First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney and the members of the End Childhood Hunger Task Force (ECHO) announced recipients of the First Chance awards on Friday, September 18. Those receiving the award stepped up to keeping Delaware fed when schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Milford School District was among the recipients.
“School-based food services represent our front line of defense against childhood hunger and in support of the nutrition essential to healthy development and learning,” First Lady Carney said. “When school buildings had to close, it took a wide range of teams, comprised of dedicated, creative, determined individuals, to devise and implement plans to continue to feed our kids. We are so very grateful for their extraordinary work, which they are still doing, on behalf of the children of Delaware. We are proud to recognize these leaders and teams with First Chance awards for their extraordinary service to Delaware’s children during the pandemic.”
Trish Gerken, Public Information Officer for Milford School District applauded the district’s Child Nutrition program and Sharron Forrest, Supervisor of Child Nutrition for the district, for stepping up without pause to be sure that the district’s children were fed during the COVID-19 closures. In addition to the regular program, meals were offered to all children 18 and under.
“This was thanks to a waiver from USDA that has allowed us to serve our whole community, not just enrolled students,” Gerken said. “Since we fall under the Community Eligibility Provision, all our schools qualified for free summer meals. We needed to follow the Summer Food Service Program meal requirements and regulations. The USDA allowed several waivers which helped make the quick transition easier to manage. This included allowing parents to pick up meals without their children in the car and allowing us to serve several meals at the time of pick-up. We wanted to reduce the number of times parents had to drive to the pick-up site. During this time, we were able to serve over 61,116 breakfasts and 61,019 lunches.”
Gerken explained that there were many challenges in getting food to those who needed it, most especially getting the word out to the community.
“We used our “All Call” system to contact district families,” Gerken said. “Flyers were distributed, and our website and social media pages were used, but still some people were unaware. We did curbside pick-up and used our district van to reach those in Ellendale. Our wonderful Child Nutrition staff stepped up to the plate so there were no issues with staffing.”
Awards like this publicize the importance of feeding children, especially in times of national crisis, Gerken stated. It also shows the dedication of school districts and charters in Delaware, proving that they will do anything they can to support children and families. Gerken pointed out that Milford School District will always put children first. There is no monetary benefit to the award, but the district will receive a commemorative coaster.
“The First Chance Award is a tremendous honor for our Child Nutrition team, an honor truly earned through their relentless work during the pandemic,” Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, said. “We are very proud of our Child Nutrition team’s response and exceptional services during the past spring and summer for our students, families and communities. They were extraordinary in their dedication to preparing and providing meals during this time. IN addition, Ms. Forrest continues to be exemplary with her leadership of the Child Nutrition program and in providing critical services for our students and the communities that we serve. Deservedly, Ms. Forrest will receive the First Chance Award on behalf of our Child Nutrition team. We acknowledge the great job our School Cafeteria Managers did in leading the operations of our feeding sites as well. Furthermore, we would like to congratulate Stephanie Dukes of the Family Outreach Multipurpose Community Center for also receiving the First Chance Award and her continued excellence in providing much needed resources for our surrounding communities.”
For the first six weeks of school, Milford School District students began learning using a fully remote program based on a Milford School District Board of Education decision on Monday, August 6. The school district worked diligently to provide internet hotspots and Chromebooks to any family that needed assistance with technology. Remote learning was set up in synchronous and asynchronous formats, requiring students to be present online at specific times of the day for some lessons while others could be completed at the student’s own pace. Remote learning began on September 9.
On September 21, intense and complex need students began attending school in classrooms. According to Laura Manges, Director of Student Services, told the Board that 150 families had committed to programming on-site.
“Students showed up in the district today,” Manges said. “We have been able to put therapeutic interventions in place. We spent a lot of time planning with transportation. Every building was well-prepared by engaging in training with Dr. Peel, myself and our school nurses. Our staff felt confident, safe and well-prepared for our students to enter today. It was a great undertaking today and we are very proud we were able to support our students in the first phase of the return today.”
The phase-in will continue starting Monday, September 28 when Pre-Kindergarten and special needs children return to the classroom. On October 5, new English learner students start on-site learning with Kindergarten through Grade 3 returning to the classroom on October 12. Grades 4 and 5 return October 19 and Grades 6 through 8 return October 26. Because of the nature of the classes they take, Grades 9 through 12 will not return to the classroom until November 16.
“We did a lot of planning,” Manges said. “We have abbreviated timeframes for our kids who have complex needs so that they can get back to the classroom four days each week. It looks very safe and I think everyone feels good about their return.”
School Board President Jason Miller commended the staff for their hard work in dealing not only with remote learning but also putting a plan in place to bring children safely back to the classroom. He encouraged Manges to push for more students to return to the classroom.
