Wicomico County students back to the books


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“Education,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

The fine teachers and administrators in Wicomico County schools will be sparking intellect when the 2015-16 year begins.

This week, open houses are planned in preparation for the first day of school, which will be Aug. 31 for those in grades one through six and nine. All grades will attend at Pittsville elementary and middle schools and only grade six will attend at Mardela middle and high schools.

All students in grades 1-12 will be in school on Tuesday, Sept. 1.  During the first week, kindergarten and prekindergarten students will report as scheduled by the assigned school, according to Tracy Sahler, who handles public relations for Wicomico County schools.

As the academic year begins, complete with wildly colored socks and ubiquitous denim, there are some changes.

School meals will be more expensive. Breakfast in elementary and secondary schools will now cost $1.35, a 5-cent increase. The price of lunch will be $2.45 in elementary schools, a 10-cent hike, and $2.70 in secondary schools.

These amounts are in accordance with federal meal regulations that stipulate prices must gradually be raised until they equal the cost of free meals provided by the federal government.

The board of education’s new central office has moved to 2424 Northgate Drive on North Salisbury Boulevard, behind Lowe’s. The former location, on Long Avenue, will become Infants and Toddlers and continue to be the site of meetings for a few months, Sahler said.

Two schools, Chipman and Glen Avenue elementary, will pilot the Community Eligibility Provision program for students eligible for breakfast and lunch at no charge and without application. CEP opens access to free nutritious meals for everyone, with no stigma and less time in cashier lines.

CEP reduces paperwork and administrative costs, cancels the need to track unpaid meal charges and improves program integrity while nourishing growing children, Sahler said.

Wicomico is also preparing to launch a new online application system for Free and Reduced Meals, even though families can apply by using the paper form. Students whose families receive  public assistance are already qualified for FARM through the school system, Sahler said.

This is Wicomico County Superintendent John Fredericksen’s last year at the helm. He’ll retire the end of June. The board of education will work with the Maryland boards of education to find  a new superintendent.

There’s a new board president, Don Fitzgerald, and  two new board members, Joseph Ollinger and John Palmer. Kim Hudson is vice president.

Fredericksen told the Independent he’s confident board of education members will select someone exemplary to fill his position. He’s hoping before retirement to see plans finalized for a new West Salisbury Elementary School and would like negotiations with county council members to continue.

West Salisbury is one of the schools that isn’t air conditioned, making for miserable conditions on hot days for students and teachers.

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“With the completion of the Pittsville Elementary and Middle HVAC project last November, and the opening of the new Bennett Middle this month, the school system has 96 percent of its instructional areas air conditioned,” said Sahler, who handles public relations for the board of education.

“The goal continues to be 100 percent, with only West Salisbury and East Salisbury elementary schools remaining.

“The replacement of West Salisbury is the school system’s top priority project as we begin this year, with the county supporting Wicomico Schools in seeking planning approval that would lead to seeking construction funding a year from now,” she said.

Sahler listed new principals this year. They are Jennifer Rice, Willards Elementary; Alexan Dargan, Charles H. Chipman Elementary; Mike Bievenour, Delmar Elementary; Shelly Hall, West Salisbury Elementary; Glenda Sinclair, Westside Intermediate; and Dr. Mark Bowen, Salisbury Middle.

Four schools have new assistant principals. They are Tara O’Barsky, Parkside High School; Kimberly M. Waters, Beaver Run Elementary; Lisa King, Bennett Middle; and Bob Purnell , Wicomico Middle School.

New deans of students are Timothy Dickson, East Salisbury Elementary; Terance Dunn, Salisbury Middle; and  Erin Raymond, Parkside High School.

Bennett Middle School students will be in a brand new building in Fruitland this year, with capacity for 1,114.  The old Bennett Middle School “is well on the way to being decommissioned, which means that the James M. Bennett High Phase 3 project is well under way,” Sahler said.

“Phase 3 is the final redevelopment of the Bennett campus for the high school’s use, including athletic play and practice fields, to be completed over the next year,” she said.

Total project cost was $68.2 million.

Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, known as LEED, is a standard for sustainable strategies in the design and construction of the school, she said. Silver was required, but the project achieved gold.

Rededication of the school is scheduled for Sept. 23.

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Bennett Middle students will be in school from 8:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m. now, new hours that allow restructuring of routes to accommodate the new location and more bus riders. Having new times will keep the board of education from having to add several new bus contracts, Sahler explained.

The English as a Second Language program is now offered in two locations, at Bennett Middle for about 50 students who attend there and at Wicomico Middle for about 45 from the other four middle schools.

Glen Avenue Elementary now has grades two to five. Second grade moved from the partner school, Charles H. Chipman Elementary. Space was available at Glen Avenue for second grade, so moving students there “creates some breathing room at Chipman for expanding early childhood programs,” Sahler said.

Eighth-grade students in the three middle schools will participate in GEAR UP.

An acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, the goal is “excellence and equity in education, investing in student success, and creating a culture that helps all young people achieve through college readiness, access, and completion,” she said.

The  six-year commitment targets the graduating class of 2020 from Bennett, Wicomico and Salisbury middle schools. It will provide academic support, enrichment programs, college awareness activities and scholarship opportunities through graduation.

“Every high school graduate in Maryland should be able to gain access to the college and career-training needed to pursue their dreams,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.

“GEAR UP provides a tremendous opportunity to support local efforts to improve college readiness and increase college attendance, particularly among low-income and first-generation students,” she said.

New solar power, through arrangement with Solar City, was turned on during the summer.

“We have a fixed, firm kilowatt per hour price for a 20-year term, with no escalation in the contract,” said Mark Miller, procurement manager for the school system.

“We had no capital costs. We provide the land for the solar array and agree to buy all the energy that is produced, for 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s great because the wholesale energy price we pay as a member of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Energy Consortium is 8 cents per kilowatt hour. In return, Solar City builds, operates, and maintains the solar system.

“When the amount of energy produced at a site like James M. Bennett High is more than the amount of energy the school uses, credit for the surplus energy is stored and may be used at other Wicomico school system sites, further saving on energy costs,” he said.

All sixth graders will receive a free one-year membership to the  YMCA, to keep them interested in healthy and legal behaviors.

“The Sixth-Grade Membership Initiative is an opportunity for the Y to engage, cultivate, and connect with youth at this crucial time in their development,” Sahler said.

Parents can register children by proving sixth-grade status in the form of a schedule or report card. The free membership year began Aug. 15.

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