Meetings on new curriculum Seaford School District preparing for start of Delaware New Tech

By Lynn R. Parks

Organizers of Delaware New Tech, the project-based learning curriculum that will start in Seaford High School next year, will hold two community meetings today, to try to build the community partnerships that will help assure the program's success.

"We need all kinds of partnerships," Chandra Phillips, director of Delaware New Tech, said. Those partnerships include financial donors as well as mentors, people with project ideas and people who can critique projects.

Phillips addressed members of the Seaford School Board Monday night, during the board's regular meeting. She said that partnerships with people and businesses in the Seaford community will be vital to New Tech's success. At previous community meetings, people "seemed very excited" at the prospect of helping the program, she said.

"I think that people are kind of sitting back now, asking what they can do," she said. "Hopefully, they will be coming along. I am very optimistic."

Phillips told the board that 122 students have enrolled in Delaware New Tech's ninth grade, and 94 students have enrolled in the 10th grade. In its first year, New Tech will have just those two grades.

The school is still recruiting for the 10th grade. Phillips said that the school hopes to have graduating classes of about 100 students. In general, she added, New Tech schools don't have any more than 500 students.

All but one of the instructor positions at the school have been filled. The school is still looking for a digital media teacher. Instruction in Delaware New Tech will heavily rely on technology. At the start of each unit of study, students will be assigned projects that are based on real-world situations. The lessons that they learn in the unit will help them to complete their projects. "Learning will be very collaborative and cross-curricular," Phillips said.

Students in New Tech will go into the regular high school for some classes. But students in the regular high school will not be able to take New Tech classes.

"We will be trying to establish a family atmosphere," Phillips said. "It would be hard to have students coming in and out; that would be detrimental to what we are trying to establish."

Phillips said that she and Shelley Holt, director of secondary education, have already attended training sessions through New Tech. They will also attend a week-long conference in June. In addition, the school will be assigned a New Tech coach who will make regular visits.

Phillips identified several challenges that Delaware New Tech faces, including the district's current policy that forbids students from carrying cell phones. "That is something that we will have to discuss," because of New Tech's reliance on electronic devices, Phillips said. The state's practice of blocking student access to websites could also create a problem, she said.

Another challenge will be addressing the "us vs. them" attitude among teachers as well as students that could result from creating a separate school within the high school. And a third challenge, she said, will be getting the May 18 referendum passed that will pay for renovation of the high school to accommodate New Tech.

Cost of the renovation project would be $36 million. The state would pay 75 percent of that, or $27 million, leaving about $9 million to be paid by local taxpayers. Voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the district office.

For your information: Delaware New Tech in the Seaford High School will hold two public meetings today, to reach out to the community for help. The first meeting, at 3 p.m., will be held in the district office across from the high school. The second meeting, 7 p.m., will be in the high school cafeteria. Refreshments will be served at the second meeting. For details, call Delaware New Tech director Chandra Phillips, 629-4587 ext. 233.

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