“We have been doing that,” Manges said. “We have gotten some guidance from the Department of Education with regard to recovery educational practices as well as language and opportunities that we are building into IEPs for those students. We don’t want anyone to fall behind. This was week one and we are holding those meetings to see what we can offer on-site and virtually for those kiddoes who are struggling.”
In addition to discussion regarding student’s returning to the classroom, the Board approved an adjustment to the attendance policy to address remote and hybrid learning.
“We are officially off and running and I can assure you it is a dramatic difference between the professional learning and the collaboration with the students and families than in previous years,” Dr. Bridget Amory, Supervisor of Secondary Student Learning, said. “We are making the best of our remote learning. We are seeing 95 percent attendance in the remote learning setting along with the random pet, sibling, family member or stuffed animal that may join. We are working to provide families with onsite internet connectivity. We just announced that we will be offering evening internet services at three schools to address community needs. One of our students, Michelle Perez, said ‘So far, I have been able to overcome each obstacle and am hopeful that the rest of the school year will move smoothly.’ This endeavor has been a fierce learning curve for all of us. Our teachers are sharing resources and creative ideas more than ever with a “we are in this together” mentality. We are definitely working together more than ever which is indeed the spirit of the Milford community.”
Board Member David Vezmar stated that he received several emails from families who were struggling with the remote learning process and that it seemed younger children were having the most difficulty sitting in front of a screen to learn.
“But, overwhelmingly, I have heard nothing but positive about how the students log in, the support the teachers are giving,” Vezmar said. “All I keep hearing is how Milford School District staff and administration are doing an amazing job.” Board Member Judy Purcell agreed, stating that she sat in on a few classes and saw the patience teachers had when they told children to “click here to go to your next class” or guided a student through the technology necessary to get where they needed to be.
Dr. Amory explained that there was a need to make changes to the current attendance policy, mostly for record-keeping purposes. The changes are considered an extension of Milford School Board Policy 5403.
“During hybrid or remote learning, the school day consists of 3.5 to 5 hours daily of synchronous or asynchronous learning,” Dr. Amory said. “Attendance may be based on a combination of participation in, completion or submission of assignments. While attendance is important, it does not reflect learning. If a student is giving us evidence of attending online and submitting work, they are marked present. If they are not attending, but submitting work, they are still marked present. We have created a chart for staff to use that simplifies how they should determine if a child is present or absent.”
Amory explained, based on a question from Purcell, that there is a set window for submitting assignments completed during synchronous learning in order for a student to be marked present if they were initially marked absent.
The new policy also provides additional reasons a child’s absence may be marked excused. These include documented power outages, documented internet service provider outages, documented unexpected technical difficulties such as software updates, password resets, etc., and complications created by the State of Emergency which interfere with student participation in school.
The Board voted six to zero to approve the adjustment to the attendance policy. In addition. Board Member Rony Baltazar-Lopez asked that the new policy be posted in Creole, Spanish and English.
“I would also like to add to one of our agendas, maybe in October or November, a discussion about attendance,” Baltazar-Lopez said. “In the 2019-20 school year, 13 percent of our students suffered chronic absenteeism. While remote learning may be a contributing factor this year, I think this is an important discussion to have at a future board meeting.” Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, stated that he would take steps to be sure a discussion about attendance was on a future board agenda.
Milford School District Board of Education voted six to zero Monday night to allow fall sports.
Practices and pre-season games for soccer, cross country, football and field hockey, which will all play shortened seasons, can begin on Monday, Sept. 28. All the seasons will end in December.
During the meeting, parents argued that students needed to be playing and be together, not glued to computer or television screens. Parents and coaches argued that if Milford didn’t allow sport, students would leave the system to go to one that did allow sports.
“This is about what is doing what is best for our kids,” Sherry Geesaman said during the meeting’s public comment section. “Getting our kids back out on the field and playing is absolutely the best thing for our kids. Not being in the classroom is not best for our kids. Getting 90 minutes of your core education each day is not best for our kids. Not being with classmates is not best for our kids.”
All Delaware school districts will be dealing with the same issue, because a cascade of events at state level puts the issue back in their laps.
In August, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association cited state rules that said sports were not safe and pushed fall sports into seasons between winter and springs sports.
Then this month, the Delaware Division of Public Health reversed its stand against playing sports by issuing guidelines for playing fall sports that included masks for all athletes, even football players and wrestlers. Gov. John Carney, who had been saying he couldn’t imagine how kids could play football with masks and safety precautions, then urged the DIAA to reconsider its rules. DIAA did, voting for shortened seasons.
But that sent the issue to the Delaware Department of Education Board, who on Sept. 17 voted 4-3 to allow fall sports. The hours-long discussion often focused on issues of equity. They included why the board should allow sports, but not allow other student activities such as marching band, choirs, theatre and various clubs. They also included what would happen if one system decided to allow sports and another didn’t. Several board members and speakers referred to six districts already saying they would not play sports.
The board’s decisions means individual districts have to decide whether to offer fall sports.
