Charter, vo-tech diversity article misleading

April 3, 2014

The March 25th article "Charter, vo-tech need more diversity" was extremely misleading. The article states that Sussex Tech is discriminating against minority students, however doesn’t provide accurate data. The article states that Sussex Tech’s population of whites is 68 percent, African-American is 17 percent, and low-income 33 percent compared to 57 percent, 24 percent and 62 percent, respectively, for Sussex County. However, Seaford School District’s 44.8 percent African American population data skewed the average statistics for Sussex County.

The African American populations for other districts follow: Delmar 13.8 percent, Indian River 15.1 percent, Cape 16.8 percent, Sussex Tech 17.2 percent, Milford 24.8 percent, Woodbridge 29.6 percent, and Laurel 29.7 percent for an average of 20.3 percent for those districts. Therefore, Sussex Tech’s 17.2 percent African American population compares closely to the 20.3 percent Sussex County average, when Seaford is excluded from the statistics.

Additionally, minorities do not consist of only African Americans. When analyzing the data found in the 2012-13 Delaware Department of Education School Profiles, the total percentage for the minority populations (i.e. African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Multiracial) for each district follows: Delmar 3.8 percent, Cape 4.9 percent, Sussex Tech 5.3 percent, Indian River 5.9 percent, Laurel 6.2 percent, Woodbridge 7.5 percent, Milford 7.7 percent, and Seaford 10.0 percent; for an average of 6.3 percent for all districts.

However, if Seaford is excluded from the calculation, the average is lowered to 5.9 percent. Sussex Tech’s 5.3 percent compares closely to the 6.3 percent Sussex County average and the 5.9 percent average, when Seaford is excluded from the statistics.

With regards to Sussex Tech requiring a 70 percent content area grade point average for 8th grade applicants, this has always been a past practice and validated during the time of the Delaware Student Testing Program when if you did not pass the 8th grade test you were not eligible to become a 9th grader. Instead of using the DSTP score, Sussex Tech opted for a 70 percent content area grade point average to increase the opportunity for eligibility.

The state law’s 9th grade eligibility is important to Sussex Tech since they accept students prior to the end of the 8th grade year and provide home visits for each student. The 70 percent is a gauge of commitment and shows the ability to become an official 9th grader by state law. Once a student is accepted, even if they fail a course, they are still a Sussex Tech student unless they choose not to attend or do not meet the state law to become a 9th grader.

Some additional interesting statistics found in the 2012-13 Delaware Department of Education School Profiles, that were not referred to in the article, were Percentage Days Not Present (i.e. absenteeism) and graduation rates for the high schools. Laurel, Milford and Sussex Tech had the lowest percentage days not present at 2 precent.

The remaining high schools’ percentage days not present follow: Delmar 7 percent, Indian River 7 percent, Sussex Central 8 percent, Cape 9 percent, Woodbridge 12 percent and Seaford 13 percent. Laurel, Milford and Sussex Tech must have either very effective attendance policies, students who really enjoy attending school each day, and/or parents/guardians who insist their children attend school daily.

With regards to Graduation Rates, Sussex Tech tops the charts at a whopping 98.7 percent, followed by Delmar 89.3 percent, Indian River 88.9 percent, Sussex Central 87.5 percent, Cape 86.3 percent, Milford 83.6 percent, Seaford 74.2 percent, Laurel 62.4 percent, and Woodbridge 60.7 percent. The average graduation rate for Sussex County high schools is a dismissal 82 percent.

The article also made statements about Sussex Academy’s lack of diversity. I do not feel the school should be faulted if many minority, special education, and low income students are not applying to Sussex Academy. Sussex Academy’s goal for the 9th grade class for the 2013-14 school year was 110 students, yet currently there are only 50 9th graders enrolled. Of course this number will rise each year as the lower level grades move up.

As for recruitment at the high school level, I personally hung open house flyers throughout Georgetown during February 2013 and spoke with minority parents to encourage them to have their children apply at Sussex Academy, informing them that if their 8th grader applied for the high school, all siblings at the lower middle school grades would be eligible to attend. Sussex Academy advertised throughout Sussex County and held numerous open houses. Many Sussex Academy parents and committees encouraged students throughout the county to apply for the 9th grade.

When I spoke with several middle school children from the Georgetown area, the common concern was the rigorous academics and uniform policy at Sussex Academy. To many parents, including me, rigorous academics and uniforms are quite a positive feature of a school. However to others, including many minority, special education, and low income students, those features are reasons not to apply. How can one fault Sussex Academy’s statistics if the majority of those students are not applying?

Instead of other districts, community members, parents and politicians wasting energy making false and derogatory statements about Sussex Academy and Sussex Tech, why don’t they focus their energy on ways to improve their school districts to retain students?

If there is a strong desire for vocational education, either additional pathways should be added to the other district high schools and/or Sussex Tech needs to expand to accommodate the students who have a strong desire for such an education. Sussex County’s school districts, community members, parents and politicians need to work together to do what’s best for our students and to increase attendance and graduation rates, instead of falsely accusing Sussex Academy and Sussex Tech of discrimination.

Tina Ballas Downs

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