Saltwater Portrait

Sara Wilkinson: Lifelong resident, educator

With school board behind her, more time for teaching and family
Sara Wilkinson relaxes in her Milton home after decades of service in the Cape Henlopen School District. BY MELISSA STEELE
July 29, 2014

Sara Wilkinson's educational highlights line the walls of her Milton home. Her husband, Ray, has made sure of it.

The couple has shared that home for about as long as they've been married – since 1962.

A lot has changed around the modest ranch home that once sat alone among corn fields. “Everything else has grown up around us,” Wilkinson said.

But one thing has stayed the same: Wilkinson's passion for education.

Wilkinson was born in 1943 and has lived her life in the Milton area. Her mother, Thelma Dill, worked as a paraprofessional when H.O. Brittingham Elementary opened; father Graham Jr. was captain of T-boats that operated out of Fort Miles – now part of Cape Henlopen State Park. Her late brother, Graham III, was an educator in the Indian River School District.

All 12 years of her primary and secondary education were spent at Milton Consolidated School, the building that now houses Milton Elementary.

She graduated in 1961 with a diamond engagement ring on her finger – courtesy of Ray – and admission into the initial University of Delaware parallel program offered in Georgetown. The program lasted two years, and she earned a bachelor's degree in education from Delaware State College in 1971.

Her first teaching job followed at Rehoboth Elementary, where she taught fourth grade. At the time, her older child, Terry, was in grade school and her son, Jeffrey, was in kindergarten.

Wilkinson spent the next nine years at Rehoboth, teaching many who today are part of the area's business community.

“When I ran for school board the first time, everyone that was putting together or involved in the election were ones I either taught or taught their spouses,” she said.

Her success on the school board as a balanced voice of reason with a keen sense of humor were the same traits her staff and students loved about her.

She left Rehoboth in 1981 for H.O. Brittingham Elementary where she became assistant principal in 1997, putting to use a master's degree from Salisbury College and administrative courses from University of Delaware.

Wilkinson said she enjoyed working with elementary-age students because they are independent, but still impressionable. However, a year after earning the assistant principal position at HOB, she decided to try something new as assistant principal of Milton Middle School. By 2000, she was principal.

“I always like to move forward and have the next challenge,” she said. “You can't get stagnant, you have to keep moving forward.”

After retiring in 2002, her next challenge was a doctoral degree from Wilmington University where she earned the President's Award for her thesis on a systemic approach to professional development in 2003.

“I've been a part of every college in Delaware,” she said.

Her studies in administrative leadership took her to the Caribbean, where she worked with teachers on the island of Tobago. It was an experience, she said, she will never forget.

“They were so receptive to learning and appreciated all the books we brought them,” Wilkinson said. In the short time there, they developed a bond of admiration and respect unparalleled throughout her years in education, she said.

When she left, she said the Tobago teachers were genuinely sad to see her go.

“It was a really heartwarming experience,” she said.

School board and more

With a wealth of name recognition and a winning personality, Wilkinson ran for school board with the same professionalism and energy that earned her success in education. She won the at-large seat in 2009, giving her the opportunity to see how things are done on the decision-making side.

“The board was challenging, but I'm glad I did it because you get to see another perspective of the education process,” she said.

Wilkinson always provided a reasoned and researched view on board topics, and from time to time, she filled in with a quick wit for levity, just to keep things light.

Although she chose not to run for reelection, she is keeping her hand in the education field, this time teaching an online course for a Kentucky college. Wilkinson said she has 76 students taking a time management for school administrators course through the University of the Cumberlands.

“I love it,” she said. “They've never had that many students enroll.”

In between online instruction, Wilkinson said she now has plenty of time to spend with her retired husband, Ray, who retired in 1993 from his job as electrician at General Foods and for years has kept their home spotless. She also has more time to work out with a personal trainer, who helps keep her healthy and in shape. She also has more opportunities to visit with her children and grown grandchildren Brittany and Beau Croll – both environmental scientists who live in Washington, D.C.

Through it all, Wilkinson gives thanks to Ray for giving her the chance to pursue her dreams.

“I had a supportive husband,” she said. “I wouldn't have been able to do it without him.”