District’s newest teachers head to class
The cafeteria at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts resembled a giant classroom on the morning of Monday, Aug. 22, with fresh faces seated at rows of tables, surrounded by shiny, colorful new school supplies — except that many of those at the desks had brought their own cups of coffee and all were at least in their early to mid-20s.
The reason they were all assembled was to take part in the Indian River School District’s new teacher orientation. According to District Superintendent Susan Bunting, 99 new teachers have been hired for the district’s 16 schools for the 2016-2017 school year.
Of those 99 positions, 24 are at Sussex Central High School, the largest school in the district. The next-largest group is going to North Georgetown Elementary School, with 19 new teachers.
Six district-wide positions are included in this year’s new hires — four speech pathologists, an occupational therapist and an occupational therapist assistant. Bunting said most of the new teachers are replacing veterans who retired, as opposed to newly created positions.
Among the facts the new district employees learned is that they will join a workforce of 874 teachers, serving a student population of nearly 11,000, with district boundaries encompassing 365 square miles, ranging from farmland to beaches.
Bunting said that not all of those at the new teacher orientation are actually new hires for this year. A few of them joined the district after the start of the last school year but are just now going through the orientation process.
Although she herself joined the district as a teacher 39 years ago, Bunting said still recalls her own orientation — “in a very cramped room at Howard T. Ennis.”
“I can still remember what I wore that day. It was a very important day in my life,” Bunting said.
Indian River Board of Education President Charles Bireley spoke briefly to the new educators, focusing his remarks on building safety. The district, Bireley said, “is a trendsetter in the state of Delaware in school safety,” having spent $1 million in the previous year to ensure the safety of students and staff through enhanced building security.
Bireley said each school now has at least one safety officer on staff, and each school has secure entrances where doors can only be opened with a passcode or being “buzzed in” by a staff member. Doors and windows in some schools have also been upgraded for safety purposes, he said.
The school district’s current Teacher of the Year, Melissa Grise, shared a video in which students spoke about teachers who had touched their lives. Grise, an Indian River High School graduate, spoke to her new peers about a few of her own teachers who had a profound influence on her own career, including George Bethard in middle school and Ray Steele in high school.
“I hope you realize how important this step you are taking is,” Grise said.
Melanie Moore, soon to start her teaching career as a second-grade teacher at East Millsboro Elementary School, said she has been headed toward her new career since she was a student at Sussex Technical High School studying child education.
Moore, who lives in Georgetown, went on to work at a district intensive learning center under teacher mentor Patricia Jennings, with whom she credits encouraging her to pursue her teaching degree. Moore completed her early childhood education degree at Wilmington University in January.
Maria Cruz-Darby, who will work as a licensed clinical counselor at North Georgetown Elementary School, recalled a teacher who took her under her wing when Cruz-Darby was a scared, newly immigrated student. “Moving to this country, not speaking any English, was hard,” Cruz-Darby said.
She is enthusiastic about the chance she has been given to “give back to the Hispanic community” through the families she will serve at school. “Because I know how frightening it can be. I’ve been there.”