convoluted approach, discussion at a special meeting of the
board on Nov. 5 indicated, enabled the district to comply with a
law which board members, district administrators, most of its
teachers and staff and, apparently 68.5% of its residents think
is a bad deal while, at the same time, making a strong bid to
maintain the stats quo on school configuration and student
board members denounced the law during comments before the vote,
but only two of them voted against forwarding a student
assignment plan based largely on postal zip codes.
required to submit a plan. If we do not submit a plan, we are in
violation of the law. We have no right to violate the law and
subject this district to litigation," said Janice Tunell. In a
side comment, board president Nancy Doorey remarked, "We will
have litigation if we implement [the plan]."
going against the will of our community. Let Dover come in and
impose a plan if they will. ... We should tell them we want to
concentrate on education and not rearranging the deck chairs,"
said Ralph Ackerman, who was joined by Thomas Lapinski in
opposing placing the zip code proposal before state officials.
said that, although he originally supported the idea of
returning to traditional kindergarten-through-fifth or -sixth
grade elementary schools as the law requires, he now favors
keeping the present Brandywine intermediate schools and perhaps
adding a fourth one. That would enable it to continue to mingle
students living in the city of Wilmington and those living in
the suburbs in an arrangement comparable to what prevailed
during the years the district was under federal court
supervision in the racial desegregation case.
superintendent Bruce Harter and the majority of the board were
allied with Tunell's position -- albeit reluctantly -- they made
it clear that their preference lies with rejecting the
controversial law. Its most outspoken critic since before
passage by the General Assembly in 2000, the district was
supported in that position by an intense media campaign and more
than two-thirds of the some 6,000 voters who turned out for an
unprecedented-in-Delaware -- and therefore nonbinding --
plebiscite on the
issue on Oct. 30.
happen next is uncertain. The four northern New Castle County
school districts are required to send plans to the state
board on or before Nov. 15. Harter is scheduled to appear at a
special meeting of that board on Nov. 27 to make Brandywine's
presentation. Red Clay's plan also will be presented that day. Ann Case, policy analyst for the state board, told
Delaforum that a timetable beyond that is not yet in place. Earlier she had
said that a final decision on the plans could come as soon as
the end of the year, but with some legislators publicly wavering
on whether they continue to support the law as it now stands,
there are indications a politically savvy state board might
delay until after the Assembly reconvenes in January.
the Brandywine board did not vote -- as a few observers
thought it might -- to submit its present arrangement as
its proposed plan, its counterparts in the Colonial and Red Clay
districts have done just that. The difference is that, unlike
those other districts, Brandywine would thus totally ignore the
law's closest-to-home provision for student assignments. Red
Clay would continue using the public school choice system to
make assignments while assigning students who did not make a
choice to the school closest to their homes which has available
space after the choices are granted. Colonial has had in place a
student assignment plan based on closest schools. The issue is
totally up in the air in the Christina district where the board
is at odds with its Neighborhood Schools Act committee and the
vocal parents organization which in large measure provided the
impetus for enacting the law in the first place. Alone among the
four districts, Christina is not contiguous with Wilmington.
provides that districts which have their plan rejected come up
with a new plan within 60 days. After that the matter is to be
referred to the attorney general who is empowered to seek a
remedy, presumably civil, in court.
recommended that, in addition to submitting the zip code plan,
that Brandywine also present its current attendance zones and
feeder patterns "as the plan that best meets the criteria in
[the law] that the plan be 'fair and equitable'." The present
arrangement also would avoid creating a 'substantial hardship'
which the law provides would be a reason for not assigning
students to the schools closest to their homes, he said.
Unfairness, he said, lies in the fact that educational research
shows that students in schools with concentrations of children
with 'high poverty' backgrounds do not perform as well
academically as students in other schools. Brandywine has said
the zip code plan will result in creation of three 'high
poverty' schools, which are defined as those in which more than
half of the students qualify under U.S. Department of
Agriculture regulations for free or reduced-price lunches.
took issue with state Representative Wayne Smith, sponsor of the
law, who claimed that there have been several instances of
notable academic achievements in such schools. "All the
studies show that the gains are transient; nobody has been able
to sustain them," she said.
further said that 5,000 Brandywine students -- nearly half its
total enrollment -- would have to change schools if the district
is required to implement its zip code plan in a single school
year, the one extending from September, 2003, to June, 2004.
Moreover, he said, it would cost district taxpayers $5 million
the first year and about $2.5 million in each of the subsequent
years to implement and continue.
and board member Mark Huxsoll said they favored the zip code
plan the least of the three presented to the board and district
voters by Brandywine's Neighborhood Schools Act committee. But
they said they would go along with it because a 40% plurality of
voters on Oct. 30 selected it. The other choices -- student
assignment based on the geometric midpoints between schools and
establishment of an academic 'magnet' school in the city --
split the rest of the vote evenly. Huxsoll said he favored the
'magnet' school plan and thinks that establishing such a school
is an option for the district "if we have the money" no matter
how neighborhood schools plays out. Doorey did not indicate her
recommended that the zip code plan be modified so that Talley
Middle School does not end up outside its attendance zone. It
otherwise would draw students from the 19703 and 19809 areas
while it is located in 19810. Actually, the plan as drawn
overreaches zip code boundaries to adjust for disparate
populations in middle and high schools and one elementary
school. It had not been made clear why that could not also have
been done in Talley's case.
vote was on a motion to accept Harter's recommendations. He was
assigned the task of preparing the actual plan submission to the
state board. Board members agreed to meet again in special
session to formally approve it before Nov. 15, which happens the
date of their next regular business meeting.
In another matter before it, the
board agreed to have the district administration come up with a
revision of existing policy to establish a procedure for
determining class rank by giving additional weight to grades
earned in advanced courses for present high school freshmen and
sophomores and produce a new policy by May, 2002, for later
classes. Present seniors and juniors will have their ranking
determined by present policy. Class rank is considered a major
factor in securing college admission, particularly to
Tanya Marcinkewicz, a Harlan
Intermediate School teacher who was designated Delaware's
'teacher of the year' told the board that the key to better
teaching in the district would be "a professional development
model which research shows actually helps in the classroom." She
said that a method has to be devised to induce more parents to
take an active role in their children's education and that
students have to be motivated to accept a position which shows
"we're tired of mediocrity."
"Only when parents,
educators and students accept their responsibilities will be not
only meet [state] standards but we'll exceed them," she said.