While Geesaman supported sports in Milford, she supported a lot more: “I am all for kids playing sports but we need them back in the classroom as soon as possible.”
Jack Frederick, the parent of four Milford School District students, said he was concerned that if Milford voted not to have sports, students would transfer to neighboring districts that did choose to play this fall. He believed that the ripple effect could last for years.
Milford High athletics director Ryan Winkleblech told the board that the school did have practices over the summer for five different teams.
“We followed a process, we had a check list and we did temperature checks,” Winkleblech said. “We documented all the information and I must submit that at the end of each week.
“Our kids are rising to the occasion. They are taking this seriously. We have scheduled our volleyball, soccer and field hockey games so that we can avoid having more than two competitions at one site.”
Cross country head coach Lance Skinner, who is also president of Milford Little League, said his organization was the only one south of Middletown to hold games over the summer.
“It went off without a hitch,” Skinner said. “Everyone took it seriously. Everyone followed the guidelines and it went fine. All the kids who have returned for cross country are very excited, but they are taking it all seriously.
“They are wearing masks, they are dealing with the pre-practice check-ins. They are social distancing. As they enter the field, the must use hand sanitizer and wear a mask. Once the race starts, they can remove the mask, but it must be placed back on as they leave the track.”
Andrea McPike, the Buccaneers’ field hockey coach, agreed with Skinner. Each girl is compliant no matter what is asked of them, McPike stated. They arrive 30 minutes before practice with masks on. The girls must respond to the same checklist as other sports and have their temperature checked.
“There is a fence around the field that has poles that are eight feet apart,” McPike said. “Each girl is assigned one of those poles where they place all their gear. They must use hand sanitizer as they enter the field. During practice, they are required to wear masks.
“We take a short break where the girls can go to the pole, get a drink of water from a bottle they bring themselves. We sanitize the ball if it is touched. We wipe down cones. The girls are not hesitating to do anything we ask so that they can play field hockey.”
Todd French, who has been coaching soccer at Milford for over 13 years, supported Frederick’s concerns that if Milford did not have fall sports, students would leave the district for those who did have them.
“I have 13 very talented seniors,” French said. “They have been looking forward to this season for a long time and they knew that if they slipped up and did not do the right thing, they could cost the whole team and possibly the school. They felt like they should lead the way.
“I am concerned that if we decide not to have fall sports, I will have to push some of my very talented kids to another school. These kids have college scholarships on the line. That is just how it is in sports and I would hate to see that happen.”
Board member Jean Wylie asked about transportation to and from games.
Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson explained that each bus was limited to 25 students and that drivers would follow the same protocols as they did for summer school. One of the DIAA board members said during their meeting this month that the sports groups need to push the Department of Public Health to change the bus rules for sports teams.
Athletics director Winkleblech said some teams may need to take two buses. Dickerson said spectators are limited to no more than one per student and that he expected that would remain throughout the season.
“As it is, we can only have 250 people if we get that approved by the state like we did for graduation,” Dickerson said. “We are looking at this as a conference because we want it to be uniform. If there are changes, we will keep the board informed.”
Susan Zunsweller, Milford Public Library’s Teen Center Department Supervisor, is creating help and resources for both parents and teens to help them through virtual learning and home schooling. Zunsweller has created a survey in order to collect information on what types of resources would be beneficial.
“Without parent or teen insight, I have no idea of what to help with,” Zunsweller said. “We really need parents and teens to complete the survey so that we can put this program together. If the program is successful, we may make it permanent for home schooled students.”
Zunsweller explained that there are things parents can do to help their child with the virtual learning format. She suggested developing a routine just like one that is followed during the school year. Creating an agenda each night before going to bed can help prepare a student for the next day from the minute they wake up. Getting up, eating breakfast, completing exercise routines and showering before sitting down at the computer for virtual learning gets teens into the mindset that this is still school and that they must be mentally as well as physically prepared for school.
“It is also important to build in some personal “me” time,” Zunsweller said. “Students need time to decompress from the day’s stress. It is normal for a teen to want some privacy from other family members. They should be allowed to create a quiet or creative time, listening to music or hanging out with friends virtually. The Teen Center has a Discord site that teens can go to and chat with their friends.” The Discord site can be found at https://discord.gg/ZtYdEaW.
It is also important to remember that teens are just as concerned about COVID-19 as their parents. Talking openly about the virus and, if your teen expresses information you know to be incorrect, explaining to them what is actually true. Stressing that they should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face is important, but it is also critical to help them understand the importance of social distancing and the need for face coverings. If your teen is involved in sports or will need to spend time with others who live outside the household, suggest that they avoid visiting older people or those who have underlying medical conditions.
