A Red Clay task force leader wants to reinvent Alexis I. du Pont High School as a magnet school with a green campus that offers environmental science classes to prepare students for jobs in green industries.
The rebranding movement, which has been warmly endorsed by government officials and others, is designed to help halt the shocking decline in AI enrollment, which has fallen more than 50% in the past decade, by offering something new to attract to more students.
“We decided it was great that AI High became the greenest high school in Delaware and Greenville, Delaware,” said Victor J. Leonard Jr., a member of the Red Clay Consolidated School District board, at a board meeting in October.
The idea was unveiled Wednesday night at the board’s November meeting with support from the public, including state Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, a former educator, but also with concern from some administrators and board members. who questioned the organization and purpose of Leonard’s committee.
Board member Cathy Thompson warned for the second meeting in a row that the task force was not operating under the rules of board governance committees.
Rather than a loose group of people interested in the idea brainstorming, the task force should have a defined mission, specifically named members including teachers and an expectation of what it will produce, he said Wednesday and at the October meeting. .
No matter what Leonard’s group is called, it’s an advisory committee, he said.
Leonard, who taught at AI for 20 years, had suggested the task force, and himself as its leader, at the board’s September meeting.
AI duPont enrollment drop
AI duPont, which was founded in 1893, had been an academic and athletic powerhouse for decades before enrollment began to decline in 2009. It gained national attention in 2020 as the site of the first campaign event with Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.
Leonard said in September that the district had been talking about how AI enrollment had dropped from 1,220 in 2009 to 547 this year, but was not doing anything about it.
The drop in enrollment had decimated achievement scores, athletic teams and extracurricular activities like band, he and others said.
An October report from the administration listed many reasons for the decline in enrollment:
- The district has insisted that charter and magnet schools accept more students from Red Clay instead of taking those from outside the district.
- Specialty schools like the Conrad Schools of Science and the Cab Calloway School of the Arts have matured. Conrad, for example, started as a magnet school with 216 students in 2007, while AI duPont had 1,500. By 2021, Conrad had 669 students.
- Wilmington Charter School is also accepting more students from Red Clay.
- Odyssey Charters opened near AI in 2015 and 74 Red Clay students now go there.
- The district stopped busing students who chose AI duPont in 2018, meaning they had to find their own transportation, and the number of those students decreased.
- There are fewer students in the AI feeder pattern, which includes Greenville, Hockessin, part of Centerville and North Star, Cool Springs, and Wawaset Park. Many of those families are wealthy enough to send students to private schools, and Delaware now ranks fourth in the country for the number of students attending private schools, a board member said.
Superintendent Dorrell Green, who in September suggested that the board give the administration time to come up with a plan rather than create a task force, signaled again Wednesday that the administration was aware of the concern.
“There’s a lot of passion and a lot of focus around AI, and it’s been something that I’ve shared with the board and it’s been on our radar, especially during my tenure here,” Green said. “AI is probably the only high school that we have that doesn’t really have a unique identity right now.”
But that identity could be many things, he said.
The Red Clay system this week entered into a partnership with Future First Gaming to turn AI duPont’s esports club into an active classroom pathway with ties to the University of Delaware esports program. It will teach programming and other technical skills. That happened the day after San Marcos celebrated its new esports facility.
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Any changes to AI should include school administrators, teachers and alumni while looking at current demographics, Green said. The system has more than 16,000 students this year, about 200 fewer than a decade ago, she said.
“It’s not just about trying to grow the numbers as much as programming to keep the existing numbers there, because the demographics of AI have changed from what they have historically been,” he said. “So how can we collectively work together and look for things that are sustainable?”
Any decision also needs the commitment of higher education institutions, he said.
The administration would be happy to work with the task force and assemble a core team to help, Green said.
Board chair Kecia Nesmith, who voted against creating the task force in September, reiterated Wednesday the wording of the motion that created Leonard’s committee:
“The purpose of the AI du Pont High School Task Force is to assist district and school staff in identifying resources and programs that meet the needs of current AI High School students and families and attract future students and families through new and innovative courses and programs. , while also suggesting ideas for a rebrand of the AI du Pont High School campus.”
Green said Mark Pruitt, Red Clay’s director of secondary education, would work with the committee.
Leonard made it clear he wasn’t moved by Green’s reasons for AI duPont’s decline, nor by suggestions that the committee slow down or consider adhering to the standard operating procedures the board uses.
“I think Superintendent Green oversimplified the problems that were cause and effect for AI,” he said. “There were missteps in my opinion and many other opinions that some decisions were made at the district level.”
The board and district should have noticed them, but they were fired year after year, he said. Nobody said anything about it until this year, he said.
Betsy Price is a freelance writer from Wilmington with 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.