Delaware News

School district sets timeline for Willis' transformation

Last classes at 131-year-old building to be held in 2016-17 as school becomes district offices

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With Dempsey Middle School's renovations just months away, the Delaware City School District is beginning to plan for the transition of Willis Intermediate School students to Dempsey and the district's five elementary schools.

Delaware voters strongly approved a 3.6-mill bond issue last spring, allowing the district to move forward with plans for a major facilities overhaul that will affect every district building. The $50 million project will include the conversion of the 131-year-old Willis facility from a school building into administrative offices.

The district will return to a traditional grade configuration, with the elementary schools housing grades K-5, Dempsey holding grades 6-8 and Hayes High School housing grades 9-12.

The transition will occur in stages as each building undergoes renovations and classroom spaces open up, district leaders said.

The stages are:

* 2014-15 -- work will take place at Schultz and Dempsey with site preparation at Hayes; no changes to grade alignment.

* 2015-16 -- work will take place at Carlisle, Woodward and Hayes; sixth-graders will move to Dempsey.

* 2016-17 -- work will take place at Conger, Smith, Willis, Hayes and the transportation center; Schultz, Carlisle and Woodward will receive fifth-graders.

By the 2017-18 school year, all fifth-grade students will be housed in one of the five elementary schools, and Willis will become an administrative building with space available for community use.

Superintendent Paul Craft recently met with instructors at Willis to discuss how the transition will occur and how teachers will move into their new buildings.

One of the main concerns that arose is how to maintain the current team teaching structure in the new buildings.

Willis currently uses teams of about four instructors to teach subjects such as math or social studies.

"We are going to continue the departmentalization and we have been designing the classrooms for fifth-grade students to support this," Craft said. "We've even discussed doing some departmentalization at the fourth-grade level."

He said many teachers are concerned about keeping the "Willis feel" as they disperse into different buildings.

"It sounds funny, but if you've ever had a student that's been through Willis, you know what we're talking about," Craft said. "There is a special feel to this school and we want to keep that spirit going through the transition process."

The district's elementary school principals plan to give presentations about their schools to Willis instructors.

Craft said he hopes by February 2015, all Willis teachers will have submitted their preferences as to which school they would like to be placed in.

"We want our teachers to know where they will end up so they can begin to be a part of the school's team and have input into the construction at the school," he said.

Placement for some of the other staff members -- such as the principal and assistant principal, custodians, secretaries and special-education teachers -- is up in the air.

"We are not sure when or where we will move these staff members," Craft said. "It will primarily be driven by where the needs are within the district."

Craft said the district is continuing to grow during the construction process, which means discussions will continue and decisions will be made on how to keep up with the growth.

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