Sussex Tech and East Millsboro at the top of class in the state

Only the best of the best schools across the country are recognized each year by the United States Department of Education as No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools. This year, two schools in Delaware — East Millsboro Elementary and Sussex Technical High School — were honored with the award. This marks the second time Sussex Tech took the award, following their 1996 showing, making them not only the first high school in the state but first school anywhere in Delaware to be recognized twice.

“It’s amazing,” said fourth-year Sussex Tech Principal Curt Bunting. “You can notice the collaborative effort among our teachers working with one another.”

Since his start at Sussex Tech, he has aimed for a high level of professionalism and helped the institution earn both prestige and acclaim. “We have been focusing on data-driven decision-making and having the atmosphere [where we work] together, with goals and partnering to do whatever it takes to help kids succeed.”

Sussex Tech and East Millsboro Elementary, two of 320 schools nationwide to receive Blue Ribbon honors this year, were among those weighed highly on two criteria:

• Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who dramatically improve student performance to high levels on state tests; and

• Schools whose students, regardless of background, achieve in the top 10 percent of their state on state tests or, in the case of private schools, in the top 10 percent of the nation on nationally-normed tests.

Bunting, originally from Selbyville, was pleased to bring the award back to Tech, considering his notable background in the education department. He has served as an assistant principal at Seaford High School, and taught and coached at Indian River High School for eight years.

“The outstanding performance at Sussex Tech has been ongoing before I got here,” he said. “The school has always been known for its high achievement rate. Any time you remain on top for a long period of time, you have to work that much harder to stay there.”

A modest Bunting credited the teachers and others in the success of the school’s continuing recognition.

“The staff here has really worked together,” he said. “They’re a close-knit bunch of teachers who really focus on kids and goals. They look at data and figure out what’s best for the kids. We have teachers who have been here a while and know our system and understand what we need to do.”

At Sussex Tech, students who select the school versus traditional high schools and become enrolled have their choice at declaring one of six exploratory courses during their freshman year.

“That’s important about our curriculum,” Bunting added. “We’re not just academic. We have technical teachers, too, and students have been getting their education in both their academic and technical areas. It’s a win-win for us and them.”

Bunting already has his sights set on upholding the performance the school has managed to maintain over the years.

“What it comes down to,” he noted, “is providing teachers with professionally developed resources so we can maintain that status. We’re doing everything we can to meet our students’ professional development needs.”

Roughly 1,250 students are enrolled in Sussex Tech, with more than 600 new applicants each year, though the school is permitted to accept only about 330 of those.

“We draw from all over Sussex County,” said Bunting. “It’s great what we have here. The Blue Ribbon is a total school award. The teachers have a major impact, but students and support staff do, also. There’s a sense of pride here and that ranges from all employees to the kids.”

Bunting will travel to Capitol Hill on Oct. 20 to accept the school’s 2008 award.