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August 8, 2006

 

Prospective school superintendent James Scanlon appears to have made a good impression during his first public appearance in the Brandywine School District.

Speaking informally to about 30 people at a get-acquainted session in the Harlan Intermediate School library on Aug. 7, he said he intends to "set high standards for all the kids in the community."

As previously reported, Scanlon is all but certain to be officially appointed to be the district's top official when the school board meets for its monthly business session on Aug. 21.

"We as a body and as individuals believe [he] is the best fit for the district at this time," board member Mark Huxoll told Delaforum after the Harlan session. "I thought we would be shopping two or three individuals to you. ... [But] it was very clear to us on the board that Dr. Scanlon was the person to bring forward to you."

The board has scheduled an executive session on Aug. 16  following the second of two public meetings with Scanlon. Purpose of the closed-door meeting "is to discuss employment matters for [sic] a citizen

James Scanlon speaks at the first of two introductory meetings. The second one will be on Aug. 16 in Brandywine High School, beginning at 7 p.m. In addition, Scanlon is meeting with teachers and other district staff, students, parents, business persons, community activists and public office-holders, in gatherings closed to news media and the general public.

seeking employment in the district," according to the posted notice. Huxoll confirmed that the 'citizen' is Scanlon and said the board "has some details about the [employment] contract to work out."

State law requires that the actual decision to hire be made in public, but, barring highly unlikely developments, that vote will be a formality.

Scanlon told attenders at the Harlan session that the fact that Hazzard, Young & Attea Associates, the executive search firm which recruited him, assured him that Brandywine was conducting a 'closed process' to find a new superintendent "really gave me the incentive to apply." After having been publicly identified as a finalist for the superintendency of the Rose Hill-Media district in Pennsylvania, he did not want it known he was again seeking a position.

"We're not getting somebody looking for a job but someone who was doing a great job [in another district] who we can pry away," Huxoll said.

Scanlon spent about half of the 90-minute session speaking about his record as superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa., since 1999. During that time, he said, that district's 5,500 students have risen from having, on average, performed at or below the state average to a point where the high-70s to low-80s percentiles are rated as 'proficient' or 'advanced'. The percentage of high school graduates going on to community or four-year college has risen from 68% to just under 80% during that time.

He described the approach he follows as "what we are teaching kids; how we know if they have learned it; and what do we do if they don't."

He said he is committed to ample opportunity for communication and interaction among the teaching staff. Such things as hiring 'permanent substitutes' who become known in their respective buildings and beginning the high-school day an hour later allow teachers to confer and plan together on a regularly scheduled basis.

"I'm all about being an advocate for students -- all students," he said. In response to a questioner, he said he "places high priority [on] closing the achievement gap, particularly for students of color."

He said about 7% of the Quakertown district's enrollment consists of children from racial or ethnic minorities. The 'achievement gap' in that district mainly is between children from economically-different households.

One of the innovations Scanlon cited is instituting what he called 'focus walk'. That, he explains, involves periodic interviews with students from kindergarten through high school, who are selected at random, about their learning experiences. "What happens in kindergarten is just as important as what happens in high school," he said. Since they are intended to gather data to improve instruction, the interviews are conducted early enough in each semester to allow time for teachers to make indicated changes, he explained.

Also, he said, he and members of the district's administrative staff are regular visitors to the schools and classrooms. "I can't say I know them (students) all, but they all know who I am," he said.

During his tenure, the Quakertown district built a new middle school and a new elementary school, converted a former middle school into a 'ninth-grade center' and put an addition on a high school.

The 'ninth-grade center', which shares a campus with a high school, was primarily intended to relieve overcrowding without requiring construction of a third high school but also serves to provide a transition for the students.

Both the 'center' and the high schools use block scheduling with students having the equivalent of double class periods. They take four core subjects in each of the two semesters of the academic year.

He said that parental involvement is significant in achieving a child's academic success and that lack of time is not a valid excuse for failing to get involved. "Think of how much time you're going to need when your kid gets all screwed up," he said. "Everybody's busy and everybody's under a lot of pressure, but they have to take time for their kids."

Scanlon described his coming to the Wilmington area as a 'homecoming'. He and his wife, Beth Trapani, lived for about three years in Brandywine Hundred near Mount Pleasant High School. They have no children yet, but have decided they would "like to raise our family here."

He said he intends a long-term commitment to the Brandywine district. Trapani said they already  have begun house-hunting.

© 2006. All rights reserved.

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