DTM: East Millsboro Elementary School
“If you can predict who is going to have some difficulty, we in this business should figure out some way to help that child.”
—Gary Brittingham, former principal
- Millsboro, Delaware
- Indian River School District
- Grades PK-5
- DTM awarded in 2006
Awarded the Dispelling the Myth Award in 2006, East Millsboro continues to outperform the state.
East Millsboro Elementary School is an unassuming, one-story cinderblock elementary school in rural Delaware not far from the beach resorts of Bethany and Rehoboth. In the year it won the Dispelling the Myth Award, almost half its students came from low-income families, many of whose parents worked at the chicken processing plant down the road or in the burgeoning construction and service industries in the beach towns.
This unassuming school produces big results. In 2005, every single third- and fifth-grader — 100 percent — met the state reading standards. In addition, 98 percent of the third-graders and 96 percent of the fifth-graders met state math standards, and 90 percent or more met the state writing, science, and social studies standards.
One of the few rivals for comparable achievement is fellow Dispelling the Myth school John M. Clayton (DTM 2005) down the road. Both share a commitment to the idea that the role of teachers and schools is to make sure each child learns. As then-principal Gary Brittingham said, “If you can predict who is going to have some difficulty, we in this business should figure out some way to help that child.”
The core of helping children learn at East Millsboro is instruction, and instruction begins with the school’s “curriculum map.” The curriculum map is a document developed by East Millsboro teachers working together in grade-level teams to map out, month by month, what they will be teaching. It is drawn in part from state standards and contains the performance indicators students must meet during the month plus essential questions, skills, assessments, specialized vocabulary, and texts to be used to teach that unit. “Textbooks here are resources, not the curriculum,” Brittingham said.
As a result of the curriculum map, even teachers new to East Millsboro have clearly laid-out guidelines for what their instruction must include. When asked whether such clear direction hindered her creativity as a teacher, fifth-grade teacher Kim Bullock, a 13-year veteran, said no. “It’s impinging on what I teach when, but it doesn’t impinge on how I teach it.” Posted throughout classrooms are “essential questions,” drawn from the curriculum map, so that students know what they are supposed to be learning, “How do I tell the difference between cumulous, cirrus, and stratus clouds?” “How can you add voice to creative writing?” and “How do I use a factor tree to find prime numbers?”
In 2008, After almost 30 years as principal of East Millsboro, Brittingham became assistant superintendent for the Indian River School District and was succeeded by his long-serving assistant principal who herself retired in 2011.
It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools profiles East Millsboro Elementary School.
Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools features former principal Gary Brittingham.
More information about academic achievement in Delaware