Some middle schools in need of emergency funding for renovations

At a special school board meeting held July 22 in Odessa, Appoquinimink School District Board members were briefed on overall gains in the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS. Board members also engaged in a lengthy discussion about renovations to school facilities, and discussed the results of a spring survey on staff morale.

Hits and misses

Coordinator of research, development and evaluation for the district, Jeff Klein, opened the meeting with a presentation of Appoquinimink’s DCAS performance, highlighting key areas where the district is meeting and missing targets.

While the Appoquinimink School District elementary schools continue to climb in state rankings in areas such as reading and math, the district is still lagging in preparing high school students to do better in some subjects, he said. Only 55 percent of high school students showed proficiency in science, according to the 2013-2014 DCAS results.

The district also missed targets for hiring more diverse staff, which remained flat at 12 percent. Klein showed that new students entering Appoquinimink schools are struggling more than students who have been in the school system longer.

Other challenges for the district include closing achievement gaps between black and white students, which according to Appoquinimink School District Superintendent Matthew Burrows, is a problem nationwide.

“The widening achievement gap is a problem across the U.S., but we don’t want to just say is a problem. We want to do something about it,” Burrows told the board.

Despite the setbacks, district board members remain confident that the implementation of their new district strategic plan will help address a lot of the problems that the system is still facing and help them do better with next year’s new testing system, the Smarter Balance Assessment.

“The new strategic plan is underway with the new assessment. Our strategies will change,” Burrows said. “Most of our school scores are above the state average.”

School renovations

School Board members received an update on school facilities from Bob Hershey, the facilities supervisor for the Appoquinimink School District, who focused on the condition of Everett Meredith Middle School.

“Meredith is the worst of the worst,” Hershey said.

According to Hershey, the school’s ceilings are about 75 years old and must be replaced. The structure also contains some asbestos, and the school’s entrance is “a real” safety concern.

Hershey said another school in bad shape is Redding Middle School, which needs new tiles for the walls and floors. There are ongoing problems with the school’s heat pumps and also a number of tight places where it is hard for students to get around.

Board members brainstormed ideas on how to get funding to help renovate both middle schools. The idea of emergency funding through the state legislature was tossed around at the meeting.

Staff morale

The results of a survey conducted in the spring about teacher and specialist satisfaction in the school district was briefly discussed. About 658 surveys were distributed district-wide with 428 people responding.

Survey participants answered questions qualifying their satisfaction in areas including working conditions, relationships and communication, administrative leadership and support, and school morale.

On the questions regarding staff’s satisfaction with the overall morale of their school, 18.94 percent responded that they were “Very Satisfied,” 23.99 percent responded “Somewhat Satisfied.” The percentage of those who responded “Very Dissatisfied” was 22.22.

Board members took note of the survey results and said they will be doing everything possible to keep morale high at district schools.

“Morale isn’t done by one person, it’s everyone working together to improve morale,” Burrows said.

School climate survey

Results from another survey pertaining school climate were reviewed at the special meeting. The survey asked students and staff in all Appoquinimink District schools questions qualifying teacher-student relations, respect for diversity, school safety, bullying, and other key areas.

“This is our real opportunity to know what the students think about our schools,” said Klein.

“This is one the better surveys I’ve seen,” Board Member Charlisa “Char” Edelin added.

Burrows and other board members agreed that keeping bullying numbers low was essential for schools throughout the district.