Survey: What do you want in a high school?

By Lynn R. Parks

The next step in the Seaford School District's discussion about construction of a new high school is a community survey, said district spokeswoman Bonnie Johnson. The survey will ask members of the community, including parents and students, what they would like to see in a new high school. Johnson expects the survey questionnaires to go out around the end of this school year or the beginning of the next school year. "This discussion is just in the very beginning phases," Johnson said. "We are talking about five- or 10-year plans." School board president John Hanenfeld, who originally suggested that the district look into construction of a new high school, said that he would like to see his son, who is a fourth grader in the district, graduate from the new school. "We are trying to be proactive," Hanenfeld said. "Education is a competitive business and we would like our high school to be the school of choice in this area." The current Seaford High School was built in 1967 and is in very good condition, said the district's chief of buildings and grounds, Roy Whitaker. It is the newest of the district's six schools. Hanenfeld said that the district's four elementary schools are increasingly crowded. A new high school would allow the middle school to move into the current high school building and would free up the middle school for elementary classes, he said. In addition, Hanenfeld said, building a new high school with the capacity to offer additional vocational courses of study "seems a good course to take." "Our current high school is not equipped to handle vocational classes we want to offer," Johnson added. She said what those courses would be has not been decided. Seaford High currently offers 13 vocational courses, in business, health careers, computer technology, accounting, photography, construction and food processing. Principal Clarence Davis said that the school has one building technology teacher, who uses the school's existing tech room to teach technology foundations and advanced technology.

"We are losing kids to Sussex Tech," Johnson said. The district loses about 30 ninth graders every year to the county's vocational school, she said. Carolyn O'Neal, spokeswoman for Sussex Tech, said her school's ninth-grade class has 29 students in it from the Seaford School District. The Sussex Tech 10th-grade class has 36 Seaford students, its 11th-grade class has 20 Seaford students and its senior class, 19 Seaford students. Sussex Tech, which has a total enrollment of 1,239, does not enroll more than 20 percent of a home district's students, O'Neal said. "We want to keep our kids here," Johnson said. "We want to give them the vocational classes that they are leaving us for." Hanenfeld said that Seaford High could offer vocational classes, like plumbing and cosmetology, for example, that Sussex Tech does not offer. The county's technical school offers four core curriculums: automotive technology, communications and information technology, health and human service technology and industrial and engineering technology. Hanenfeld said that area employers have told him that they cannot find young people who have training in the trades. "There is a void that Seaford could fill," he said. "We have a good core group of kids who are going to college after high school, and that is good. But we also have a good core group of kids who want to graduate from high school ready to earn a living. There is definitely a need for training in those areas." In this age of school choice, making Seaford High School the area's flagship school for vocational education could reverse its decline in student enrollment, Hanenfeld said. In the last two school years, class size in Seaford High School steadily decreased from ninth grade to 12th grade: this year's sophomore class has 203 students, down from 287 when those same students were freshmen. The junior class has 132, down from 205 when the class was in the 10th grade, and the senior class has 140, up slightly from the 132 it had when its students were juniors. Davis said that "a lot" of that decreasing enrollment is due to retention. Students do not get the credits they need to move onto the next grade, he said. In addition, Hanenfeld said, students drop out from Seaford High. Last school year, the school had a four-year graduation rate of about 82 percent, according to the state Department of Education. At a special meeting recently, the Seaford School Board heard a presentation from Studio JAED, an engineering and architectural firm in Dover, about innovative high schools throughout the country. "That just gave us more ideas to kick around," Johnson said. As for where a new high school would be built, Johnson said that that too is a matter of discussion. The district has no available land and would have to purchase acreage to accommodate the building, Johnson said. "We are exploring ideas," she said. Hanenfeld said that construction of a high school, including athletic fields would require about 30 acres of land. Johnson said that the district has not come up with any cost estimates for a new high school. So far, she said, the discussion process has not cost the district anything.

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