Preschool spotlight brightening; inside roadside signs

This sign, and its twin a couple of miles away, recently found homes in the state right-of-way along Kings Highway in Lewes. BY DENNIS FORNEY
February 17, 2012

Cape Superintendent Kevin Carson stopped by the office a few weeks ago following an invitation from our editorial board.

“A picture of the Cape Henlopen School District changes daily,” he told us. “With an $85 million budget and 800-plus employees, the district is more than just a notion. As of Sept. 30, when the year’s official count is taken for state funding purposes, we had 4,845 students.  That’s up 211 students over what we had one year before, and that makes us the fastest-growing school district in the state,” said Carson.

Heading into the second semester, he said the food service count shows Cape District feeding 4,954 students.  That’s up another 100. Last fall Carson said that growth has filled the district schools to capacity.  “There is no more room at the inn,”  he said at the time.

Now he said the district is starting to look at how it can best use its facilities to handle the steadily increasing demand. Adding portable classrooms while longer-term solutions are being considered is definitely a possibility.  “Of course there’s an old adage in the school business,” said Carson: “There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary classroom.”

On another front, he said one of the most serious challenges is getting children better prepared for when they enter the school district. “The grade with the greatest diversity is kindergarten.  Some kids show up knowing how to read while others have barely been exposed to a book.  If we can’t get them up to the third-grade reading level by the time they reach third grade, they will never catch up, and that’s a serious problem.”

Carson said the district is looking at ways it can help area preschools meet licensure requirements so more kids can be served and taught the basics before they reach kindergarten.

Beach House helping out
The Children’s Beach House in Lewes understands the preschool problem.  Its board of directors has decided to get more aggressive with the use of its facilities, year-round, to help out.  According to Executive Director Rich Garrett, Children’s Beach House will begin offering a preschool program in September 2013. It will be targeting the same children that it does now with its summer and weekend programs.  “We deal with disadvantaged children from low-income families who have physical issues – typically involving speaking and hearing disabilities – that make it difficult for them to communicate with others.  Starting with 3-year olds, we want to help them be better prepared to start school in kindergarten.  We plan to have our preschool open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the week so the parents of these children have an opportunity to get a job.”

Garrett said Children’s Beach House – founded by Lydia Chichester duPont 75 years ago – has started a fundraising campaign to raise $2 million for the structural changes needed at the Lewes Beach facility to accommodate up to 100 preschool students.  “The structural changes are needed to meet state standards and then we will qualify for state funding available to help with preschool students.”

Children’s Beach House operates with an annual $1.2 million budget.  Most of that funding comes from private sources including annual appeals, a variety of events and interest from an endowment that has grown through the years. The organization is an excellent example of a group of committed people taking direct action through the years to address a societal problem without depending on the government.

Thousands of children have grown into better lives as a result.

New signs on Kings Highway

Two new signs sprouted recently in the state’s right-of-way along Kings Highway on either side of Cape Henlopen High School.  Billboards in miniature, the signs proclaim the highway will be cleaner as a result of Chesapeake Utilities’ sponsorship of that two-mile section of road. The utility, which recently installed underground natural gas pipes along Kings Highway, pays a national company which installs the signs and cleans up the rights-of-way every two weeks, weather permitting. Delaware Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Williams said the company – Adopt-A-Highway Maintenance Corporation – pays nothing to the state for the privilege of conducting this commercial venture in the state right-of-way. “But there is a benefit to the state,” said Williams.

“The company that sponsors the signage is also paying to clean up the roadside, and that saves the state from having to do that. The maintenance company sends in a report every two weeks indicating when the clean up took place and how many sacks of litter were collected.” He said the state has to approve the signs, their locations and their installations.

DelDOT’s more familiar Adopt-A-Highway program involves community organizations, families and other groups who do quarterly clean ups along sections of state roads and rewards them with a small blue sign – smaller than a regular STOP sign – which advertises their participation. It’s a similar quid pro quo program except that the signs are much smaller than the commercial venture’s signs and the clean ups take place less frequently.

Williams said the Adopt-A-Highway Maintenance Corporation has 63 sponsored-sections of state roads and highways including 30 in Sussex County, 20 in Kent and 13 in New Castle. Another company, he said, operates in a similar fashion to solicit companies to sponsor signs advertising specific gas, food and lodging options along limited-access highways.  “In that case the state requires that the businesses have bathrooms, that they observe certain hours of operation and they must be close to the exit ramps.”

Changes are coming, however, that may tarnish the glow of the commercial Adopt-A-Highway program.  Williams said starting in fiscal year 2013, new federal regulations affecting signage in rights-of-way will kick in.  “Under those new regulations, signs couldn’t be as large as they are now.  They will have to be much more in line with the size of the DelDOT-sponsored Adopt-A-Highway signs.”

Those concerned about our roadways growing increasingly cluttered by signs – especially in rights-of-way owned by the public – will welcome this change.