Laurel School District sets clear vision for students, educators


Laurel School District Superintendent Shawn Larrimore and team have led gains in student growth for three consecutive years

Once one of the lowest-performing school districts in Delaware, Laurel School District has been among the state leaders in student growth in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics for three consecutive years.

While Laurel leaders cite several factors as contributing to such gains, connecting them all is strong leadership. That starts at the top with Superintendent Dr. Shawn Larrimore and includes the district- and building-level administrative teams he has built over the past three years.

“Our leadership team definitely has a vested interest in Laurel,” said Amy Handy, a seventh-grade reading enrichment teacher at Laurel Middle School. “In my 26 years of teaching experience, I have never experienced a leadership team who honestly believes that ALL students can achieve success when given the necessary tools.” (Related: This video highlighting Laurel’s work around educational justice.)

Larrimore himself is a Laurel success story. A native of the rural Sussex County town, he lived in many of the low-income housing units that many of Laurel’s students reside in today. An All-State football player and captain for Laurel when the school won consecutive state championships in 1986 and 1987, he graduated from Laurel High School in 1988 before heading to Salisbury University (Md.) to pursue an education degree.

He started his career in the classroom teaching American literature at Seaford Senior High School and Delmar High School before taking administrative posts in Delmar as an assistant principal, principal and chief academic officer.

He came home to take Laurel’s top job in April 2015. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree and doctorate from Wilmington University.

Today his own children – seventh grader Delaney and 11th grader Colin – are students in the district, excelling in academics, athletics and extracurricular activities.

“Dr. Larrimore motivates us and allows us to have a shared purpose in meeting district goals. He provides us with a clear vision, which in turn makes us want to be successful,” said Gina Voges, a fourth grade ELA teacher at Laurel Elementary School who has worked in Laurel for 17 years. “I’ve always felt comfortable discussing with him various topics because he makes you feel that you are worth his time.

“That translates to my classroom because I feel supported. If I feel supported I know my students will feel supported by me,” she said. “A positive tone has been set in my classroom because Dr. Larrimore has set a positive tone with us. It’s all about the trickle-down effect.”

Teachers and administrators alike talk about a changed culture in Laurel, one in which collaboration is key and success for every student is expected.

North Laurel Elementary Principal David Hudson said his school has made some important changes over the past year such as daily shared planning time for teachers (often called professional learning communities or PLCs), further implementation of Smarter interim assessments and collaboratively built common assessments in all grade levels. But he attributes his students’ great gains to teachers “truly embodying what it means to collaborate.

“Our teachers listened to each other in an engaged, purposeful and meaningful way that I had not seen in my previous years,” Hudson said. “We no longer talked about ‘my successes’ and ‘your successes’ but ‘our success.’

Teachers celebrated each other and critiqued each other through peer observations and collaborative lesson planning and data analysis that truly went to another level.”

Voges agreed, saying building relationships with students and colleagues had a big impact on students’ improvement.

“Our students trusted us to lead them in the right direction. They knew our expectations and wanted to be the best. Working during PLC time with our colleagues allowed us to share, be on the same page, and build on our strengths as a team,” she said.

And those expectations were set at the top.

“I feel the culture has changed now because we have a leader who truly is dedicated to making a difference in Laurel,” Handy said. “He is a product of this community and school system and very proud of that.

“The expectations for all of the stakeholders are high in Laurel now, and there is no turning away from that,” she said. “The morale is 100 percent better and I believe that is because the staff is trusting of the leadership.”

Handy said Larrimore brought in a team of leaders who share his vision and mission for Laurel.

“They collectively got their heads together, studied our demographics and data. They developed a strategic plan that has proven to be effective,” she said.

Larrimore and his team have been able to succeed because they have a supportive school board, whose members trust their academic expertise.

“As non-educators, our trust is with our superintendent, Dr. Larrimore. With his knowledge and experience, he has brought the Laurel School District the people and resources needed for our students to achieve and succeed,” Laurel Board of Education President Linda Wintjen said. “The school board is ecstatic with the results to date, and we look forward to the future accomplishments.”

Like the Laurel Board of Education, the district’s administrators and teachers are looking to the future as well. Laurel has made great growth, but its starting point was at the bottom of the state.

