Frankford Elementary to be featured on TV

More than three-quarters of Frankford Elementary school’s student population is on the school’s free or reduced-price lunch program — a measure of their poverty level. Almost 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, many of whom first enroll in the school with little to no familiarity with the English language. Yet the school still annually performs amongst the best in the state on standardized tests and has been recognized statewide and nationally for achievement.

Those statistics and the unlikely success that has emerged from the true “neighborhood school” is what attracted officials to feature Frankford Elementary on its January edition of “Education News Parents Can Use,” a U.S. Department of Education television show. The show will air on local and satellite television stations nationwide and on at 8 p.m. on Jan. 16.

“It’s a real privilege to be on the show and featured when you think of all the schools across the country,” said Elliot Smawley, a U.S. Department of Education official who produces the show. An Oklahoma school will share the spotlight with Frankford in January. “It’s just a tremendous opportunity for Frankford to share the stage and be thought of as one of two schools that we could pick out of the entire country.”

January’s edition of the department’s show will feature a video story about Frankford Elementary — taped on Monday — and a live roundtable discussion featuring Frankford Elementary Principal Duncan Smith, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon and other educators, including an Oklahoma principal.

The show, which will be titled “Success Stories,” will mark the fifth anniversary of No Child Left Behind, the unprecedented education act that called for testing and accountability approved by the George W. Bush Administration in 2001. It will be archived on the Web site 24 hours after its airing.

“Teachers have seen that if they hold students to high expectations and don’t accept any excuses,” they will find success, Smith said of the school’s achievement. “It’s snowballed from there.”

In one measure of that success, the percentage of Frankford students who have met or exceeded No Child Left Behind Standards on math and reading tests since 1998 have improved by 40 percent to 50 percent, despite adversity.

In 1998, for instance, only 61 percent of third-grade students at Frankford Elementary met the state standard on the reading test, according to state data available on the Delaware Department of Education Web site at Only 52 percent of fifth-graders did the same.

Some 98 percent of the third-graders met or exceeded the reading standard on the 2006 test. More than 95 percent of Frankford’s fifth-graders met or exceeded that standard, improving by more than 50 percent in eight years despite the evident language barriers for many of them.

That success has earned the school “superior” ratings in the state, a national school of distinction award and most recently a Distinguished Title I state award and an opportunity to feature its achievement on a nationally broadcasted television show.

“For a public school for as diverse at it is, (the success) really remarkable,” Smawley said. “We want to share the good news.”

Patti Bunting, a kindergarten teacher at the school who was featured in Monday’s taping of the video story, credited the sixth-year full-day pilot kindergarten program at Frankford Elementary for much of the success, as did Smith. Students learn more in kindergarten by attending all day rather than only half of the day, allowing them to delve into more information in all grades thereafter, she and Smith said.

“We have the time to cover all of the curriculum that’s expected, plus more,” Bunting said. State legislation passed recently called for statewide full-day kindergarten implementation by 2008 but funding needed to begin such a program is one major concern for Indian River officials.

“It makes a world of difference,” Smith said Monday.

Smawley and the camera crew arrived at Frankford Elementary at 7:30 a.m. Monday, beginning an all-day, school-wide affair. Spending 20 minutes in some filming spots, 10 minutes or 15 minutes in others, the crew shot film of the front of the school, of a plentiful awards case, and of students and teachers.

Teachers, some of whom were interviewed, were filmed in mock-up situations in professional development classes, planning and meeting together, and meeting with parents. The crew also filmed students in reality and in mock-up situations taking tests and working in classes.

By 3 p.m., Smith, who accompanied Smawley and his cameramen throughout the school Monday, was understandably exhausted but the principal still expressed pride and enthusiasm about the opportunity.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Smith said of the video story’s taping and the show in January. “It’s great for the teachers.”