Seaford School District unveils draft of five-year strategic plan

By Lynn R. Parks

At a public meeting held last week to unveil the draft five-year strategic plan for the Seaford School District, superintendent Shawn Joseph said that completion of the plan will require the input of the community.

"We want to hear from you because we are committed to getting this right," Joseph told the more than 100 people who attended the meeting, held Wednesday in the auditorium at Seaford Middle School. "And if we are going to get this right, we have to have the community actively involved. You matter to us and we want to make sure that you feel comfortable with what we are doing." Board president Mike Smith added that the commitment of people in the district is also important because some of the changes that may be made could add to the district's bottom line.

"We want to add 12 additional staff members and that takes money," he said. The district wants to expand its pre-kindergarten program and have smaller classes in early grades, both of which would take more money as well as additional classroom space.

"I have had people say to me that they know that we are moving toward holding a referendum" on increasing local taxes, Smith said. "A referendum is an idea. But we are looking at other options first."

"Excellence does cost something," Joseph added. "We will get as close as we can to know that this is what we want and the next step will be to determine what it will cost. Then we will come back to the community with that information." The strategic plan is expected to be completed by June and to go before the school board for approval that month.

A second draft will be shared with the public before that happens. The current draft defines five goals as well as strategies for achieving them. The goals are:

  • All students will be taught in a manner which fosters critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and effective communication to ensure that they are meeting state and district standards.
  • All students will meet or exceed high standards, as established by the district and by the state. Disparities among student groups will be eliminated.
  • All students will be educated in a safe, positive and supportive learning environment. Disparities in behavior problems among different students groups will be eliminated.
  • The district will strengthen family-school relationships and continue to expand civic, business and community partnerships that support student achievement.
  • The district will work to recruit and retain a diverse, highly-qualified workforce. It will also work with employee groups to support effectiveness.
As part of the first goal, the district wants to allow parents of elementary students to send them to any of its four elementary schools. "We want every school to have a program that is unique to that school," Joseph said.

Already, West Seaford and Blades elementary schools will host Spanish language immersion programs starting next year. Frederick Douglass Elementary is slated to become a community school, in partnership with Children and Families First, a not-for-profit social services agency. The school, as well as the middle school, which will also be a community school, will have site coordinators who will work to connect families with the resources they need in order for their children to be successful. For several years, Blades Elementary has had an extended calendar, with classes starting in August and going a little longer in June than the rest of the schools.

Goal one includes increased student proficiency in more than one language. It also includes implementing deeper learning instruction, a way of teaching that is thought to better prepare students for today's world, at all schools and providing training for teachers to instruct in those learning models.

Goal two is backed up by 10 strategies, among them developing district wide literacy and mathematics plans, increasing the opportunities for high school students to earn college credits, better use of student achievement data and providing each school with a staff development teacher and a reading specialist, those 12 new employees that Smith was talking about. It is also under this goal that the district wants to expand its pre-kindergarten program and allow for smaller classes in the early grades.

Goal three focuses on improving behavior, or "climate," in the schools. "Climate is everything else that gets students to class," said board member Mike Kraft. "It's the interaction that they have with other students, with teachers, other staff and administrators."

Kraft said that discipline is the No. 1 concern expressed by the community. "Where's that Seaford pride?" he asked. "What does it even mean to have Seaford pride? We have to identify what it means and then work toward that."

The district would implement a new system to encourage positive behavior and would train staff in how to work with children from multiple cultures. In the middle and high schools, it would establish alternative learning classrooms, hire climate coordinators and establish mentoring programs. This goal also provides for the establishment of the two community schools.

Parts of goal four are already in place: The district has established a Parent and Family Resource Center, housed in West Seaford Elementary, and has set up a committee, affiliated with the national program Grad Nation, to look at ways the high school can boost its graduation rate. The district would also conduct annual parent satisfaction surveys and establish parent and business liaisons for each school.

Through goal five, the district would increasingly work with historically black colleges and universities to recruit minority teaching candidates. "Our student body is close to 50 percent minority and our staff is not even close to that," said school board member Frank Parks.

The district would also search out highly-qualified people willing to teach in rural areas, strengthen district-level requirements for teacher tenure and provide teachers with consistent feedback and support. "We want our teachers to know that if they are struggling with something, someone is there to help them," Dunn said.

Dunn, who is a graduate of Seaford High School, said that he is very proud of the draft plan that the district has put together. "We've never had a plan before," he said. "We've had goals, strategies and ideas, but never a plan."

He acknowledged that the strategic plan as designed is ambitious. "But we wanted it that way," he added. "We want our kids aiming for the stars. We want them dreaming big."

For your information To comment on the Seaford School District's draft strategic plan, visit the district website, www.seafordbluejays.org. Click on the button that says, "Give us your feedback," or on the button labeled "Superintendent."

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