As the Town of Smyrna continues to grow, so does the Smyrna School District. Not only has the district and student enrollment numbers increased, but so has the quality of teaching and opportunities for students after graduation.
The beginning of the 2012-2013 school year marked the inaugural school year for Clayton Intermediate School, which was the last aspect of a years-long project to increase the district's capacity.
When the student enrollment began to double in size eight years ago, Superintendent Debbie Wicks and the district put together a plan to deal with the influx of students. Eight years later the district has two new schools – Sunnyside Elementary and Clayton Intermediate – and additions to Smyrna High School, Smyrna Middle School, and Smyrna, Clayton, and North Smyrna Elementary schools.
"With the finishing of Clayton Intermediate School, we have doubled the size of the district," Wicks said. "When we started we had about 2,500 to 3,000 students and now we're at 5,100."
Last piece of the puzzle
For quite some time, John Bassett Moore Intermediate School was the only school to house 5th and 6th graders in the district; that is until Clayton Intermediate School was open for business.
Now 5th and 6th graders are split between the two schools. JBM went from having 799 students last year to 425 this year; Clayton Intermediate has 423 students.
While administrators don't believe the quality of education was lessened in year's past, Associate Principal Debbie Judy – who works at both schools – said having two schools has been a good thing.
"A new building provided the district the opportunity to hire more staff, teachers and administration to meet the needs of the students and their families," Judy said.
Moreover, Judy said the schedule is less tight with lunches, related arts and other important events in the day, allowing for flexibility.
JBM Principal Elyse Baerga said the best part of the change is that it's allowed her to circulate more in the classrooms and get to know the students on a different level.
"Once you reduce the school to half the size, it's been eye opening and it's definitely been a good experience because as a school team, we're really able to be a lot closer," Baerga said. "We know a lot more of the student's names. Our team is really strong so we all really work with the kids more individually."
Changing with the times
Along with growing in size, the district has also improved in what's offered to the students and in ways to learn.
From the use of laptops to the use of IPods, the Smyrna School District has embraced technology as a tool of learning.
Clayton Elementary Principal Mike Dulin and Associate Principal Deborah Chadwick said technology has helped teaching in more ways than one. Dulin said the use of LCD projectors and whiteboards allow students to be interactive in learning the lesson, while Chadwick said IPods allow students to learn without even realizing their learning.
"I really commend the Smyrna School District and the central office. I think they are really preparing our students and giving them the opportunity to be prepared with up-to-date technology that many schools don't have," Dulin said.
At the high school level, Wicks said students are able to catch up on a coursework in the computer lab or learn about graphic design. Moreover, the agriscience department has received several grants to purchase items such as IPads and an ultrasound unit to improve the learning experience.
She said the high school also offers several AP courses and career pathways, both of which prepare students for college and the workforce after graduation.
Looking to the future
With Clayton Intermediate in its first school year, Wicks doesn't see the need for any new schools in the future. Though there will be upgrades that need to be done to the older schools like a new kitchen at Smyrna Elementary.
When talking about the district in general, Wicks points to several accomplishments to show the schools are doing well.
The high school graduated 331 students last year, the first time the district has had a graduating class over 300 students. The same graduating class had 82 percent of the students going on to college with nearly $2 million in scholarships.
"This year we met adequate yearly progress. We met it in every area," Wicks said. "I don't know if we'll do it again but that's impressive and shows we're on the right track."
Wicks also believes Delaware is at the forefront of Race to the Top, an initiative that encourages reform in improved teaching and learning in schools. Wicks is also very proud that "I Love Smyrna School District Day" draws out a roughly 7,000-plus crowd for the event which highlights everything good about the district.
"We just want to make sure our students have every opportunity to succeed as students and citizens," Wicks said.
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.