By Terry Rogers
Overcrowding, new educational standards and a retiring superintendent are all challenges facing Milford School District in the upcoming year. According to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, the Board of Education, faculty and staff are ready to address those issues.
“The Milford Board of Education has already actively supported much needed initiatives within the district,” said Dr. Kohel. “They have worked closely with local legislatures to provide input on legislative bills that have direct impact on the school district. They have also supported a number of personnel and policy changes that have been made throughout the district in an effort to address the need for student success.”
One of the challenges Dr. Kohel said the district would face in the upcoming year is the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. Since the Board has been working closely with legislators, Dr. Kohel feels Milford schools are prepared to implement any changes to standards issued by the federal and state government. One change that has already been implemented in Milford is replacing the Smarter Balanced State Assessment with the SAT for 11th graders beginning in 2016. This change was made after being recommended by the Department of Education as students place greater importance on the SAT than they do other types of standardized testing.
Overcrowding and facilities issues are another huge challenge that the district must address in 2016. After two referendums for new schools, one for a new middle school and one for a new high school, failed in 2014, the district was faced with balancing classroom sizes with an enrollment that was growing and schools that were already at or near capacity.
“We will have a community meeting on February 10, 2016 to begin conversations surrounding a future construction referendum,” Dr. Kohel said. “We have resolved immediate overcrowding issues by adding an outside modular to both Milford Central Academy and Ross Elementary, and we’re going to add another double classroom modular to MCA in the near future. We were fortunate to obtain the modular, at no cost, from Cape Henlopen. It will be added to the six mods already behind the MCA building. We will also consider such things as what to do with the old middle school building and the impact of long-range enrollment and economic trends on neighborhood populations.”
Funding remains an issue for Milford as it does for districts throughout the state. Dr. Kohel said the Board has found it difficult to cut budgets, asking administrators and teachers to work harder with less funding. She said that the Board planned to continue efforts to keep district funding intact in order for students to grow as the district moves forward.
Dr. Kohel will be retiring from her position on June 30 and she says that she hopes to implement several new programs in the district before that date arrives. She hopes to solidify the beginning of a Spanish immersion program for students that will start at the Kindergarten level. This is a project Dr. Kohel says has been in process since the beginning of the school year and that it should become a reality in the near future.
“I hope to see an expansion of our career and technical opportunities for students,” Dr. Kohel said. “We have a number of opportunities becoming available in our community, and we need to provide access to those opportunities for our students through vocational training provided prior to graduation. For example, when I first started as superintendent, my hope was to bring a Certified Nursing Assistant Program to the high school. However, funding and space would not permit that. I further hoped that passing a referendum and building a new school would provide us both funding and space to begin some additional vocational offerings, but that did not initially occur, so the project had to be put on hold. We still need to pass a referendum, but until such time that comes to fruition, our Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Kevin Dickerson, received grant funding to start a new Allied Health Program at the high school as well as a Computer Science pathway. Both of these pathways will provide exciting opportunities for students.”
One concern Dr. Kohel expressed was regarding data that showed students leaving high school are increasingly required to take remedial courses when they enter college. The remedial courses often cover subjects that the student should have learned in high school and having to take the courses could cause them to delay college graduation. Milford has partnered with Delaware Technical and Community College to offer both College Math and Statistics as well as English 121: Composition to seniors prior to their graduation from high school.
“Being able to take those courses during the day at Milford High School has given students the advantage of understanding both the level of content and the expectations needed to be successful at the college level,” Dr. Kohel said. “This year, we have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Del-Tech which gives our seniors college level credit for taking and passing our Statistics course with a 75 or higher. With a C+ or higher in Statistics, seniors are guaranteed the right to forego any type of remedial math course through Del-Tech. We also offer Del Tech’s Accounting I class so that students can earn additional college credit. These additions to Milford High School also provide cost savings to parents and gives students a head start in college.”
Milford has also implemented recommendations made by the Department of Education, including raising expectations for all students with the Common Core State Standards and world-class curriculum, including the Governor’s World Language Expansion. The district has expanded high-quality early childhood education opportunities for students with the highest need. The Early Childhood Strategic Plan addresses that students who enter Kindergarten less prepared than their peers are unable to catch up by high school, according to research. The district also intends to expand educator preparation and professional development. The district plans to use data to drive decision making and to improve continuously by allowing teachers to meet in small peer groups to review student progress and share best practices.
Dr. Kohel said that one of the greatest accomplishments in 2015 was the passage of an operations referendum which eliminated the need for major cuts in athletic and education programs. She also said the additional tax revenue will allow the district to restore programs that were cut due to a budget deficit.
“I would have liked to have seen the construction referendum pass because we are in need of an additional building,” Dr. Kohel said. “But, overall, I think Milford is moving in a positive direction and we are looking forward to public input regarding the old middle school and how to proceed with adding a new school to our district.”