December 26, 2006

New superintendent shares
some thoughts and impressions

James Scanlon sees public education as a seamless process beginning at the pre-kindergarten level, continuing through high school and preparing students for some form of post-secondary education and successful careers.

In his first media interview since taking over as Brandywine School District's fifth superintendent in late October, Scanlon told Delaforum that an immediate priority is to see that curriculums are aligned so that individual students are able to measure up to state standards as they pass from grade to grade. Rather than

continuing the traditional system of differentiating between elementary and secondary departments with a split occurring at the seventh grade, he favors a "more efficient and more effective" unified progression.

Mathematics, he said, provides a good illustration of how it is necessary to move through a progression of skills, building one upon another, as a child matures. "You move from simple addition and subtraction, through algebra and geometry, to calculus," he explained.

More significantly the focus has to be on individual students to assure that they are learning as they move through the progression. With standardized testing, "what's important are not the percentages but focusing on using the data to measure how each kid is performing," he said. Teachers will be expected to "not just take the curriculum down the middle" but to use appropriate classroom-management techniques to gear instruction to individual needs.

James Scanlon

He said he has no plans for any drastic change in operation of the district. The only thing in the immediate offing is a realignment of the district administrative staff in January or February. That will involve "some shifting of responsibilities without adding to the staff," he said.

Looking ahead, he said he expects greater emphasis on the use of technology by both teachers and students. "You be seeing different and better uses [and] more Web-based education," he said.

Scanlon said he supports "high-impact" programs that exposes students to the practicalities of living in the world around them. He said he was favorably impressed by a recent activity linking Claymont Intermediate School with the Junior Achievement program in a way that introduced the students to how business functions. Similarly, Springer Middle has one based on commercial banking.

While he is highly supportive of such ventures as the International Baccalaureate Program at Mount Pleasant High and Talley Middle and soon to be extended to Harlan Intermediate, Scanlon said special programs have to be selectively evaluated. "I'm not going to bring programs in just because they sound nice [but because] they're meaningful," he said.

He hopes to strike a productive balance between providing a unified education program while maintaining the individual characteristics of the district's schools. "Every school should have its own distinctive niche [while] as a district our bread and butter is to provide a basic non-negotiable basic program," he said.

Brandywine, he said, enjoys a low drop-out rate but still has to concentrate on "getting the kids engaged" so they won't drop out before graduating. "If they do (drop out), their chances of making ends meet later in life are slim to none," he said.

Not every student is going to go on to college, but it is the district's responsibility to "graduate kids with the ability to learn" and an interest in pursuing "some form of post-secondary education." He is committed to applying that to literally all who come into the district.

An area which he is interested in fostering is service education. "Kids have to learn how to give back. Too few people are willing to give their time and talents," he said. With such activities as honor societies and the service related to the annual Blue-Gold high school football game well established in the area, Scanlon wants to encourage more youngsters to become involved with youth, church and community groups.

He said he and his wife, Beth Trapani, who previously lived here, are happy to return the Brandywine Hundred. He said his initial impressions of the school district were highly favorable. "The teachers in the classrooms I've seen are dedicated talented people," he said, adding they are backed by " a strong central office staff, a very supportive [school] board and wide representation of parents and the community [in school activities]."

That combination will be put to the test with a near-term challenge -- the coming tax referendum. With virtually no increase in assessed property value in the district likely, the only avenue of support for the pending five-year strategic plan is a higher tax rate, he said. "The worst thing that could happen [would be] to be in financial disarray," Scanlon said.

Read previous Delaforum article: School board gets plan for a bright future, but is told present is cloudy

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