Christina approves Wilmington schools consolidation plan

WDEL | by Joe Irizarry

Two Wilmington schools in the Christina School District will close, and the others will be repurposed allowing for two first to eighth grade schools in the city–one on the east side and another on the west side.

The Christina School Board voted to approve the Memorandum of Understanding with the state, which means the closing of Pulaski and Elbert-Palmer elementary schools. Stubbs Elementary School will become a Dual Generation Center, which will house Kindergarten, Pre-K, and other services.

“This board and our district hasn’t engaged the community in a meaningful way,” said school board member John Young, who voted “no” on the plan along with board member Elizabeth Paige. Angela Mitchell abstained.

Bancroft and Bayard will be first to eighth grade schools. Originally, the schools were supposed to be K-8, but the district doesn’t feel those buildings could handle K-to-8.

School Board President George Evans explained the positives of the proposal.

“Smaller class sizes, we’re going to combine resources for where those youngsters will be attending school,” said Evans. “We’re going to provide them with additional support.”

Governor John Carney was there for most of the meeting and stayed until the school board voted on the proposal. Carney even spoke during the public comment period and answered some questions from school board members about the Memorandum of Understanding.

He thanked the school board for passing it.

“This is just a first step, but it’s an important first step. For the past several months, we have worked in partnership with Christina School District leaders, the Board, and Christina Education Association on a plan to invest new resources in these schools, and give students in the City of Wilmington a greater chance to succeed. Now the hard work begins to put this plan into action,” he said in a written statement.

Carney has earmarked $15 million for the district in the MOU and pledged to work with educators, district leaders, and students and families to improve outcomes for students.

Not everyone in Dover supports the plan. Democratic State Rep. John Kowalko also spoke during the public comment period of the meeting.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to discern practical and provable advantages for students or educators in this MOU. I find it frighteningly sparse on monetary investment going directly into the classrooms and more likely to disrupt the lives and community of the Wilmington students and their families,” said Kowalko. “Ripping young children from the smaller and more welcoming neighborhood schools and herding them into two monolithic structures better suited as barracks can hardly contribute to a welcoming atmosphere for young students and integrating them with older and unfamiliar classmates would probably be an intimidating experience.”

Kowalko said taking the $15 million that Carney is offering for the plan and put it directly into classrooms–not the buildings.

“If this board wants to partner with DOE and the administration to honestly improve educational opportunities for inner-city public schools, then…hire more teachers and aides to reduce classroom sizes, hire reading specialists and math specialists and invest in necessary structural improvements in the more welcoming neighborhood schools that are being threatened with closure,” said Kowalko.

Gov. Carney’s budget proposal does include funding for math specialists.

Kowalko wasn’t alone in thinking not enough resources are going into the classroom. Throughout the process, Paige has felt this proposal was more about real estate than students.

“I came out feeling like it was a real estate grab, honestly,” said Paige.

There’s still no definitive plan for the future of Elbert-Palmer and Pulaski. Carney did say he has spoken with the University of Delaware and the Boys & Girls Club about those schools.

Implementation of MOU plans will start in the next school year with school consolidation beginning for the 2019-2020 school year, but according to Young, all involved need to get the community on board.

“My concern is that without that meaningful community buy-in, the plan is DOA,” said Young.

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