In the fall of 2020, the Indian River School District’s Board of Education recognized some of the people who have dedicated years, or even lifetimes, to serving the district.

Special Education Ambassadors honored

For several years now, the district has honored Special Education Ambassadors for going above and beyond in serving individuals with specialized needs. They “embrace and support a culture of success for students with disabilities while carrying an important message of inclusivity for all,” said IRSD Director of Special Education Judi Brittingham, as she presented the awards in October. “I’m honored to work with these individuals, day in and day out.”

For 2020, each honoree received multiple nominations from their peers and the general community.

  • Jaclyn Layton – IRSD Early Learning Center
  • Elizabeth Helm – East Millsboro Elementary
  • Richard Messick – Georgetown Elementary
  • Kim LeKites – Georgetown Middle School
  • Desiree Budesheim – Howard T. Ennis School
  • Julene Williamson – Indian River High School
  • Jan Bomhardt – John M. Clayton Elementary
  • Lori Hansen – Long Neck Elementary
  • Melissa Timmons – Lord Baltimore Elementary
  • Kim Cooper – Millsboro Middle School
  • Gemma Cabrera – North Georgetown Elementary
  • Maria Obando – Phillip C. Showell Elementary
  • Kevin Wolegemuth – Selbyville Middle School
  • Heather Gardoski – Southern Delaware School of the Arts
  • Lester Bivens – Sussex Central High School
  • Chef Charles Webb – Community Member

Administrator, board members’ retirements marked

Several district board and staff members retired from their roles in 2020, prompting warm praise and commendations from the board.

First elected in 1974, when the school district was still young, outgoing board president Charles Bireley has served 43 years non-consecutively. He served as board vice president for eight years and president for about 19 years (with several breaks in between). He is believed to be the longest-serving school board member in Delaware.

The board’s meeting gavel has been replaced, but labeled “Charlie’s gavel,” said Board President Rodney Layfield, “so even though you’re gone, your legacy lives on in this board.”

He received honors from the school board, from the Delaware House of Representatives and from the Delaware School Boards Association.

“Mr. Bireley was always a sounding board and a voice of reason, and many times I heard stories of school board members saying, ‘What would Charlie do?’ in a situation like this,” said John Marinucci, executive director of DSBA.

Laden with plaques and papers, Bireley offered a simple, heartfelt thanks: “I do love Indian River School District. I thank every one of you for coming tonight.”

Mark Steele also retired as IRSD superintendent in 2020. Starting in 1981, most of his career was dedicated to Indian River High School (as a teacher for 10 years, assistant principal for about eight years and principal from 1999 to 2013). He became IRSD assistant superintendent in mid-2013, and officially took the chief leadership role in March of 2017.

“I consider you not only a tremendous colleague for many, many years, but also a good friend as well. I thank you for that,” said current Superintendent Jay Owens.

Steele, in turn, praised the district and school board members.

Also this year, two school board members chose not to seek reelection. James “Jim” Hudson chaired the Curriculum Committee and was school board president for one year, in 2015. James “Jim” Fritz brought a business perspective to the board and chaired the Buildings & Grounds Committee. Both had been appointed to fill board vacancies in the spring of 2012.

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.