A large, long mound of dirt sits along Old State Road just outside Odessa as a visible prophecy of what's to come. One day a middle school and high school will replace that pile to complete the first preschool through 12th-grade campus in the area, if not the state, of the 21st century.

A large, long mound of dirt sits along Old State Road just outside Odessa as a visible prophecy of what's to come. One day a middle school and high school will replace that pile to complete the first preschool through 12th-grade campus in the area, if not the state, of the 21st century.

Southern New Castle County is known for its state-of-the-art schools and academic excellence, but that reputation is still in its infancy.

Research by Roger C. Mowery sheds light on the origins of education in Delaware in a 1974 publication, "Delaware School District Organizations and Boundaries," by the then Department of Public Instruction. Mowery's work shows that long before the beautiful buildings and growing education choices were offered here, students attended small schools such as Middletown 60, Middletown 120, Odessa 61, Odessa 121, Townsend 81, Jamison's Corner 59, Mt. Pleasant 99, Levels 72, and Blackbird 69, among many others.

And while versions of the term "Appoquinimink" have been spoken below the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal for more than 350 years, the district that pays homage to this area's roots was not born until July 1, 1969.

Changing tides

Edna Cale of Middletown and Helen Kimmey of Townsend, both well known in the local public education community, were witness to the changing tides in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area.

Cale said she had a front seat to school segregation and desegregation in Delaware. She attended a one-room school that taught black children through the sixth grade, when she and other black students went to finish their education at another school for black children adjacent to where Louis L. Redding Middle School (RMS) now stands.

"It was all black and the teachers were black, and their main objective was to make sure that we got an education," Cale said. "The teachers were like your extended parent, and we respected them."

RMS was named for Attorney Louis. L. Redding, who was integral in the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools throughout the United States. That decision was slow in its implementation.

Cale said while schools were segregated until the mid 1960s, youth sports leagues were quicker to integrate races.

"The high school coaches saw how great the players were and said, 'We need to have them playing for us,' " she said. "During that time, Middletown became very predominate in athletics, and then they began integration."

Cale said her own children endured several discriminatory incidents in school, and it took some time before tensions dissipated about desegregation.

"When integration started to take place, things started to get a little better," Cale said. "From the time I went to school to now [when] my grandkids are going to school is a big difference."

Kimmey said prior to the consolidation of all M.O.T. public schools into one district, she served as the second woman on the Townsend School Board, which oversaw grades 1 through 8 at what is now Townsend Elementary School. Students earned their high school education in Middletown.

"We were just a hometown country school," Kimmey said. "The Middletown board was a lot different, and we didn't have a lot of problems."

After Middletown, Odessa and Townsend schools were consolidated into the Appoquinimink School District (ASD) in 1969, she was appointed by a judge to serve as the first woman on that board.

Kimmey said what is now Everett Meredith Middle School on Broad Street once held grades one through 12.

"The elementary school was hooked to the back; it was just one big school," Kimmey said. "Then we built Silver Lake."

She said Middletown elementary school students attended Silver Lake Elementary School after its opening in 1974, and Townsend School students then went to the Broad Street school for seventh through 12th grade.

Kimmey has remained involved in area public education and had a front-row seat to the changing district.

"We've gone through some tough times, but it's been tough all around and I think we came out a lot better than a lot of the other districts," she said. "They've really done a wonderful job of keeping up and changing with the times. It just makes me proud that I've been a small part of it."

Growing pains

Jeff Klein, coordinator of Research, Development, and Evaluation for the ASD, stated in an email that the district's enrollment remained relatively unchanged from its inception until the early 1990s, with an annual enrollment average of 2,300 students.

"Since the early '90s, we have nearly quadrupled in size," he stated. "Our largest amount of growth in terms of percentage growth from the previous school year occurred in the 1997-1998 [school year, which saw 12 percent enrollment growth]."

Former ASD Superintendent Dr. Tony Marchio said he came to the district in 1995 and spent a lot of time speaking with residents and reading Transcript archives to get a sense of the community and its crowded schools, a problem spurred by an increasing housing boom in southern New Castle County. He found the district was in "a real dilemma."

