Cape Henlopen School District turned 50 this year

September 27, 2019

Hazel Brittingham, my go-to Lewes history source for more than 40 years, doesn’t see well these days. Into her ninth decade, macular degeneration has clouded her vision, erasing most details other than shapes and colors, robbing her of her ability to read and drive, narrowing the focus of her day-to-day living. But historical details that have etched their way into Hazel’s mind are no less sharp now than when they unfolded before her vision began failing.

We talked recently about the formation of Cape Henlopen School District in 1969, a consolidation of the former Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth school districts. That makes 2019 the 50th anniversary of the district’s founding. Fiftieth anniversaries are milestones that historians don’t want to go unnoticed.

Hazel was in her 14th year of employment with the Lewes School District when the transition came.

“That was 50 years ago!” said Hazel. “Do you believe it? Where has the time gone?”

Most of us have that feeling from time to time.

Delaware was in the throes of desegregating its public schools at the time the state’s General Assembly passed the Educational Advancement Act of 1968 - a time of great social turmoil. The act stipulating reorganization and consolidation was to go into effect July 1, 1969. Not the most romantic of conceptions, but it set the birth of Cape Henlopen School District into motion.

Writing is a powerful memory builder. As secretary to Lewes District Superintendent Frank Mercer, who would go on to become Cape Henlopen’s first superintendent, Hazel typed up most of the meeting minutes and related correspondence. With a 15-member joint board comprising the five members of the Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth school boards, there was plenty of paperwork. According to Hazel, the first official meeting of the composite board of the new Cape Henlopen School District came on July 21, 1969. It was at that meeting that the board authorized construction of a new high school.

Construction started in 1974

Construction of the first Cape Henlopen High School commenced in 1974. The new building opened in fall 1976. It housed students for 30 years before demolition made way for the current high school structure.

Prior to the first school’s completion, the former Lewes High School building served as the first Cape Henlopen High School. The students who started their final school year as Cape Henlopen’s first senior class also became Cape Henlopen High School’s first graduates, in June 1970.

Realizing the students who received their diplomas this past June 2019, were part of the 50th graduating class feels odd. I had to check the math. 2019 minus 1970 doesn’t add up to 50. (Thank a math teacher for that ability.) 

With Hazel sitting across from me at her worktable, I put pen to paper, wrote out the years and added them to convince myself. Zero does have value after all. The first graduation came in 1970, the10th in 1979, the 50th in 2019.

In a note written to me in 2011 - (Hazel keeps copies of absolutely everything!) - she noted: “Many of the graduates of 1970 remained in the area and formed a portion of our business scene: my son, Kim; Butch Emmert, Bryce Lingo, Fred Sposato, Bill Collick, Mayor Sam Cooper, Robert Gibbs, Bill Landon, Ken Lingo, Janet Maull, Kevin Moore, Carole Schroeder Short - to name a few.”

In our recent conversation, she also felt it important to remember all of the superintendents - to date - of the district. They include, in order, F. Robert Mercer, 1969; F. Stephenson Matthes, 1980; Dr. James L. Wilson, 1981; Marshall W. Jones, 1991; Suellen Skeen, 1993; Dr. Dane A. Brandenberger, 1999;  Dr. George E. Stone, 2005; David Robinson, 2010; Kevin Carson, 2011; and Robert Fulton, 2012.

Happy Anniversary, Cape Henlopen School District.

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