Milford School District discusses growth, COVID and referendum

Education, Headlines

Milford Conversation, a group that meets monthly to discuss issues facing organizations and businesses in the Milford area, began meeting in person again at the First Presbyterian Church of Milford on Thursday, October 7. Milford School District Chief Finance Officer Dr. Sara Croce and Trish Gerken, Public Information Officer provided the group with information regarding the district’s growth, their COVID-19 protocols and offered information about the upcoming referendum on October 27.

“We closed our schools on March 13 and by March 17, our cafeteria was out curbside giving meals to our community,” Dr. Croce said. “We served several thousand meals during the pandemic, and we continue to do so. And that is part of a federal program that we offer known as the Community Eligibility Program that allows any student, regardless of the socio-economic status, to receive free meals.”

Pastor Dianne Deming, who led the discussion, asked what the district used to determine whether students would attend in person, virtually or in a hybrid version.

“It’s our hope to continue in person learning as much as possible as long as we are able to,” Dr. Croce said. “Last year, with the social distancing requirements and just the staffing shortages and things based on people being out, it was challenging. We did cohorts so we ended up having two days a week with one cohort, two days with another and then they switched. This year, we are making every effort to continue five days a week, but the only reason I can see that we would have to limit that is if there was a mass staff outage, which we do not anticipate, or if there was a mandate that shut us down like before.”

Dr. Croce explained that the custodial staff at the district had implemented stringent cleaning requirements based on CDC guidelines. High touch areas were sanitized often, and staff was following a very different protocol for cleaning. The district received federal funding that is allowing them to improve the air quality in district buildings, allowing more fresh air into the buildings.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure the environment is safe for our kids,” Dr. Croce said. “We are also social distancing as best as possible.”

Gerken stated that social distancing was impacted by class size which was one of the reasons passage of the referendum was critical.

“Our growth is just explosive,” she said. “I think our unit count showed about, 4,400 students, the highest it has ever been.” Dr. Croce stated that the student count rose by 130 students from last year to this year, the highest she had seen since she joined the district eight years ago.

Deming asked if the state still had the “ridiculous” requirement that schools could only be built for current enrollment and Dr. Croce stated that they had changed that somewhat.

“Our Certificate of Necessity provided growth projects and that is one of the reasons we were approved,” Dr. Croce said. “And those numbers were really conservative compared to what we are seeing. When we submitted, we expected 130 new students in 2023-24 but we hit that this year. So they understood there was a strong need based on enrollment projections. We have two chances for a vote, and if those are not successful, we will have to resubmit. Unfortunately, there are over a billion dollars in projects in the queue, so we are worried that if we are not successful, it will be a long time before we are able to have this opportunity again.” Dr. Croce stated that the state pays 74 percent of the cost of any construction with tje district required to cover 26 percent.

Dr. Croce also discussed some of the programs offered at Milford High School, explaining that schools were no longer an environment that totally focused on math, English and science.

“We have gotten a lot of resources to provide more mental health in schools,” Dr. Croce said. “At our high school, we have a lot of CTE programs including an Allied Health Program that is producing certified nursing assistants as they graduate. We have a teacher academy that looks to grow our teaching staff. We have 18 different certifications, including Allied Health, agriculture and engineering. All of these prepare a student to enter the workforce right after high school or go on to college should they choose to do so.”

The goal is for every student to graduate college ready, Dr. Croce explained. However, if a student prefers to enter the workforce, the CTE programs provide them with the necessary job skills.

“For example, if you leave high school and are a certified nursing assistant, you can be employed right out of high school,” Dr. Croce said. “You can also continue on to college to become a nurse or enter another medical field. Our teacher academy, when students leave there, they take the paraprofessional examination so they can be employed in that capacity, whether in a childcare setting or a district.”

Dr. Croce suggested that anyone who had questions about the referendum, district growth or COVID-19 protocols could call the district office at 302-422-1600 or visit the district website at https://www.milfordschooldistrict.org.

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