By Terry Rogers
Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent of Milford School District, says that the district looks forward to continuing to work with families and communities to provide outstanding educational opportunities for students in the district. Although there are many challenges facing the district in the upcoming year, Dr. Dickerson says that Milford will continue to put students first in teaching and learning.
“Milford High School has spent much time modernizing their pathways and aligning them with post-secondary opportunities,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We will continue to offer a combination of state supported career-technical pathways and locally-developed pathways. As of 2017, our pathways will be called majors in order to mirror terminology at the post-secondary level. We have already begun a few new majors this school year, but students and families will see a significant difference in the overall major structure, and major opportunities, during scheduling for next school year.” Dr. Dickerson said that Milford currently has four clusters of pathways at the high school level, the district will be expanding to 20 majors and they will include all seven schools in the district.
In addition to the change from pathways to majors, Dr. Dickerson said that programs offered at the high school level will be grouped into “schools,” similar to what occurs at the college level. The School of Agriscience will include majors in Animal Science, Food Science, Greenhouse and Horticulture Science, Structure and Systems Technology as well as a more general Science program. The School of Business and Finance will include the Academy of Finance, Business Management and Marketing while the School of Education and Career Studies will include College Scholars, Jobs for Delaware Graduates and K-12 Teacher Academy. Allied Health, along with Sports and Health Sciences, will be offered through the School of Health Sciences. The School of Modern Studies will include Humanities and Spanish while the School of Art and Design will offer programs in Digital Design Technology, Performing Arts and Visual Arts. There will also be a School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) which will offer Science, Energy Management and Pre-Engineering. Dr. Dickerson said that feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive with many students enrolled in new majors that have already been implemented or expressing interest in new majors that will be offered in the 2017-18 school year. Parents have reported that the reorganization aligns better with their student’s post-secondary plans.
Last year was the first year districts were required to implement portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Dr. Dickerson said that ESSA provides greater flexibility and decision-making to states and local schools, giving districts like Milford more flexibility in developing and executing education services. Full implementation of ESSA is scheduled to begin in July, 2017 and the state is in the final stages of creating an ESSA plan. Dr. Dickerson said that a draft of the plan is available at http://www.doe.k12.de.us/ESSA and that the state welcomes feedback from educators, administrators and community members. He said that Milford will be prepared to carry out any requirements under ESSA and that the plan will provide more flexibility at the local level relative to planning and budgets. However, the district may have to use more of the federal funds allotted to them to provide direct support to students whose first language is not English, at-risk students and students in poverty.
“District-wide enrollment as of September 30 has declined by 28 students in 2016-17,” Dr. Dickerson said. “However, we generally experience some growth during the school year, and currently, are very close to our September 30 student count from 2015. We do have significant growth in grades 3-5 and within our 10th grade.” Dr. Dickerson said that this slight drop in enrollment has eased overcrowding in Milford somewhat, but that the district still must utilize every classroom they have available. Milford has added modular classrooms at three schools to help ease overcrowding, but Milford Central Academy still struggles somewhat with lack of space. Dr. Dickerson said the school has done an excellent job of utilizing every possible space in the building, including converting large closet space into classrooms, staggering hallway times for sixth grade transition between classes and specifying various routes through hallways for travel by groups of students. Overall, more space would be beneficial, Dr. Dickerson said, but the district is concentrating on the best way to instruct and service students in the space available.
Dr. Dickerson said that the decision was made last year to focus on serving current students and supporting staff as well as families. He said that student learning, teaching and student programming were made higher priorities in 2016.
“Although it would be nice to have an additional building,” Dr. Dickerson said. “we have no projection at this time for a new school and, to be quite honest, we believe such focus would be inconsiderate to our taxpayers and would take our focus off best educating our current students with the available resources we have. We remain gracious for the schools we have and appreciate past support from the community to help build our present schools. We intend to use our current schools the best we can to provide our students with the best education possible.”
An increase in tuition expenses created controversy in 2016 when local property taxes increased significantly without warning to the taxpayers. The increase was due to tuition increases from other districts when Milford was required to provide out-of-district services to special needs children. Dr. Dickerson said that Milford continues to analyze tuition expenses and possible impact in the setting of the next tuition tax rate.
“We have fewer numbers of students in specialized schools, however, we have learned that expenses per student will continue to increase for services at a couple of schools,” Dr. Dickerson said. “For the most part, our projected costs have aligned with our projections from setting of the tuition rate for this fiscal year. We will have a clearer indication during early spring. In trying to cut expenses from our tuition budget, we have reallocated expenses within the tuition line to other budget areas and sources of funds to help minimize the impact for our taxpayers. Our goal is not to increase the tuition tax rate for next year and, if we can, lower it. One positive development in regard to the overall tax rate is that we believe we will be able to lower our debt service rate more aggressively this year in comparison to years past.”
Common Core is another controversial subject with many parents and community members, but Dr. Dickerson says that Common Core is beneficial to students as the curriculum is standardized across states that have adopted those standards.
“This means that students in those states have access to the same high-quality instruction regardless of the school or class they are in,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Common Core challenges students by having them learn new content within the context of problem solving and real-world scenarios. This helps students achieve deeper levels of understanding. Whether students are achieving at a greater rate is hard to measure since our state assessment changed to align with the new standards. One good indication of possibly some Common Core influence is that we have seen an increase in our student SAT performance and AP performance since the implementation of Common Core.”
For the second half of the school year, Dr. Dickerson said that Milford will continue its relentless focus on students first. They plan to expand immersion, the gifted and talented program, high school major programming, elementary performing arts, extracurricular and student support opportunities in the near future.
“We have a great team of educators and support staff within our schools and district and we are very appreciative of their daily efforts educating and supporting our students,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We are extremely proud of and thankful for the students within our schools. They have represented our schools, their families and our community very well throughout this school year.”
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