“The key for Laurel is not allowing ourselves to get distracted or comfortable with our current success, but rather embrace the culture of innovation and growth that has fueled our success over the last three years,” Assistant Superintendent Ashley Giska said. “We can continue to push our practices and expectations to a higher level by finding the best curriculum and resources for our students, building strong models for blended learning and RTI (Response to Intervention), and by continually supporting individual teacher growth and leadership.”

Dr. Rick Evans, newly appointed director of academic supports and former Laurel Middle School principal, said the district has developed and implemented strong systems and practices in the district.

“We have trained people on those systems and practices. We simply have to make sure we are doing what we say we are doing, and I have no doubt that we will have continued success,” he said.

Wintjen said the district now has strong community backing, which will support continued success.

“The community needs to believe in our district, and we need to give them good reason to do so. A few years ago, the district did not have that respect,” she said. “Students were leaving our district to school choice elsewhere. In the last three years, few have left, and we are seeing students from other districts choicing into ours. Consistent communication from our superintendent, our administrators, and our staff has led to the community believing in our district again, as it once did.”


For more information on the great things happening in schools across Delaware, sign up to receive Take Note: Education in the First State at Take Note is published the final Wednesday of each month.

Secretary Walker Announces Appointments of Directors for Divisions of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Services

NEW CASTLE (Jan. 10, 2018) – Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Dr. Kara Walker announced two appointments of directors to lead the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services.

Elizabeth Romero, who formerly served as Senior Director for Health Improvement with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) in Arlington, Va., was appointed to lead the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH). Romero, who lives in Middletown, started in her new position on Nov. 27.

“With more than 15 years as a public health professional, Elizabeth brings critical skills and talents to DSAMH that will help us continue to respond to the opioid epidemic and to build on our strong network of community-based mental health services,” Secretary Walker said. “She also has an extraordinary sense of compassion for Delawareans in need of our services.”

During her time at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Romero’s duties and accomplishments include oversight of behavioral health, injury, and substance abuse and chronic disease health teams with a focus on building systems of care to improve population and community outcomes. She also provided capacity-building assistance to more than 49 state and territorial health departments and national partners to support policies and evidence-based practices for substance abuse prevention.

In previous positions, Romero worked for Nemours Health and Prevention Services in Newark, the National Association for State Boards of Education, AED/FHI 360, and the Harvard Prevention Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health. She has a bachelor’s of science degree from Boston University and a master’s of science degree from the University of Oregon.

Secretary Walker also announced the appointment of Damaris Piliro, who most recently served as Chief Operating Officer of SERV Behavioral Health, which has overall responsibility for intellectual and developmental disabilities division services for all counties in New Jersey, as the new Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDDS). Piliro will begin her new duties Jan. 29.

“With more than 20 years of progressive operations and leadership experience, Damaris has spent most of her career working in support of people with developmental disabilities,” Secretary Walker said. “That is the kind of hands-on leadership she will bring to serving Delawareans with developmental disabilities and their families, and working with providers, advocates and community partners.”

At SERV Behavioral Health, Piliro led and directed a division with a $30 million annual budget that serves adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities across New Jersey in group homes, day habilitation programs, through in-home supports and in adult foster care. Besides her experience at SERV Behavioral Health, Piliro also served for two years at Chief Operating Officer of Generations Home Care in New Castle, where she was in charge of the organization’s overall planning, development, administration and evaluation. Previously, she worked in various director roles at Loving Care Agency, New Jersey Mentor, Bayada Nurses and the Brain Injury Program at Beechwood-New Jersey.

Piliro has a master’s of business administration in health care management from the University of Phoenix’s Philadelphia Campus and a bachelor of arts from Rutgers University in psychology.


The Department of Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of life of Delaware’s citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.

Delaware’s Stephanie Scola Honored As A Trailblazer In Public Finance

Stephanie M. Scola, Director of Bond Finance for the State of Delaware, has been presented with a Freda Johnson Trailblazer Award by the Northeast Women in Public Finance (NEWPF). The award honors her as a woman who has made an outstanding commitment to the field of public finance, and whose dedication and professional achievements have been recognized by her peers. She was one of ten women from across the country honored at the Bond Buyer’s 14th Annual Deal of the Year Awards Gala at New York’s Waldorf Astoria on December 3, 2015.

