Indian River School District (IRSD) celebrated the end of a nearly $145-million project, which began in May 2000 when voters approved the first of several referendums to renovate the district.
The capital improvements began with construction of two new high schools and renovations to ten buildings.
The project concluded 11 years later on Nov. 29, when the IRSD dedicated the new George W. Carver Educational Center, the final building. The center will host several programs, including the district’s Parent Education Center, Adult Education, T.O.T.S. (Transitioning Our Toddlers) preschool program and George W. Carver Academy, an alternative school focusing on students’ academic, behavioral and personal needs.
After Frankford Elementary moved into the old Indian River High School, the district was left with a vacant building.
A district and community group envisioned an educational center for all ages, which would sustain local history and culture.
“George Washington Carver once said, ‘Where there is no vision, there is no hope,’” said Susan Bunting, district superintendent.
African American inventor George Washington Carver is best known for his work with peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans, although the former slave encouraged education for all people.
“I believe George Washington Carver would be proud,” Bunting said. “Thank you to those who contributed to the school’s success in the past and in the future.”
Karen Field Rogers, from Delaware Department of Education, commended the district for addressing a statewide challenge: how to engage families in meaningful ways.
The entire center meets special needs of the students, parents and community.
G.W. Carver Elementary dates back as far as 1930s as an African American school. The name changed to Frankford Elementary around 1967, and the school gained several additions over time.
Martin Drew graduated from the eighth grade of the original G.W. Carver Elementary in 1957.
“There’s a lot of rich history in this building,” Drew said. “George Washington Carver Elementary produced some beautiful people.”
He remembered when each town had two school districts, for each black and white children. Education “flowed slowly,” Drew said of those days.
Drew said principal Samuel Dodson had always emphasized the importance of education. Drew was inspired to become a teacher, principal and, now, university professor with two master’s degrees.
“Thank you for renaming — renaming — this George Washington Carver. I don’t know why they changed it in the first place,” said Drew.
The original G.W.C. Elementary had less than 50 students. Today, approximately 55 students from all over IR School District receive individualized educations at G.W.C. Academy. Some classes have two Para educators assisting the teacher.
“Some days are harder than others, and without this school, some of our kids would be lost,” Smith said.
Richard Allen School had grades 6 to 12, but G.W.C. is open for kindergarten to 12th grade.
“We need to start early on and look at the whole kid,” Smith said, commending Bunting and the school board for their vision and focus on individual children.
The key to helping kids is knowing them, so the staff works as a team to work with individual students one day at a time, Smith said. “They know we care because we don’t give up.”
Even a new mascot, the Warrior, blending Sussex Central Golden Knights and the Indians of Indian River. Students come from across the district.
Jonathan Mercado, president of new G.W.C. student government, said his goals for the school include a mentoring program where older students could influence younger children with positive behavior.
First-grader Jeremy Fox led everyone in the pledge of allegiance, and 11th-grader Ryan Morris shared an original poem.
The night concluded with student- and staff-led tours of the new building, which included everything from classrooms and computer labs to parent and toddler centers.