School to seek Ocean View annexation

Members of the Indian River School District’s school board voted 6-0 Tuesday night to pursue annexation of Lord Baltimore Elementary School into the town of Ocean View.
The move came after discussion of the school’s renovation plans with the town focused on its existence in a sort of municipal limbo — with half of the existing buildings inside Ocean View town limits, half in the jurisdiction of unincorporated Sussex County and a bit of the surrounding land inside Millville town limits.

For ease of approval with the planned major renovation of the school, the district’s construction experts had recommended the board seek annexation into a single jurisdiction, Ocean View being their choice.

The town has already expressed a willingness to work with the district to ensure a timely completion of the renovations, they said, while neither the county nor Millville has voiced any objections to the Ocean View annexation plan.

Design development for the renovation project is nearing completion, with bid deadlines for parts of the project due back to the district by mid-April.

Meanwhile, work at the new Indian River High School was reported to be nearing completion, focusing on painting, punch-list items and information-technology contracting work that is acknowledge to be lagging behind the rest of the process.

Finance Officer Patrick Miller noted during his report to the board that final payment funds were being held back on the sum of IRHS construction projects, to allow for standard retainer amounts and financial leverage to guarantee satisfactory completion.

Board members failed at the February 22 meeting to accept the draft calendar for the 2005-2006 school year. With only six of 10 members present, the needed six-vote majority was one shy, at 5-1.

The primary objection to the draft calendar came in the lateness of the school’s planned last day. With a start after Labor Day — a shoreside tradition board members were loathe to tinker with after previous complaints — the final date of the 2005-2006 school year would be in mid-June.

Also noted were the lack of snow days built into the calendar. The district has had to tack four days onto the 2004-2005 school year to make up for recent weather-related closures. However, it was pointed out that both the current year’s calendar and the draft for 2005-2006 build in more instructional hours than required by state law.

Each of the four days added on to the current year could potentially be absolved under an hourly computation of the school year, which Superintendent Lois Hobbs had noted she would seek upon any additional days of closure. As it stands (and pending expected snow on Thursday), students will continue classes until June 20, while teachers finish on June 22.

The 2005-2006 school year, as planned, includes 1,111 hours of instruction, versus the 1,060 hours required by the state. That would technically allow for eight days of weather cancellation, but the system has previously preferred to plan for additional instructional time and handle calendar adjustments as necessary.

The draft calendar proposal could be brought before the board again at a subsequent meeting, or an alternative version could be devised and presented. The current draft, it was noted, had support from both staff and the Indian River Education Association.

Also presented to the board on Tuesday were the district’s most recent results from standardized testing. The fall 2004 tests were conducted with fourth- and sixth-graders in the areas of science and social studies.

Overall, the scores show the continued trend of district students surpassing their peers statewide.

In social studies, 83 percent of Indian River fourth-grade students met or exceeded standards, compared to 69 percent statewide. Among sixth-graders, 63 percent of Indian River students met or exceeded the standards, compared to 57 percent statewide.

Science scores were also high among district students, with 96 percent of fourth-graders passing the tests, versus 90 percent statewide. Among sixth-graders, 83 percent of Indian River students passed the tests, compared to 76 percent statewide.

Board members noted a marked drop in passing social studies scores among sixth-graders at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, from 92 percent in 2003 to 71 percent in 2004, but the difference was chalked up simply to natural variation in aptitude among two different crops of students.

It was also pointed out that the district’s — and state’s — social studies scores lag behind its science scores. The explanation is widely accepted to be a difference in the two curriculums. The science curriculum used in most schools is “more closely aligned” with the state testing standards, while a new curriculum is currently in development to bring social studies teaching more closely in line with the testing standards.

Board members also voted 6-0 Tuesday to accept a proposal for a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) “challenge course” to be built at Indian River High School. The course would be built partially on existing, cleared school land and partially on a currently-wooded section of property.

The course was requested to allow the JROTC group to train for its challenge competition and would also be built as part of an Eagle Scout project for one of the JROTC members, at no cost to the district. Concerns about liability issues brought reassurances that the course components would be removed and not accessible to the general public when they are not in use by the JROTC.

The district’s efforts at locating a replacement for Hobbs continue, with a request that each board member select a community member to nominate to a search committee. A March 15 meeting is scheduled to continue the process.

Calendar changes were granted for a variety of previously approved field trips (largely related to weather) and the planned variety show at Indian River High School. The show was moved from March 11 and 12, to March 18 and 19.

Public comment at the meeting focused on the arts, with pleas from the Indian River High School Band Boosters for increased support for the band and chorus programs throughout the school system.

Members said they hoped increased support from the district would increase the effectiveness of recruiting efforts for the high school’s music programs from the middle-school base, thereby increasing the number of students the school can retain.

Joy Cadden issued her own plea for the hiring of a combined English and drama teacher at IRHS. The IRHS parent and alumnus has been making efforts to bring a drama program to the school — one which is open to all students, even those not involved in music programs.

Barring the hiring of an IRHS teacher willing and able to both teach English and supervise a school production, Cadden has been working to create a community group which could aid local students in participating in after-school dramatic productions, as an alternative to community drama programs based in Georgetown.

She has started a non-profit group geared toward her effort and has quietly sought community support, but she pleaded with board members at the February 22 meeting to consider the reestablishment of an English teaching position at IRHS where the teacher hired would also be willing to oversee an official school drama program.