Cape district candidates face off in Milton

Safety, academic achievement among hot topics
April 5, 2019

Six candidates for three Cape Henlopen school board seats laid out their visions for the future to a packed house at Milton library March 25.

At a candidates forum sponsored by Sunshine Circle Club, the three races featured the Area C seat contested between incumbent Andy Lewis against Janet Maull-Martin, incumbent Alison Myers running against Calvin Jackson for an at-large seat, and Bill Collick running against Chuck Mowll for an at-large one-year term seat being vacated by board member Roni Posner.

Each candidate selected and answered a question compiled from organizations, teachers and parents in the district. The other candidates were allowed to chime in on a question if they chose.

Collick, asked about building a swimming pool at one of the new Cape schools, said it is not financially viable, given the district’s other funding needs.

Jackson said every child should learn to swim, especially given the district’s proximity to the ocean. He said the school board should consider adding a mandatory swimming class to physical education requirements. While Jackson acknowledged it would be expensive, he questioned whether the district could afford not to build a pool.

Lewis said the district never promised a pool in any of the new schools, and he does not support the idea, as the capital cost estimates were around $10 million to install and maintain a pool.

Maull-Martin said the idea of a pool should not be taken off the table. Cape kids currently use the pool at the Sussex Family YMCA, which presents traffic and safety issues, she said.

“It’s something that needs to be revisited,” Maull-Martin said.

Lewis was asked about ensuring disciplinary action was fair for all students. He said he disagreed with the premise of the question, noting administrators want the best for all students. Lewis said administrators’ job is to make sure the actions of a few do not distract from the majority.

Maull-Martin said she wants to ensure the disciplinary procedures are followed fairly and consistently, and that each student is given due process. She said it is up to the building administrative team to make sure discipline is handed out fairly, accurately and consistently.

Myers said the student code of conduct has been a major focus for the board this year.

“We have really tried to make sure our staff members are using restorative practices,” she said. “In order to close the achievement gap, we need to keep kids in the classrooms.”

Mowll was asked what new ideals or changes he would bring to the board. He said the No. 1 change he would pursue is safer and more secure schools, through a thorough assessment of each school. He said he would advocate for the use of a constable in every school.

“We need to do more,” Mowll said. “We’re not doing everything we need to be doing to keep our students safe.”

Collick said representatives from the Department of Homeland Security came to the Cape district to discuss what to do in emergency situations, such as fire drills and lockdowns, and provided a reference guide for what to do.

Maull-Martin said she was concerned about safety after school hours, when students are  involved in sports and afterschool programs. She wanted to know what safety measures are in place for those times.

Each candidate also made a closing statement.

Myers said the board recognizes that the community wants to stay informed, and she is seeking better ways to communicate and gather feedback, such as live-streaming meetings and coming up with a calendar of board visits to each districts to meet with students and teachers. Myers said the board is constantly looking for ways to improve the curriculum.

Mowll said he wanted to address discrepancies in academic achievement between affluent white students and everyone else. He said SAT scores must improve and help should be available to students who need it.

“We aren’t doing enough for the students that need it the most,” Mowll said.  

Maull-Martin said students need to be provided with every opportunity to be successful, starting at an early age. She said some students start at a deficit; the district’s job is to create opportunities. Maull-Martin said the district is failing students who want to enter the workforce after school, instead of going to college or the military. She said high school students who want to take up a trade have only one option, going to Sussex Tech because Cape cannot provide those classes for them.

Lewis encouraged everyone to vote, because what the board does affects how kids are educated.

Jackson said parent involvement has a big impact on student achievement. He then touched on a variety of topics, such as school uniforms - he’s not convinced - and greater investment in pre-kindergarten. Finally, Jackson said the lack of an academic program during the summer negatively affects students.

Finally, Collick said he supports a universal pre-kindergarten program so all children learn to read and write early. He said he supported the idea of school uniforms, which he said would set a standard of high expectations and cut down on the necessity of enforcing a dress code.

The Cape Henlopen School Board elections will be held Tuesday, May 14, in all Cape schools.

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