Classes start Sept. 5 in Appoquinimink School District

Keith Shoemaker has been driving a bus for the Appoquinimink School District for 14 years.

He’s had the same route and he still likes it after all those years.

It gives him a chance to interact with the children, which is something he says he still likes.

“Some of the students I had in the first grade are now doing their second year in college. And I got their younger brothers and sisters in my elementary run,” he said.

In anticipation of the school year, the district held a Day Zero on Aug. 24 when the buses—about 118 of them—ran their routes without students abroad to test for accuracy and problems. Also, students and parents were encouraged to come to the bus stops to get acquainted with the bus drivers and stops.

Shoemaker was one of those bus drivers who participated in Day Zero. He saw a lot of elementary school students in his practice run.

“It was good. I mean I had a lot of parents show up for my elementary run to meet me. One of the mothers of the high school [students] came out, but that was all. I guess it was too early for the high school students to wake up,” he said.

School starts on Tuesday, Sept. 5 for grades kindergarten through ninth grade.

On Sept. 6, students in grades 10 to 12 go back to school.

As of Aug. 28, there were 10,753 students enrolled for the school year and more continue to enroll. At this time, enrollment is up 177 students from the Sept. 30, 2016, count.

In anticipation of the school year, the district held an orientation for new teachers on Aug. 21 to Aug. 24. So far, the district has hired 64 teachers, but interviews are still happening, said Deborah L. Panchisin, executive director of instruction and student services for the district.

“Orientation is four days of professional development, providing an overview of policies, procedures, instructional strategies specific to the district and curricular expectations,” Panchisin said.

One of those new teachers at the district is Krystal Buczynski, who will teach fourth grade at Brick Mill Elementary School.

“I’m excited. I’m a little nervous. I’m coming from Capital School District in Dover with 10 years experience. So, I’m just excited for something new and excited to get started,” she said.

Another new teacher to the district is Nicole McAllister who will teach at Brick Mill Elementary.

“I am a first-year teacher, so I’m excited, but I’m very nervous. I student taught at Brick Mill, but I’m excited to go back there with my team,” she said. “I got into teaching because I have a passion to work with children and help them to feel like they are very important in the world, bring out the best in them.”

Besides adding new teachers, the district and its students will experience some changes this school year.

Thanks to the referendum the voters passed, there’s money for Chromebook laptops for students in ninth and tenth grade.

“These are used as a part of instruction and allow for teachers to personalize and enhance the instruction being provided,” Panchisin said.

The high school teachers received training from Google before they left for the summer. “The training was differentiated based on teacher knowledge and expertise,” Panchisin said.

During the school year, the computer training for teachers will continue to be held during professional learning, in faculty meetings, departmental meetings and after school. “The district has three instructional technology support specialists to help teachers integrate technology meaningfully into the classroom,” Panchisin said.

The middle school students already have iPads. So do the elementary schools.

Despite improvements in technology for the students, the district had to cut back on some programs and staff positions because of General Assembly’s cut in education funds to districts statewide.

The financial impact to the Appoquinimink School District will be the loss of $1.8 to $2 million, but it’s less than what the governor proposed, said Dr. Matt Burrows, superintendent, in his summer message.

However, several cuts in district programs and staff position remain in place because of the reduced state funding. Those cuts include the Pre-First program, the high school photography program, and the textiles program.

When it comes to positions, two administrative intern positions were cut and the world language specialist position was eliminated. Also, two clerical positions and 14 teacher aide positions were eliminated.

“Cuts will be painful, but not as deep as originally suggested,” Burrows said. “Legislators put a patch on the problem, but did not solve it. Educational costs continue to rise, as do the number of student attending school,” Burrows said.

If the problem isn’t resolved, districts will be forced to consider “an ever-increasing spiral of referendums. But, for this year, we’re on solid ground with a clear path forward. Our job is to focus on student growth,” he said.