Become Cool Again
NOTE: Sussex Beat is a mix of news, analysis and commentary by Eric Magill, publisher of Sussex County Online.
FIRST, A REMINDER: Gov. Thomas R. Carper will host a town meeting on Education Reform in the Woodbridge High School auditorium in Bridgeville on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1999, beginning at 7 p.m.
Among the many complaints lodged against the current education reform efforts in Delaware is that the skills tests that determine if a student can be promoted to the next grade are too difficult for the grade levels they are designed for.
As you know, testing of 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th graders is at the crux of the state's education reform efforts. In a practice run for the official test next June, more than half of Sussex County students tested below standards in Math and Writing and 40 percent tested below standards in Reading.
The practice run has set off all sorts of controversies, including the charge that test questions are too difficult for the grades being tested. But if that were truly the case, it doesn't figure that some schools would see much better scores than others.
At Lord Baltimore Elementary in Ocean View, for instance, 89 percent of the third graders tested at or above standards in Math, 84 percent tested at or above standards in Reading, and 65 percent tested at or above standards in Writing.
The only other third graders in the county to come close were the Southern Delaware School of the Arts and Showell Elementary. Both are in Selbyville and, like Lord Baltimore, part of the Indian River School District.
So if the test was too difficult for their intended grade levels, why were those Lord Baltimore third graders able to perform at far more acceptable levels than third graders at other schools?
Lord Baltimore doesn't have better facilities than other schools. It doesn't have more modern widgets to help teachers teach better. The building is old and trailers dot the campus. Still, LB is often likened to a private school.
Why? At Lord Baltimore, like private schools, the teachers, parents and the community place a high value on learning and education. There, learning is cool, achievement is cool, and getting good grades is cool. You get the same atmosphere in a private school.
Each year, Lord Baltimore hosts a Coastal Music & Arts Festival, a fund-raiser for the school's Parent-Teacher Organization. The event draws hundreds of people from outside the area, who all have pretty much the same eye-opening reaction -- "I wish our community was this involved in our schools".
Lord Baltimore is blessed with active parents and nearly 100 volunteers. Because of their involvement, it stands to reason that the parents consult with their students' teachers and volunteers, that the parents ensure that homework is done, and that the community instills a strong appreciation for how cool a good education is.
One of the major problems in public schools is that learning hasn't been "cool" for at least 25 years. Study and get good grades and you're labeled a Geek. Become a class clown or wear the nicest clothes and your popularity soars. Movies and TV shows have reinforced those attitudes, creating a Geek stereotype that has led to negative peer pressure and the kinds of test results we now see in Sussex County.
Frankly, education has been so uncool in Sussex County for so long that these same tests would likely have spawned the same results for decades.
If this is to change, it is up to us, as parents and community members, to help our schools make learning cool again. Instead of whining about how unfair the tests are, we should expend our energies on encouraging kids to value learning and achievement and good grades.
If enough of us do, eventually, we can reverse that peer pressure so that the "smart" kids are considered cool and other students will strive to be like them.
The next time you want to complain about the hordes of tourists who descend on Delaware -- and especially Sussex County -- in the summer, you might want to take a look at your property tax bill.
According to the state, the 13 million visitors who come to Delaware every year generate about $218 million in salaries and wages for local residents and spend about $1 billion.
The taxes generated by those dollars help defray the costs of a lot of the services we now enjoy in Sussex County and make it possible for a Sussex County homeowner to own a waterfront property with less than $1,000 a year in property taxes.
I moved back to Sussex County a few years ago from a rural community whose residents had to foot most of the bills for their services themselves because of a lack of a sizeable industry in the area. There, in an $80,000 house, our property tax bills were more than $1,300 a year. They would have been more than $2,000 a year had we lived in the adjoining borough.
I, for one, will gladly put up with the summer weekend crowds in exchange for a decent living and some of the lowest property taxes in the nation.
Speaking of tourism, several Sussex County events and programs have earned Governor's Tourism Awards.
The Bethany Beach Arts Festival was inducted into the Delaware Tourism Hall of Fame on Monday, Oct. 18, 1999, at the Sheraton Hotel in Dover.
The event has grown in 20 years from a dozen artists featuring their arts and crafts on the Bethany Beach boardwalk to a mega-event featuring more than 200 artists.
The event now draws so many people -- about 25,000 this year -- that town council begged the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce to move it from August to September out of fear that the boardwalk couldn't handle the stress of the festival plus the usual August weekend crowd.
Other Sussex County events and tourism programs honored at the banquet were:
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