BERLIN – Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) hosted a business breakfast in the school’s cafeteria Wednesday morning. The highlight of the breakfast was the official introduction of the SDHS Alumni Association and their first special project – the construction of a new athletic field house at the school’s stadium.
Guests during the annual breakfast included alumni, business owners, members of Worcester County public schools and several elected officials.
The Alumni Association is planning to raise all funding for the field house themselves, through donations. To completely cover the costs, the donation goal is $500,000.
According to a piece written by Lou Taylor, principal of SDHS, the new field house couldn’t come at a better time.
“As the school’s enrollment and participation in sports has increased, overcrowding of the school’s current facilities has justified the need for a new field house,” he wrote.
SDHS, with over 1,400 students, has had to make several renovations and additions to its campus to deal with its growing population. It is the largest high school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The newly formed Alumni Association, currently headed by Taylor, has asked local businesses, alumni and the parents of students for donations. Those wishing to donate can do so in either small monthly/yearly increments or for a larger one-time amount. Donations of $5,000 and up will receive special recognition from the school, including a plaque added to the stadium.
The Alumni Association will span 55 years of SDHS graduating classes and is headed by a five-man board, which, besides Taylor, includes Jay, Ryan and Ross Bergey and Gee Williams, current mayor of Berlin.
While the Alumni Association and its first project was the highlight of the business breakfast, school officials took the opportunity to present those gathered a quick update on the progress of Worcester County Public Schools.
Dr. Jon Andes, superintendent of Schools, presented a slideshow containing statistics on everything from graduation rates to educational funding.
“I have to explain these 43 slides in seven minutes or less because the principal asked me to be brief, and I always do what the principal says,” he joked.
The main point of the presentation is an old one – Worcester County schools are not receiving a fair amount of funding, despite being ranked one of the best systems (and far from the wealthiest) in the state.
“We’re ranked first in math by the MSA (Maryland State Assessment),” said Andes. “We’re ranked sixth in reading. When you combine those scores, we’re considered the third best school system out of 24 in the state of Maryland.”
Andes cited the pattern of improvement across all Worcester County schools.
“Between 2003 and 2010, the county has improved 21 percent in reading on the MSA and 30 percent in math,” he said.
But those numbers and ranking are just the beginning, according to Andes.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we’re ranked number one,” he announced.
While the presentation was mostly positive, the education funding procedure taken by Maryland, a regular issue for the county’s Board of Education, was mentioned.
Worcester receives less than half of the state average per student funding despite being considered the third best academic program in Maryland. This is because the formula for determining the amount of money each county receives from the state is based on property values, which put Worcester well into the lead as richest county.
The formula currently being used by the state does not take household income into account. In 2010, Worcester had 43 percent of students coming from what the state considers a “household of poverty.” The state average was 38 percent.
Funding from the state level generates about $2,767 per student but Worcester spent an average of $13,656 on each pupil in 2008, meaning that the bulk of educational funding came from the county level. Andes encouraged all those present at the business breakfast to continue with this pattern of local involvement and support given to area schools.
The business breakfast was wrapped up by SDHS alumnus Robert Jester, who presented a deed signed by Stephen Decatur and Decatur’s wife to Taylor. Jester had raised money with the specific intention of purchasing a written item of memorabilia from Decatur that could be displayed at the school that bares his name. Originally, Jester had planned on purchasing one of Decatur’s letters, but the deed proved better to bid on at auction. The framed deed was unveiled at the breakfast.