January 26, 2007

Superintendent sets ambitious
agenda for himself

James Scanlon has his work cut out for him. And he has no one else to blame but himself.

Not quite three months on the job, the Brandywine school superintendent has come up with a set of self-imposed goals to achieve before the academic year runs out in June. As a condition of his employment contract he agreed to set specific benchmarks, subject to approval by the school board, against which his performance will be measured.

Although the board decided that discussion and acceptance of the goals was a 'personnel matter' shielded by exemptions from the state's open-meetings law and formally approved them during a recent public session by voting unanimously to adopt a resolution which referred only to what had been "discussed in executive session," board vice president Nancy Doorey provided an initial tantalizing glimpse into what they involved. Scanlon has since distributed them among the district staff and agreed, at Delaforum's request, to make them public.

They are tied directly to implementation of the five-year strategic plan the board is expected to approve in February.

As Doorey revealed, Scanlon has targeted a 5% increase in the number of students who score as 'proficient' or 'advanced' in reading and mathematics on the state standards assessment tests in the spring and that black and 'special needs' students show a 10% improvement in meeting the state standards. The strategic plan will call for overall improvement in academic performance and narrowing the so-called 'achievement gap'.

In addition, he also agreed to be considered successful in increasing student achievement if P.S. du Pont Intermediate, Talley Middle and Brandywine High Schools are removed from 'corrective action' status under provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Scanlon said he will improve the district's cost-efficiency by reducing organizational structure costs by at least $100,000 and complete the fiscal year with a budget carry-forward of $2 million. As previously reported, chief financial officer David Blowman told the board at its most recent meeting that a combination of increased revenue and expenditure reductions totaling $700,000 through December has put the district on course to reach that level.

The superintendent's goals also include include internal measures to enhance professional development.

The proverbial bottom line in the list is to "educate the community [about] school success stories [and] ... the cost and benefits of a quality school system" in order to achieve a favorable vote at the operating-tax referendum to be held in the spring. The board has yet to set the amount of the tax increase it will seek, but Scanlon goals call for it "to provide appropriate funds" to implement the strategic plan.

During more than an hour of preliminary discussion about the plan at its meeting on Jan. 22, board members indicated they would like to see additional points and more specificity in the goals and strategies enumerated in the plan.

Doorey, for instance, called for backing up a claim that the intent is to make Brandywine a premier school district by comparing present performance against that of districts in the region generally recognized as 'leading'.

She said a significant comparative measure would be the percentage of ninth-grade students who remain in school and qualify for high school graduation.

She also said the district should explore establishment of an educational foundation, a step which other public school districts have taken to augment tax income, and expanding the International Baccalaureate program to provide a full kindergarten-through-sixth-grade program at a site in Wilmington.

In response to board member Mark Huxsoll's call for greater emphasis on fine-arts education as part of the core curriculum "rather than an add-on," Scanlon said he favors "creative ways to restructure the school day" to provide time for more electives and to "reallocate existing dollars" to provide for more before- and after-school programs.

Board president Craig Gilbert said those programs should be structured to serve more than just 'at-risk' students. "There are more students out there who would benefit from extra time," he said.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine expects to prevent significant spending cuts

Read previous Delaforum article: New superintendent shares some thoughts and impressions

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