in a traditional school environment. As with traditional public schools, the larger R2T share goes to schools with the greatest established need. The Charter School of Wilmington, for instance, received no funds.