“Learning virtually can be overwhelming,” Zunsweller said. “Make sure that if you do not understand what your teacher is presenting in the Zoom session, email them and ask for extra help. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help you, but you and only you can be responsible for figuring out what you do and do not understand. Take notes as you would if you were in a physical classroom. Supplement your learning in other ways, such as internet searches, books or visits to local museums, many of which are now open with limited hours. Zooming is not the same as being in the classroom so think of ways you can extend your learning. If you need help to extend your learning, talk to your parents, teachers, grandparents or call us here at the library.”
Zunsweller asked that all parents and teens in Milford and the surrounding area complete the survey which is located on the Milford Library site as well as the Milford Public Library Facebook page. The deadline for the survey is September 18.
Milford School District will begin the school year in an all-virtual format with plans to transition to a hybrid format in mid-October. This has led teachers to not only develop additional technical skills but also to come up with creative ways to engage students who will not physically be in their classroom.
“As I prepare for virtual learning to begin, I feel like I am a first-year teacher all over again,” Lauren French, a 5th-grade teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School. “No class could ever prepare teachers for this shift. We are learning as we go and soaking in as much information as possible to make this experience successful for our students.”
Jenna Conaway, who teaches 7th-grade math at Milford Central Academy stated that virtual learning was a definite curveball for her as a teacher.
“I spent most of the spring and even summer training myself in new ways to present material to students in an online platform,” Conaway said “I think the most difficult part of preparing for virtual learning is trying to find ways to reach all children and keep them engaged as well as create that teacher/student connection that is achieved by face-to-face learning.”
Elaine Norris, who teaches 2nd grade at Mispillion Elementary, pointed out that preparing for the upcoming school year has always been an exciting and busy time. She began preparing for school well before each school year began, sometimes at the end of the previous year and during her summer break.
“However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for this school year presents a unique set of challenges,” Norris said. “There is a lot of necessary training to be done in order to be effective in a remote setting. I have learned new computer programs and platforms such as Google Meet, Zoom, Screencastify, ClassDojo and even learned a few technical skills as I tinkered around with my Chromebook, desktop computer, document camera and more to be sure I can give the best teaching and learning experience to all of my students and families. Phew…that’s a lot! That is on top of the typical pressure I put on myself to give my best at all times. So is it challenging? Yes, but teachers meet those challenges head-on and overcome them with the support of our administration, support staff, families and the community. We are better together!”
Sharlitta Gilbert, an ESL teacher at Milford High School, did not find preparation for the new school year difficult at all, just different. At the end of the summer, Gilbert is normally doing professional development and training on how to bring better in-person lessons to students along with the latest techniques and strategies in education. Although she is still doing the training this year, they seem to be focused on virtual learning and how to teach remotely.
“Anyone who knows me knows that technology is not one of my strengths,” Kimberly Webb, a 4th-grade inclusion teacher, said. “I do believe that virtual learning has pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me a more well-rounded educator and person. It is my belief that virtual learning has brought us all closer together as we have had to depend on one another in ways we never have had to before. I must confess that my colleague and dear friend, Courtney Lee, has truly been my saving grace. She has spent countless hours exploring new technology platforms, assisting me with building my own class website and troubleshooting my many, many technology problems. There are many, many Courtney’s across Milford School District. I am proud to be among such professional educators!”
Webb also believes that COVID-19 taught her many important lessons but the most important was the need for flexibility in all aspects of her life. As a parent herself, she understands that the circumstances are far from ideal but if parents, teachers, and students remain flexible, working collaboratively, anything is possible. She encourages families to reach out with questions or concerns they may have. Webb believes that effective communication is the key to success for any relationship, even that of a family and educator.
“Our Buccaneers are resilient,” Webb said. “They (students) inspire us each and every day. I would encourage all Buccaneers to remain positive, engaged, and continue to work hard at achieving their goals. I recognize learning and school is going to look very different from years past, however, please know we are here to inspire, listen, educate and love. Together, we can and will do this!” Banneker students will be scheduled into two synchronous learning sessions, one in the morning from 8:15 to 11:15 AM and one in the afternoon from 12 to 3 PM. Students are only required to attend one session. Students who cannot attend during those sessions will be offered asynchronous learning opportunities on a case-by-case basis.
Gilbert suggests that parents be as patient as possible and understand that they are not alone in frustration with the virtual learning process as children, educators and administrators are also in the learning process with this type of education. She stated that teachers, administrators, and other support staff are available to help parents if they are struggling. Gilbert also encourages students to be patient and try to have fun during the new method of learning. Students at the high school are required to attend synchronous classes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, learning in four classes each day with each class lasting one hour each.