As Director of Bond Finance, Stephanie oversees Delaware’s bond program, finding creative and efficient ways to fund state objectives. “I find it particularly satisfying to finance projects for the public good: schools, libraries, and courthouses,” says Ms. Scola. Through her diligence, she ensures that the state’s capital projects are financed at the lowest possible cost of capital and is vigilant for threats to Delaware’s Triple-A rating.

In addition to her many achievements, she was instrumental in making Delaware bonds available to retail investors and has created one of the most comprehensive investor relations sites on the internet, The site promotes investor relations, and provides easily accessible, current, and relevant information about the State and its financial position for the public.

“We’re proud to have such an exemplary role model for women in public finance working with us,” said Finance Secretary Tom Cook, “and we congratulate Stephanie on this well-deserved honor. Her dedication to raising Delaware’s profile in the public finance industry is admirable and ultimately helps all Delawareans.”

Trailblazer Awards are given annually to recognized leaders in the public finance industry, with nominees chosen by members of the NEWPF.


Leslie A. Poland
Public Information Officer
Delaware Department of Finance
(302) 577-8522

Economic Development Director Alan Levin to End Successful Tenure in June

Governor recognizes Levin’s efforts to help Delaware post strongest job growth in the region

Dover, DE – Having helped rebuild Delaware’s economy from the depths of the Great Recession to record employment numbers and the best job growth in the region, Economic Development Director Alan Levin announced today that he would leave the Markell Administration at the end of the year’s legislative session to pursue a new business opportunity.Levin

Beginning in July, Levin will join SoDel Concepts, the successful restaurant and hospitality group in Sussex County started by his late friend and mentor Matt Haley. He will serve as Senior Advisor to the management team to help take their successful Delaware company to the next level in a dynamic industry.

“Alan took his position at a particularly challenging economic time,” said Markell. “Alan has shown great leadership during six years that have been marked by great progress in recovering from the Great Recession and addressing the challenges of the 21st century.”

“Successfully improving the economy since 2009 has required a relentless pursuit of opportunities to attract new companies and support existing ones, as well as an ability to recognize and adjust to the forces of globalization and technological innovation that are shaping today’s world. Alan excels in all of these areas and I’m forever grateful for his tireless service to our state and for his long-term commitment to the Administration.”

Levin has led the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) since Governor Markell took office in 2009, at a time when tens of thousands of Delawareans were losing their jobs as result of the national economic crisis. As the Administration’s top priority focused on putting people back to work, the state’s initial economic development successes included re-opening the shuttered oil refinery in Delaware City and attracting new manufacturing and other economic development to the site of the old Chrysler plant in Newark.

Other large and small companies that have re-located or expanded their operations in Delaware include: Amazon, Baltimore Aircoil, Barclays, Atlantis Industries, Calpine, Citigroup, Capital One, ILC Dover, Johnson Controls, JP Morgan Chase, Kraft Foods, Miller Metal, Mountaire Farms, PTM Manufacturing, Purdue, Sallie Mae, and Testing Machines, Inc.

“I would like to express my gratitude to Governor Markell for the opportunity to serve the people of Delaware during this very difficult time in our state’s history,” said Levin. “From the start it has been challenging, but I am pleased to say that we are in a much better place than when we started and the outlook for our citizens in the years to come is much brighter because of the hard work of the staff at DEDO. While I leave with mixed emotions, the opportunity to perpetuate the great work of entrepreneur and humanitarian Matt Haley will allow me to continue service to the people of Delaware in different but equally rewarding ways.”

At 4.4 percent, Delaware has had the fastest job growth in the Mid-Atlantic over the past two years, also exceeding the national average of four percent. Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.6 percent, the lowest in the region, and average annual wages have increased more than nine percent since 2009, among the best in the region.

In releasing its job creation index for 2014, Gallup noted that Delaware had gone “from one of the lowest-ranking states in 2008 and 2009 to one of the top-ranking in 2013 and 2014. Delaware holds the distinction of being the only state anywhere along the Eastern seaboard to be in the top 10.”

In addition, Delaware was recently recognized by The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation as one of the top two states best prepared for the new economy, which is “marked by globalization, technological innovation and entrepreneurial development.”

Markell plans to make an announcement about a nomination for the next DEDO Director in the coming days.