Marchio said enrollment was starting to increase and several referendums had just failed.

"The growth was just beginning, and dealing with the growth was really a big issue," he said. "Cedar Lane at one time had well over 900 students and it was built for a capacity of about 625. We had a string of trailers out the back; a closet was being used for instructional space. That's the way it was throughout the district."

Marchio said the district had to earn the trust and respect of residents in the area before revisiting referendums so new facilities could be built to accommodate the enrollment growth.

"Asking people to raise their taxes is a pretty dicey proposition, and when you do that you have to be honest with them," he said. "You have to follow through how you're going to use that money and do what you say you're doing to do."

Marchio said from that point on, the district stayed in referendum mode every year and continued to keep the community updated.

"We tried to plan for some foresight to not only keep up with the growth, but to plan for it," he said. "If you plan to build one school at a time, it's a losing proposition. It has to be the big picture."

Academic excellence

Marchio said it took about seven to eight years to tackle the enrollment issues, and then the focus turned to academics.

"For me, I think the greatest satisfaction was the academic growth we accomplished in the district," Marchio said. "In spite of all we had to deal with, we were able to put together a top-notch academic program. We really focused on the type of skills we felt our students need when they graduate from our schools"

He said those skills included being prepared to compete on a global level for careers. The district started by being the first to implement a new State standardized testing program; even when the State decided to hold off on the program's implementation for one year, the ASD independently launched the test to evaluate its students.

"I think that was the turning point; that's what set us apart," Marchio said. "From that point on, there was no stopping us. We flew out ahead, and we haven't looked back since."

In the 2000s, the district rolled out its Talent Development Program, which allows students to choose an interest and become immersed in classes each week that focus on and hone their talents in those areas.

When Marchio left the district in 2010 after four decades in education, he handed the reigns to Redding Middle School Principal Matt Burrows. Burrows said he plans to build on the district's recent academic success.

"We have great education for all students, from our students who need extra accommodations to our accelerated students," Burrows said. "That reputation has been built over time, and the data supports that reputation. We're on the cutting edge of a lot of initiatives."

He said when a student graduates from ASD, he wants them to be college and career ready, and be able to compete for the top universities and in the job market.

"I don't want to say our students are the best in Delaware; I want to say they're the best globally," Burrows said. "We're getting closer to and closer to where we can do that."

He said the district is currently in a holding pattern due to the state of the economy and a recent failed referendum, but their mantra of planning for the future continues. Once able, their next step is to build a new middle school and a new high school at the Fairview Campus on Old State Road. One day, Burrows would like to put computer devices in the hands of every student as educational aides, and expand ASD's world languages program down to pre-kindergarten students. Currently, students are offered Mandarin Chinese and French in fourth and fifth grade; Spanish and American Sign Language in sixth, seventh and eighth grade; and Mandarin, French, Spanish, American Sign Language, Japanese and Italian in high school.

"We continue to be a top performing district; we continue to be on the cutting edge of many initiatives," Burrows said. "It might be [years] out that you see the benefits of the different programs and options that are offered for our students. Education is different than a factory; our product has an everlasting impact on society."

Alternative education

As academic choices for students increased in Appoquinimink's schools, so did choices for alternative schools to attend.

MOT Charter and St. Anne's Episcopal schools opened in 2002, and each offers a different mission for students in elementary and middle school.

MOT Charter School Principal Elaine Elston said the school was founded by a group of parents who were interested in having an alternative type education experience for their children.

"We have a lot of parental involvement at the school, and we are partners with parents," she said. "We work together so the children have the best experiences."

Elston said because the school is relatively small, the staff know each of the students and families well.

"Every adult in that building cares about those kids and engages with them positively and productively every day," she said. "It's a really nice place to learn."

Across town, St. Anne's Episcopal School also offers a close-knit community of students with a spiritual element mixed in.

"As an Episcopal school, we value issues of social justice and we talk about spiritual things," said Head of School Peter Thayer. "We think young people need to learn to think creatively and critically. They need to learn how to collaborate and communicate effectively, and we do a lot of that."