“My advice for parents is to just breathe,” Norris said. “In fact, “Just Breathe” by Jonny Diaz is one of my favorite songs in the morning as I get ready for the day. This is a challenging time for us all. Your teacher has children and lives similar to yours and we understand. Just know that we are in this TOGETHER! There are no mistakes, just an opportunity to learn as we go. Parent/teacher communication is essential to getting through remote learning and this COVID-19 pandemic. My advice to students is that even though this is not a “normal” school setting, they will be expected to take this “new way” of learning seriously by taking ownership of their learning and pride in their work. Students need to be mindful of their screen time and make the learning portion of it priority. Be sure to get a good night’s rest, breakfast in the morning, and be prepared with materials and supplies, ready to go. Also, expect to enjoy their teacher and classmates in a new way. “You’re an All-Star, get your game on!” Another favorite by Smashmouth.” Norris explained that her students will be expected to attend three-hours of synchronous learning which will include “brain breaks” and “movement breaks.”
Conaway stressed that communication is critical for success during the virtual learning period. Parents should keep an open line of communication with the student and their teachers. They also need to be willing to share any concerns they have or any struggles they are seeing with their child.
“I know this is going to change the way students see education,” Conaway said. “The best advice I can offer them is to embrace the change and stay positive. They need to be willing to participate as much as possible in online learning. This includes the mandatory online sessions as well as the help sessions that will be provided. Students need to be brave enough to ask questions when needed and, at times, advocate for themselves if they are struggling. Teachers are here and willing to work with students as much as possible, you just have to be willing to let us know you need support. The more you participate, the better your learning experience will be.” Milford Central Academy students will be required to attend synchronous learning twice each week for every class. Each of the session is 45 minutes and there is an additional hour built into each 45-minute session for any additional support students may need.”
French, whose students will also participate in three-hour synchronous learning classes each day, pointed out that this is all new for teachers and administrators.
“First of all, it is okay to struggle,” French said. “I would be shocked if it went perfectly. My main piece of advice is to communicate with your child’s teachers. We’re here to help. Communication is key. As for students, they should embrace this unique and memorable time in their education. This is history in the making. One day, our students are going to tell their kids about this experience. My hope is that students come to class with an open mind and are ready for a new mode of learning.”
Both French and Norris explained that the technology aspect of the virtual learning was the biggest challenge for them. Gilbert struggled with how to adequately meet the needs of students whose first language is not English using a virtual format. She believes the district has come up with some great processes and procedures to be sure students who are not fluent in English receive the support they need academically, emotionally and physically. Conaway, who admits to being someone who likes to plan ahead, struggled with the unknowns for the upcoming year. She felt the administration did an excellent job keeping teachers up-to-date and supporting them throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She did point out that there are still some unknowns that need guidance from outside sources other than school administration. Webb, also a planner, agreed with Conaway.
“Everyone is different,” Webb said. “Everyone has experienced their own set of challenges. For me personally, my biggest challenge has simply been the uncertainty that these times have presented. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner and I love a schedule. I have had to quickly adjust to not necessarily knowing what each new day will bring. While this has been a struggle, some days harder than others, this has allowed me to develop into becoming a more flexible mother and educator.”
All of the teachers were able to find some exciting and fun aspects of the new learning format. Webb enjoyed connecting with each member of her family with hopes of scheduling personal appointments as well as how to distribute instructional material. She found that while this year will be different than others, she, like all educators, anticipates a strong opening to school and is hoping to put the last six months behind her. Gilbert has enjoyed learning new technology that will make virtual learning interactive and engaging. French loved collaborating with her colleagues, stating that she learns something from them every day. She believes they have pulled together as a team and knows they will be a source of support throughout the process. Norris has enjoyed watching teachers, staff and administration get so excited about creating Bitmoji Classrooms.
“It is fun,” Norris said. “It is so easy to go down that rabbit trail. It is also funny to watch the excitement of us when we figure out how to create a lesson in our Google classroom, or when we Google meet with each other to test our presentations, video and lighting for the camera. It takes a lot of time and effort for administration, teachers and support staff to pull this off. We are going to do our very best and with the support of families and the community, we got this!”
Conaway also found the collaboration with her colleagues to be the best part of planning the new virtual school year start. She feels that virtual learning is forcing her to grow as an educator and find new ways to mee the needs of her students, enjoying learning about new online programs that are designed to further engage students.
“While we all recognize it will be like no school year before, we are all anxiously awaiting the arrival of our students,” Webb said. “They are the reason we selected this profession and continue to do the work that we do. Prior to March 13, 2020, our last day of school, I truly believed I was part of a school district that was strong and student-centered. But now, as we embark on the upcoming school year, I am certain. #Milfordstrong. #Milfordproud.”
Milford School District Announces Changes to Nutrition Program
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 3, 2020
On Thursday, August 27, the Summer Feeding Program for Milford School District came to an end. On September 9, the District will begin offering meals through the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program.
“When COVID-19 came around and we had to do an unanticipated closure, we were allowed to start our Summer Feeding Program in March rather than wait until June,” Sharron Forest, Child Nutrition Supervisor, said. “We have been doing the Summer Feeding Program since March. Once we start regular school of any type, even in a virtual format, we must start using the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program which ends our Summer Feeding Program.”
