Day in the sun, for Delaware school in the crosshairs

     Principal Jeff Brown addresses students at Stubbs Elementary School. First Lady Carla Markell (far right) listens. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYYNewsworks)

    Principal Jeff Brown addresses students at Stubbs Elementary School. First Lady Carla Markell (far right) listens. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYYNewsworks)

     For at least one day, Friday, F.D. Stubbs Elementary School in Wilmington wasn’t ground zero for a pitched political battle.

    There was no talk of staffing changes or extended day. There were no tableaus of struggling, low-income students stranded in a school that can’t serve them.

    Instead, there were trophies. And a man playing steel drum. And a slideshow set to the hit song, “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams. Even Delaware’s First Lady, Carla Markell, stopped by to pay tribute.

    The ocassion was a mentor appreciation ceremony for those who serve as Big Brothers or Big Sisters to the school’s students.

    In a heartfelt keynote speech, Markell detailed her 14 years as a mentor to two Wilmington youth. “Every kid should have someone in their life that fights for them and advocates for them,” Markell said.

    Awaiting a verdict

    The pleasant atmosphere belied what has been an altogether unpleasant few months for the Stubbs community.

    In September, Stubbs was one of six inner city schools targeted for turnaround by Governor Jack Markell and the state department of education. As one of the so-called priority schools, Stubbs could receive an infusion of cash from the state. But it also could be subject to drastic changes, including new leadership and new teachers. The idea, state officials say, is to improve outcomes at a school whose test scores rank among Delaware’s worst.

    The state department of education and the Christina School District are still hashing out the details of Stubbs’ turnaround plan.

    Opening the doors

    As they await their fate, Stubbs administrators have worked overtime to combat the perception that their school is failing.

    Principal Jeff Brown has what he calls an “open door policy,” meaning anyone who wants a tour of Stubbs can drop by anytime they want.

    “We just want them to come in and get the true story and see what’s going on,” Brown said. “We’re not a number. We’re not a test score.”

    So far, Brown said, Delaware attorney general, Matt Denn, and Governor Markell have taken him up on the offer. So have a number of city council members and state representatives.

    Elizabeth Paige, a member of the Christina school board, attended Friday’s event. She reads to Stubbs first-graders monthly, and said the notion of Stubbs as failing doesn’t fit the school she’s known since she was a student there in fourth grade.

    “Good stuff happens all the time at this school that people don’t know about,” she said.

     Brown knows he has a small window to change how people view Stubbs. And so he’s looking for good publicity and good vibes wherever he can find them.

    Sometimes it’s an email to the First Lady inviting her for a visit. Sometimes it’s finding a steel drum player to pipe some tropical notes into a frigid Friday morning.

    Brown got the idea for a steel drum percussionist when he saw one playing the lobby of nearby A.I. duPont Hospital.

    If the steel drum could lift spirits there, why not Stubbs, too?

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