SDSA welcomes new principal to fold

Incoming Principal Loriann White should provide a smooth transition at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA). Like her predecessor, Tim Fannin, White was there at the beginning.

She recalled Indian River School District Superintendent Lois Hobbs’ initiative to create a magnet school steeped in the arts, back in the mid-1990s. Hobbs came from an administrative position at an arts school herself, White pointed out. Together with then-Superintendent of Education Babette “Babs” Sutton, Hobbs reached out to interested parents and teachers — White among them.

The group surveyed the district and surrounds, and following a favorable response, forged their mission and moved forward.

“This is my love,” she pointed out. “As a language arts teacher, I believe in the way I always taught, through the arts. Dramatizing, role-playing, using music — these are some of the best ways to reach the kids.”

A Georgetown native, White graduated Sussex Central High School in 1985 and went on to study English language arts at Salisbury State University (now Salisbury University).

Between semesters she worked at a bank, where she met her husband-to-be, Chris — a 1985 grad himself (Indian River High).

She started teaching at Sussex Central Middle School (Millsboro) after graduation, and the Whites married shortly thereafter (1990).

Their first daughter, Maggie, appeared on the scene in 1993 — White had already started taking classes again, at the University of Delaware, and earned her master’s degree in education that same year.

Talk about a juggling act. “It helped that I had a supportive husband,” she pointed out.

Their second daughter, Kit, arrived in 1995, and not long thereafter, White joined her colleagues and fellow parents in preparing what would eventually become the SDSA. The new magnet school opened in fall 1998.

White continued to teach at Sussex Central Middle (eventually notching 11 years as a teacher, then moving into administration). However, she evinced her conviction in the SDSA mission — promote student achievement by learning through the arts — by sending her daughters to the new school. “I always believed in it, and wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

It seems to be working at the SDSA — students consistently rank high in state testing, and the state pegged the school “Superior” in this and last year’s accountability ratings.

White lauded interactive learning, teaching by setting the students to tasks — “seeing and doing, not just seeing and hearing,” as White put it. For example, students at the SDSA don’t just read and absorb lecture — they read and then create scripts and improvisation based on the material, she said.

They introduce fine arts early on. Every first-grader brings a self-portrait to the SDSA, and eight years later, as they prepare to graduate to the high school level, they complete another self-portrait, for a side-by-side comparison. In between, the students host open houses every year to showcase their creations.

And the performing arts — band (she welcomed incoming instrumental music instructor Neil Beahan), theater (hosted by the district’s 2004 teacher of the year, James DeBastiani), chorus and dance.

White noted parallels in the health (science) and dance (physical education) units. The kids get recess, and there’s some intramural sports activity, but SDSA doesn’t organize anything extracurricular, White noted.

Arts are the focus, arts are why parents send their students to the SDSA, and even after-school sports activities would probably diffuse that focus, she pointed out. Parents send their children for development in these areas specifically.

Space is limited — but, as White pointed out, there are no special criteria for enrollment, at least in grade school. By seventh grade, the students should be ready to declare a major and minor in their individual artistic areas of interest, so latecomers need to audition).

Other than that, it’s basically open until filled (although returning students and siblings, early applicants and Indian River School District residents take priority). White noted full enrollment again this year — as it’s been since the school added a final class or two and maxed out, back in 2000.

She said she hoped to continue Fannin’s state testing successes, maintain the feeling of community he helped establish, and keep building a “learning-focused” school this year.