more, a recently formed committee charged with devising a plan
for the district to comply with the law was told at its first
working session on June 5 that eight of the 17 buildings in the
district would be over their rated capacities. Eight others
would be under capacity and only Concord High would come out
more or less where it should be.
notion of a neighborhood school can be very seductive," said
Richard Hartman, a former school board member who is serving on
the committee. "They (the public) are going to find out we're
not going back to what it was [like] in the '50s and '60s. There
are fewer kids now and they live much farther apart." There also
are about a dozen fewer school buildings in Brandywine Hundred.
Alfred I. du Pont Special School District had about as many
students just prior to implementation of the federal
desegregation order in 1978 as Brandywine does now. Brandywine
includes that former district as well as the former Claymont and
Mount Pleasant districts and nearly a third of the former
Wilmington Public Schools district.
public should see this [data]. It shows that it's a law that
doesn't work," committee member Beverly Dennett said.
superintendent Victoria Gehrt cautioned against snap judgments,
pointing out that the committee is in its early stages --
gathering information on which to base recommendations which the
present school board and district administration will fashion
into a plan to be
is how Brandywine School District elementary school
attendance zones would look if students were literally
assigned to the schools closest to their homes.
the state Board of Education by Nov. 15 as the law requires.
what we're going to look at will appear very controversial. I
want to emphasize that nothing has been done yet. Nothing has
been agreed upon or endorsed yet," she said.
Brandywine has been cast before and after its passage as the
district most resistant to the law, Gehrt said the 22-member
committee -- which includes school staff, parents and community
members -- will meet frequently during the summer months and
into autumn in a good-faith effort to comply with it.
see the problems that are crucial [to its implementation], it's
up to us to see how we can solve the problems," assistant
superintendent Donald Fantine said.
enrollment figures and the reactions they drew from committee
members were the result of the presentation of hypothetical
attendance zones based entirely on a geographic recarving of the
district. To comply with the law's requirement that elementary
grade levels be reconfigured to a kindergarten-through-fifth (or
sixth)-grade pattern, the district's present three intermediate
schools were presented as elementary schools. They now house the
fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The zones were defined by
drawing lines at the mid-points between the schools.
The Neighborhood Schools Act requires
district plans that assign children to "the grade-appropriate
school closest to the student's residence." But it does contain
an escape clause which allows for assignment plans based on
"factors other than geographic distance and natural neighborhood
boundaries if a substantial hardship to a school or school
district, student, or a student's family exists." How those
clauses will be interpreted by the state board and, possibly, a
court remains to be seen.
resultant Brandywine attendance patterns present to the
committee were not as radical as those which resulted a few
months ago from a similar exercise in the Red Clay Consolidated
School District. Of the four school districts affected by the
law, Brandywine is the most compact.
different, administrator Wayne Emsley said, is using a
geographic basis for student assignments. Under the
desegregation order, racial balance, which evolved into a
broader socio-economic balance, became the guiding factor. As a
result, there was a bit of gerrymandering in Brandywine, with
small enclaves within zones from which students were assigned to
other schools. Carrcroft Elementary, for instance, received
students from the Colony North apartment complex while children
living in surrounding areas went to Mount Pleasant Elementary.
Several schools are close to the boundary of their respective
noted that "one of the hallmarks of this district has been that
our feeder patterns (attendance zones) have remained consistent
for many years," but added that "in the '80s and '90s, little
shifts were made here and there" to maintain court-mandated
racial balances. "It occurred without much fanfare," he said.
lopsided enrollments, the hypothetical boundaries produce a
dramatic change in the racial and economic composition of
schools in the district. The proportion of Black students now
ranges from 26% at Brandywine High to 51% at Darley Road
Elementary. So-called 'minority' enrollment -- which also
includes children of Hispanic heritage -- would range between 5%
at Lombardy Elementary to 91% at Harlan Elementary. Only Mount
Pleasant Elementary and Talley Middle would come close to
matching the districtwide average. Most schools now come within
a few percentage points of doing so.
Because the nature of enrollments
would change, Emsley pointed out, the rated capacities of the
buildings also would be different from what they are now. He
explained those numbers are based on the amount of space
required for various programs. The present intermediate schools,
for instance, have a larger number of students per class than
the elementary ones because the lap 'caps' first-, second- and
third-grade classes at 22. Also, special education classes have
about half the number of students as regular education classes.