The leader of a Red Clay task force wants to reinvent Lycée Alexis I. du Pont into a loving school with a green campus that offers environmental science courses to prepare students for careers in eco-industries.
The rebranding, which has been warmly endorsed by government officials and others, is designed to help stem the shocking decline in AI enrollments, which have fallen more than 50% over the past decade, by offering something new to attract more students.
“We decided it was a good thing for AI High to become the greenest high school campus in Delaware and Greenville, Delaware,” said Red Clay Consolidated School District board member Victor J. Leonard Jr. , in an October tip. Meet.
The idea was met Wednesday night at the November board meeting with support from the public — including state senator Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, a former educator — but also with concern from certain directors and board members who questioned the organization and purpose of the Leonard committee.
Board member Cathy Thompson warned for the second consecutive meeting that the task force was not operating under board rules governing committees.
Instead of a loose group of people interested in the idea that gather ideas, the working group should have a defined mission, specifically appointed members that include teachers, and an expectation of what it would produce, a- she said on Wednesday and at the October meeting. .
Whatever Leonard’s group is called, it’s an advisory board, she said.
Leonard, who taught at AI for 20 years, had proposed the task force, and himself as leader, at the September board meeting.
Decline in registrations at AI duPont
AI duPont, which was founded in 1893, had been an academic and sporting powerhouse for decades before enrollment began to decline in 2009. It captured national attention in 2020 as the site of the premier campaign event featuring featured Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.
Leonard said in September that the district had talked about how AI enrollment had grown from 1,220 in 2009 to 547 this year, but was doing nothing about it.
Falling enrollment has decimated achievement scores, sports teams and extracurricular activities such as the band, he and others said.
An October report from the administration listed numerous reasons for declining enrollment:
- The district insisted that charter and magnet schools take in more Red Clay students instead of choosing those from outside the district.
- Magnet schools such as the Conrad Schools of Science and the Cab Calloway School of the Arts matured. Conrad, for example, started as a magnet school with 216 students in 2007, while AI duPont had 1,500. In 2021, Conrad had 669 students.
- Wilmington Charter School is also welcoming more Red Clay students.
- Odyssey Charters opened just down from IA in 2015 and 74 Red Clay students now go there.
- The district stopped providing bus service in 2018 for students who chose AI duPont, which meant they had to find their own transportation, and the number of those students plummeted.
- Fewer students are in the AI feeding model, 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 nation for the number of students attending private schools, a board member said.
Superintendent Dorrell Green — who suggested in September that the board give the administration time to come up with a plan instead of creating a task force — again noted Wednesday that the administration is aware of the concern.
“There’s a lot of passion and a lot of attention around AI, and it’s something I’ve shared with the board that has been on our radar, especially during my tenure here,” Green said. “AI is probably the only high school we have that really doesn’t have a unique identity right now.”
But that identity could be many things, he said.
The Red Clay system this week celebrated a partnership with Future First Gaming to transform AI duPont’s esports club into an active classroom pathway tied into the University of Delaware’s esports program. It will teach programming and other technical skills. This happened the day after Saint-Marc celebrated its new esports facilities.
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Any changes to AI must include school administrators, teachers and alumni while considering current demographics, Green said. The system has more than 16,000 students this year, about 200 fewer than a decade ago, he said.
“It’s not just about trying to roll the numbers down as much as putting programs in place to maintain the existing numbers, because the demographics of AI have changed from what they were historically,” did he declare. “So how can we collectively work together and look at things that are sustainable.”
Any decision also requires the commitment of higher education institutions, he said.
The administration would be happy to work with the task force and build a core team to help, Green said.
Board Chair Kecia Nesmith, who voted against creating the task force in September, reiterated on Wednesday the wording of the motion that created Leonard’s committee:
“The purpose of the AI Du Pont High School Task Force is to help district and school staff identify resources and programs that meet the needs of current AI High School students and families and to attract future students and families through new and innovative courses and programs, while suggesting ideas for a rebranding of the Lycée AI du Pont campus.
Green said Mark Pruitt, director of secondary education for Red Clay, will work with the committee.
Leonard made it clear that he was not moved by Green’s reasons for the decline of AI duPont, or by suggestions that the committee slow down or consider adhering to standard operating procedures used by the board.
“I think Superintendent Green oversimplified the issues that were cause and effect for AI,” he said. “There have been missteps in my opinion and many other opinions that some decisions were made at the district level.”
They should have been noticed by the council and by the district, but have been let go year after year, he said. No one 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.
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