Parents may come to the school at designated times in order to pick up meals for their children. These are the same meals served when a child is in school but they are being offered curbside rather than in the cafeteria. The District will provide hot and cold options as well as meals that can be heated at home. Once children begin attending school in classrooms again, breakfast and lunch will be delivered to the classroom.
UPDATE: “Milford School District will begin offering free meals to children under the age of 18 on Wednesday, September 9,” Trish Gerken, Public Information Officer, said. “This is a welcome change to our previous announcement, which required student enrollment in the District to receive meals. On August 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended several flexibilities that will allow summer meal program operators, such as Milford School District, to continue serving free meals to all children into the fall months.”
Gerken explained that prior to this, guidelines were based on the National School Breakfast and Lunch program where the district was required to serve only children enrolled in the district. There are no income requirements and no exchange of detail requirements such as last name and student ID. The meals are at no charge.
“We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school food service professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation,” Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said. “This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”
Forrest was extremely pleased to learn of the federal waivers.
“This is fantastic news for the families of the Milford community who have been struggling through this pandemic to feed their children due to loss of jobs or income,” Forrest said. “Without this program, families would face the increased burden of trying to feed children during the school year, when children are normally getting free meals in schools. Our children are our most important resources and throughout this crisis, we need to keep them nourished so they can learn and thrive, whether learning remotely or in school Please support the Child Nutrition program and staff by getting your free meals at the school closest to your home.”
The Weekend Backpack Program, conducted in partnership with the Delaware Food Bank, will continue. This program provides a “backpack” of food for students who may not have enough food at home over the weekend.
“We are continuing our Weekend Backpack Program as long as the Food Bank can help,” Forrest said. “Parents can pick up the backpacks on Fridays. In addition, the National Breakfast and Lunch Program still does not allow us to provide meals on non-instruction days. That means there are no meals on weekends and holidays, including Election Day.”
Meal Dates, Times and Locations are as follows:
Benjamin Banneker Elementary and Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center
September 9 and 11 from 11:30 AM until 12 Noon
September 14, 16 and 18 from 10:30 until 11:00 AM
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 10:30 to 11:00 AM
Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center
September 9 and 11 from 11:30 AM until 12 Noon
September 14, 16 and 18 from 10:30 until 11:00 AM
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 10:30 to 11:00 AM
Houston Volunteer Fire Department
September 9 and 11 – 11:30 to 12 Noon
September 14, 16 and 18 from 11:00 to 11:30 AM
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 11:00 to 11:30 AM
Milford Central Academy
September 9 and 11 – 11:30 to 12 Noon
September 14, 16 and 18 from 11:00 to 11:30 AM
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 11:00 to 11:30 AM
Mispillion Elementary School
September 14, 16 and 18 from 11:00 to 11:45 AM
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 11:00 to 11:45 AM
Mount Zion AME Church, Ellendale
September 9 and 11 from 11:30 AM until 12 Noon
September 14, 16 and 18 from 11:30 until 12 Noon
September 21 and going forward every Monday, Tuesday and Friday – 11:30 until Noon
Trish Gerken, who has served as the Executive Director of DMI for the past year, will step into a new role starting September 1. Gerken has been selected as the Milford School District Public Information Officer, a new position created by the Board in July.
“When COVID-19 turned the world upside down, it became very apparent the need to get sensitive information out not only quickly, but with correct information,” Gerken said. “I have many years’ experience writing press releases, managing social media, and website management. The way information and news is consumed has changed so much and social media platforms are a great way to get information out immediately with a wide reach. My skillset perfectly aligns with the needs of a Public Information Officer and, as a resident of Milford and product of the school district, it seemed a natural fit.”
Gerken graduated from Milford High School in 2005 and currently lives in Milford with her partner, Stu, and son, Quintin. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Political Science from the University of Delaware. In addition to working for DMI, Gerken has also worked at Buena Vista as a Historic Site Supervisor under the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. She was a Marketing and Retail Assistant for Delaware State Parks, an Administrative Assistant for the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village. She also served on the Board of Directors for the Delaware Association of Environmental Education from 2016-2019, acting as co-treasurer in 2018.
“I think the biggest challenge for everyone right now is COVID-19 and how to navigate our lives around it,” Gerken said. “With children beginning the school year fully virtual and transitioning, if opted, into a hybrid model, it will be very important that the lines of communication between schools and district families are open. Keeping families informed with the latest information and resources will be instrumental for a successful first semester. It will also be important that all communities are reached, which means ensuring information is translated into Spanish and Creole and released on various outlets.
Gerken sees her role at the district as being instrumental in making sure all families are up-to-date on the most important information, including the academic calendar and transitioning from virtual learning to hybrid learning and so on, child nutrition programs, and health resources for students and families. Having this role will make it much easier to communicate with district families and celebrate our school district, teachers, staff and students.
As for her goals, Gerken hopes to engage district families and make them proud to be part of the Milford School District family. She would also like to streamline how information is presented to the public and update the District’s website.