Thayer said St. Anne's fosters compassion in its students, several of whom were recently featured on television for their efforts to collect presents for a family that was displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

"The kind of community we create here, the kids know how to get a long," he said. "They get to see adults who are modeling for them that there's more to life than just doing and getting."

Elston said students who attend MOT Charter build a strong academic base and learn to advocate for themselves.

"Really no matter where they go, they seem to report back to us that they feel very prepared and very ready for ninth grade," she said. "We've tried very hard to make them their own best advocate. They've learned to speak up and they're heard."

Thayer said St. Anne's students also learn to ask for help when needed.

"They know how to seek out the help of a teacher, and they're not intimidated to do that," he said. "They know from their experience at St. Anne's that teachers are their best advocates."

Thayer said students leave the school with strong work ethics, are well prepared to excel and many go on to great colleges.

"We have jobs periods from 12:50 to 1 p.m., and every fifth through eighth grader has a task [where] they go and do something to help the school."

Last fall, MOT Charter announced plans to construct a high school that will house two schools in one: a school for the arts, and a school for science, engineering and math.

"We feel like it's a missing niche in southern New Castle County," Elston said. "We can grow from what we already built."

She said they are in the process of selecting and securing land for the high school, and are waiting to hear whether the Delaware Department of Education will approve its charter.

Thayer said St. Anne's is about to roll out two new initiatives: a preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds, and a merit scholarship program for students entering St. Anne's at the middle school level. Two students will earn $7,500 each toward their tuition for every year they attend the school.

"I hope people recognize the kind of excellence that is here, and it's worth being a candidate for," he said. "Kids and adults love to come to work here. Kids will say to each other, 'It's OK to work hard and it's fun to come to school.' "

In 2007, St. Georges Technical High School opened its doors to freshman in search of career and technical opportunities.

Vicki Gehrt, principal of New Castle County Vocational Technical School District (NCCVT), said the popularity of their three original vo-tech high schools spurred the Delaware General Assembly to approach the district about building another high school, and a task force settled on north Middletown.

"Those opportunities are extremely beneficial to students, whether they're going from high school right to working or they're going from high school to post secondary," she said. "[St. Georges] has become a popular choice for students in New Castle County."

The high school is so popular, Gehrt said nearly 500 applicants will be denied admission this year.

"The environment we create in all four of our career and technical schools is an environment where our students feel comfortable," she said. "They know they're going to a school where they're going to be engaged in relevant work, whether it be academic or career or technical. They're engaged from the time they walk in the door to the time they leave."

Gehrt said St. Georges offers a co-op work program, and a program where students are dually enrolled in high school and in classes at Delaware Technical & Community College.

"We're doing a lot of the right things in order to stretch our students academically," she said.

Gehrt said the NCCVT district is reviewing common core standards across its four high schools, and is working to adjust their curriculum to meet those standards.

"We have a very strong and committed administrative team; we have students who are really engaged and very committed to the programs," she said. "I'm proud of the efforts of everyone making sure that the educational experiences for our students are quality experiences. That says a lot."


Pre 1990:

• Silver Lake Elementary

• Townsend Elementary

• Louis L. Redding Middle

• Middletown High (now Everett Meredith Middle)

• Appoquinimink Adult Continuing Education Programs

Post 1990:

• Cedar Lane Elementary

• Middletown High

Post 2000:

• Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center

• Spring Meadow ECC

• Townsend ECC

• Brick Mill Elementary

• Bunker Hill Elementary

• Cedar Lane ECC

• Old State Elementary

• Olive B. Loss Elementary

• Alfred G. Waters Middle

• Appoquinimink High


Year Enrollment count

1990 2,300 (approximate)

1998 4,137

2003 5,813

2010 8,193


• Business Technology

• Web & Print Technology

• Carpentry

• Electrical Trades


• Plumbing

• Athletic Healthcare Services

• Emergency Medical Services

• Health Information Technology

• Medical Assisting

• Nursing Technology

• Culinary Arts

• Early Childhood Education

• Biotechnology

• Technical Drafting & Design

• Auto Technology