December  12,  2007

Darley Road and Hanby are
likely school-closure targets

The committee charged with making recommendations to address overcapacity in the Brandywine district appears to have zeroed in on plans that would close Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle and, possibly, Carrcroft Elementary Schools.

No final decision was reached but, with a self-imposed deadline looming just beyond the turn of the year, the space consolidation committee agreed by consensus to have financial officer David Blowman determine if logical attendance zones for either or both of those combinations meet the economic-diversity priority set for any new alignment. A University of Delaware computer model which pinpoints the homes of every public school student will be used to do that, he said.

The diversity guideline is that every school end up with between 20% and 50% of its students being eligible, by virtue of household income, to receive free or reduced-price lunches.

At a meeting on Dec. 11, the committee, in effect, rejected four previously proffered scenarios expected to generate the most intense public opposition because they would involve closing more than one school in the same general area.

In doing so, the committee latched on to a sixth scenario put forth by superintendent Jim Scanlon as a way to provide space for relocating the district's administrative office and its technology group. He told the group that it would be acceptable even though it falls about 150 student seats short of the goal of reducing by at least half the number left vacant by current enrollment. However, Scanlon said, the relocations would use the equivalent of between 414 and 575 student seats.

Closing Darley Road, Carrcroft and Hanby -- identified as Scenario No. 1 at the committee's Dec. 5 meeting -- would eliminate about 250 seats more than the goal of at least 1,350 and was said then to be the least costly of the proposals to implement.

The new Scenario No. 6 would leave Carrcroft in operation. Because Talley and Springer, the remaining middle schools, would not have enough combined room to accommodate all the district's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, P.S. du Pont, in both scenarios, would become a middle school with the option of later converting it to a kindergarten-though-eighth-grade school left open.

Scanlon told the committee that Scenario No. 6 would retain the district's plan to replace Brandywood Elementary with a new building designed not only to incorporate current education practices but also to include a state-of-the-art wing into which to relocate the Bush Early Education Center, previously designated to be closed when the third and final phase of the district's school renovation program is completed.

Carrcroft and Darley Road were renovated during the first phase, but since that was before 1999, they have been designed as eligible for closure.

Rather than building on its present site in its namesake community, the new Brandywood could be located on the larger Hanby site in Chalfonte. The district has state authorization to build a new Brandywood and tear down the existing building although Blowman noted that "no taxpayer dollars are actually committed yet" to those capital projects. The committee believes the General Assembly's bond-bill committee would be amenable to authorizing the razing of the Hanby building in lieu of its more costly authorized renovation.

If diversity-qualified attendance zones hold up, Scenario No. 6 calls for students from Brandywood, Claymont and Lancashire Elementary to go to Tally Middle and Concord High; students from Forwood, Lombardy and Mount Pleasant Elementary would go to Springer Middle and Brandywine High; and students from Carrcroft, Harlan, and Maple Lane would attend P.S. and go to Mount Pleasant High.

Under Scenario No. 1, Brandywood and Claymont would 'feed' Talley and Concord; Forwood, Lancashire and Maple Lane would 'feed' Springer and Brandywine; and Harlan, Lombardy and Mount Pleasant Elementary would 'feed' P.S.  and Mount Pleasant High.

The district offices would be moved from the former Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary School in Radnor Green to unused space in what would become Claymont Elementary and the technology unit from the former data processing consortium center in Talleyville to the Mount Pleasant Elementary building near Bellefonte. Both of those schools would be kindergarten-through-fifth-grade schools. A future pre-kindergarten program also could be housed in the Mount Pleasant Elementary building, Scanlon said.

Under any scenario, he said, the Burnett building in north Wilmington will be closed and the bus depot in northeast Wilmington relocated.

The downside of Scenario No. 6 is that it would result in there being two elementary schools -- P.S. and Harlan -- within two blocks of each other in north Wilmington. Blowman said that, combined, they would end up serving between 35% and 40% of the district's elementary-age students.

The committee has one more work session scheduled before the end of the year. It hopes to present a preliminary report to the school board -- recommending at least two but no more than three options -- in early January. The Dec. 11 meeting attracted about 30 attenders, the most for any work session since the process began in September. All of the work sessions have been open to the public.

Scanlon said that it is still expected that the board will make its decision before the end of February but that public discussion of whatever options are officially before it could push that timetable into March. In any event, he said, it will take until summer, 2009, to prepare the extensive logistics necessary to put the plan into effect.

In a free-wheeling conversation committee members discussed likely effects of school closures and resultant attendance zone realignments on families. A present third-grader, for instance, faces the prospect of going from his or her elementary school to fourth grade in one of the three intermediate schools for the 2008-09 academic year; back to elementary school -- possibly his or her present one --  for fifth grade in August, 2009, when the changes are scheduled to take place; and then to sixth grade in a middle school for the 2010-11 academic year.

"At the end of any year we're going to have to shift around. We'll just have to bite the bullet and make it work," Scanlon said.

One committee member noted that the Scenario No. 1 'feeder' pattern would send the large number of children living in Fairfax to Mount Pleasant High instead of Brandywine High, with which that community has been associated since Brandywine was opened more than 50 years ago.

Noting that Maple Lane has been successful implementing a year-around program, is expanding its enrollment and has a principal, Julianne Pecorella, recently designated as the state's 'principal of the year', a committee member drew applause when she asked, "Why are we even considering doing anything [different] with Maple Lane?"

Another pointed out that closing Hanby would amount to reneging on a commitment made during the 2005 capital-referendum campaign to renovate that school and said merely explaining that 'we've changed out mind' will not cut it with that community.

Deciding the fate of closed buildings should be done quickly, another said. Remembering the many years that the derelict former Chanin School building stood, "people are going to ask if they're going to have another Chanin near [their] house," he said.

A woman in the audience said particular attention should be paid to adhering to the diversity formula so that every school "will have a majority of good kids." She said the first question parents will ask is "the type of children their kids are going to school with and where they will go."

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Read previous Delaforum article: Advisory committee receives school closing scenarios

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