“I think I’ll most enjoy interacting with our District families and hearing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. I am also looking forward to recognizing awards and achievements of students, teachers, and families in the Milford community.”
On Monday, July 20, Milford School District Board of Education spent several hours discussing the State of Delaware School Reopening Plan which was released on Thursday, July 16. Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson, went through the document allowing board members to ask questions as he did.
“We just received the plan on Thursday at 4 PM so we have only had a little time to look over everything,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We needed to go through and see where we needed to make plans depending on which of the three scenarios the state says we are able to use. We know there are people who are going to be cautious and not want their children in a classroom while others want their child to go to school. We understand we need significant family input, especially as we move forward, we want our families to have some choices.”
Board Member David Vezmar pointed out that there was a regular Board Meeting planned for August 3 and he felt that this meeting would be for the board to ask planning-related questions.
“On August 3, we will probably be in the decision-making process,” Vezmar said. “I know that we normally have public comment at the beginning of the meeting. I know that there will be parents and community members who have questions and concerns. If possible, we need to either move public comment after the discussion about the reopening of schools or add an additional public comment section so that people can be heard. I also think we need to have a minimalized agenda on August 3 as we may spend a lot of time on this.”
The state issued a 34-page document outlining three scenarios that districts would follow depending on the spread of COVID-19 in early August. Scenario 1 would be fully open with students in classrooms but with social distancing and face covering requirements. Scenario 2 would be a hybrid version of school with some virtual learning and some classroom learning. If COVID-19 cases were widespread in the district, Scenario 3 would be totally remote learning like what students used in the spring. Vezmar asked whether the district was locked into the Scenario 2 if that is what the state suggests or could they err on the side of caution and remain in Scenario 3.
“I am participating in more statewide meetings this week,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I know we have some flexibility to craft the plan we use but I am not sure how much flexibility we have. We will have to get some guidance on this as we move forward.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that when the work groups in the district read the proposals from the state, they decided that any area shown as something the district “should” do, Milford would make a “must” do. He explained that face coverings and hygiene practices will be required. Although the district has some flexibility with face coverings in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3, during the summer program, the district has required face coverings for all students with no issues. The district has a supply of one-time use masks that can be given to students who don’t have a face covering or who forget to bring one to school.
“We do have some issues with students who don’t grasp the concept of six feet,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We will have some situations where we will need a little more support. What we are seeing with the face-coverings is that students are not having an issue with them. The district has been able to purchase face coverings with a clear section so students can see the mouth of the teacher, something that is important for ESL and other language classes.” Laura Manges, Director of Student Services, explained that any student or teacher who has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Students will be permitted to wear their own masks and guidelines will be provided regarding what constitutes an appropriate face-covering to meet school dress code.
Board Member Rony Baltzar-Lopez suggested that the district err on the side of caution considering the proximity of the district to the beach area where there have been upticks in cases. He also reminded the Board that the district has 37 percent low income students and that no matter what method is chosen, those students must be taken into consideration so that they do not fall any farther behind.
“I’ve made no secret about the fact that I personally do not feel it is a good idea to put kids in classrooms in September,” Vezmar said. “If we remain in the current state, a full no school building, I would suggest that teachers, at least those who want to do so, be able to teach from their classroom using Zoom or whatever method they choose. They have their smart boards, their supplies. I think that may make it easier for the teacher, it would be one person in the classroom, so I think that might make things a little less stressful.”
Jon LoBiondo, Director of Transportation, explained that transportation was particularly challenging with the state recommendations.
“I was glad that we had summer school as we were able to attempt transportation on a much smaller scale,” LoBiondo said. “Other districts have been watching us to see how transportation to summer school goes and I have been very pleased. Our concerns are that if we do the social distancing we must do on buses, we can have 22 students on the bus. We have buses in the district with 50 to 60 children on them. We will need to double the bus capacity, whether with additional runs or added buses to make this happen.”
Bus contractors and drivers were given the same cleaning products used by the schools in classrooms. After each run, the drivers and contractors spray and wipe the handrails, backs of seats and any seat where a child was sitting. Drivers and students are required to wear face coverings, but the district is allowing face shields should a driver or student prefer that type of covering.
Anyone who has suggestions, questions or comments can email Dr. Dickerson at KDickerson@milford.k12.de.us. Public comment will be permitted at the August 3 board meeting which will be held virtually. The link for the meeting will be posted on the meeting agenda under the Board tab on the Milford School District website.
On Monday, July 20, Milford School District Board of Education voted to approve two new administrative positions. The first position is an Equity and Diversity Leadership position while the second is a Public Information Officer position.
“I met this week with the new State Equity Officer, Jim Simmons to talk through how we can increase awareness of equity and access as well as how we should approach it as a district for all of us in the community,” Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, said. “What we are looking for is a specialist or supervisor which would give us a really good lens on diversity. We serve a very diverse district and we want to be sure we serve all members of the community fairly.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that the district gave a supervisor back to the state last year and that there is Title I grant funding available for such a position. There is some concern about enrollment this year which is currently 298.9. At 300, districts are provided additional positions. However, with uncertainty about enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is some concern unit counts may be lower this year.
“I’ve read through this and I think it is obviously a needed position,” Board Member David Vezmar said. “The only thing that concerns me is that it encompasses a lot of skillsets. You are asking for different supervisory skills, data lead. I just want to be sure we don’t create a position that we are looking for such a wide range of skillsets we water down the important ones.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that the many skillsets actually overlapped each other and that it was determined that the skillsets listed would work well in a human resources capacity to ensure that the district is hiring a diverse staff.
“I want to commend you for talking this initiative,” Board Member Rony Baltazar-Lopez. “I do suggest that if you are seeking bilingual although it does not have to be required, it needs to be preferred in order to offer good communication. We also want this person to review disciplinary policies to ensure fair and equitable discipline for all students.”
The Board of Education voted five to two for the new position with Board Members Kris Thompson and Jason Miller voting against the proposal.
In addition to the Equity and Diversity Leadership position, the Board also agreed to create a Public Information Officer position.
“We’ve talked about this position for quite a few years,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We really feel the need to have a public information officer and we do have funding sources for the position.”
Dr. Jason Peel, Director of Human Resources and School Climate, explained that the position would require an individual who has experience with communications, which would include press releases, articles, branding and social media.
“Some of the things we have been paying for, we can bring in-house,” Dr. Peel said. “They would keep up with the website and handle social media. It would be more than just posting on social media, but understanding when to post and using campaigns to promote the district. It would be more like communications and marketing.”
Dr. Dickerson stated that the biggest part is celebrating the students and the staff.
“We want to shine a light on the good things our kids are doing and our staff members,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We want people to know some of the awards they get and the impact they have on our community. With the school opening process, we need really good communication and I feel now, more than ever, we need a position like this.”
Baltazar-Lopez, who is a Public Information Officer, suggested that because Dr. Dickerson is the spokesperson for the District, that he approve any message issued. The position will be paid the first year using CARES Act funding and may use academic excellence units to cover the cost in future years.
The new position passed six to one with Jason Miller the only dissenting vote.
On Monday, July 6, Milford School District Board of Education voted to reduce the tax rate by 0.8 percent. The reduction was due to a decline in debt service needs due to the expiration of a bond obligation as well as the decrease in minor capital improvement funds as allocated by the State Bond Bill.
“This marks the fourth straight year that we were able to decrease school taxes,” Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, said. “Overall, state allocations remained the same for this year and we are grateful for the budget considerations given for education. Although there were no major decreases to our funding, there were no increases either. The state remained committed to State Opportunity Funds, which are important to serving many Milford students.”
A home in Kent County that has an assessed value of $29,250 and one in Sussex County with an assessed value of $10,380 will see a reduction in their annual taxes of $421 while a home assessed at $114,457 and one in Sussex County with an assessed value of $40,500 will see a reduction of $16.48. Although the assessed values are different, the rates remain the same due to differences in each county’s appraisal rates.
“The last tax assessment in Kent County was completed in 1986 and in Sussex in 1974,” Croce has said in the past. “Newer houses are being assessed at higher values in both counties as there are building materials that were not available during the last assessments, like composite decking and granite countertops” In 2019, a federal judge ruled that the method used in Delaware for property assessments was unconstitutional but no decision has been made regarding new assessments or changes to the process.
In order to significantly renovate an existing building or construct a new school, public school districts must hold a referendum obtaining approval from the taxpayers. Once the referendum is approved by the voters, the General Assembly approves the issuance of bonds to cover the cost of construction. The school district must use county tax receipts to repay those bonds which are usually between 20 and 40 percent of the construction cost. As debts are paid, the cost of debt service goes down and those savings are passed along to the taxpayer in the form of lower taxes.
Other portions of the school tax include current expenses which cover operating costs such as teaching materials, textbooks, and the local share of salaries. This rate cannot be changed unless it is approved through referendum. Match taxes are set by the Board of Education and do not require referendum. The district may assess Minor Capital Improvement, Extra Time, Technology, Reading Specialist, Math Specialist and Reading Interventionist taxes. Currently, Milford only assess the Minor Capital Improvement tax. If they do not assess that tax, they do not get state funding for building and ground repairs or maintenance.
Tuition tax provides revenue to pay tuition for district students with special needs. The tax helps cover the cost of special services that cannot be provided by Milford School District. A few years ago, the district incurred unexpected expenses for special education which required raising this portion of the tax rate significantly. Since that time, the district has implemented strategies to stabilize those expenses, allowing them to reduce the tuition tax rate over the past few years. This year the rate was lowered 0.9 percent. The district stopped collecting Capitation Tax in 2005.