About The District
The district officially came into existence as State Consolidated District No. 1 on July 1, 1915 under the authority of a state consolidation law. Shortly thereafter residents of the area voted 52 to 1 to approve a $12,000 bond to supplement an $18,000 appropriation from the state for the construction of a new school building for grades one through twelve. Not long after that the school board adopted the name of Caesar Rodney for the district and school in honor of the Revolutionary War hero and statesman who had made his home near St. Jones Neck in the eastern part of the county.
Slightly over three years later the state legislature passed another consolidation law in an effort to eliminate many of the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the state. On July 1, 1919 the Caesar Rodney Consolidated School District was joined with six smaller surrounding districts to form the Caesar Rodney Special School District, one of thirteen "larger and more responsible" districts in the state that were "endowed with the authority to own and administer buildings, grounds and equipment; to conduct all grades; to provide free textbooks and supplies; to elect a superintendent and a principal, to demand certification of teachers; and to levy taxes with the vote of the people." As a result of that law the district hired its first superintendent, Gilbert Nickel, who led a staff of seventeen teachers. Nickel would serve in that capacity until July of 1923 when Wilbur H. Jump became the district's second superintendent, a position he would hold for the next fifteen years.
Also as a result of the 1919 consolidation law, the remaining "one-room school house districts" in the state were established as school attendance districts under the direct supervision of the state board of education. During the years from 1919 to 1969 twelve more of the surrounding attendance districts were absorbed into the Caesar Rodney Special School District (the Comegys District which actually contained the lands of Caesar Rodney's home near St. Jones Neck did not join until 1937). Finally, in 1969 the state legislature, in an effort to eliminate the last of the one room school districts in the state, consolidated all remaining districts into twenty-three reorganized school districts. The Caesar Rodney Special School District became the Caesar Rodney School District at that time, assuming its present boundaries with the addition of the Magnolia and Oak Point districts, and encompassing what had been thirty-seven separate one room school districts at one point.
The New School
When the Caesar Rodney School District came into existence in 1915 students attended school in a variety of old frame buildings that had been used by the former Camden and Wyoming districts. With the $30,000 from the new district’s first referendum and state appropriation the original Caesar Rodney School was built, a twelve room, three story, red brick structure on six acres of land at the corner of Camden-Wyoming Avenue and Caesar Rodney Avenue [on the present athletic fields of Fifer Middle School]. The new school, serving 99 students in grades 1 through 12, opened for school in 1916.
With the 1919 consolidation the district enrollment swelled to 564 students and a second building was brought into the district. However, this building, the Star Hill School, would remain a segregated school serving the district’s Black students in grades one through eight until 1965. In 1926 the aging frame Star Hill School was replaced by a new two room brick structure, and an identical building was constructed in Wyoming. This new school, originally named the Wyoming Colored School [and renamed the Paul Lawrence Dunbar School in 1940], became a second segregated school for the district’s Black students. This building is now the "original" portion of the current District Office.
In 1929, in order to accommodate continued growth, the district completed additions to the Caesar Rodney School building, including a new gymnasium and additional classrooms. By 1930 the district enrollment had climbed to 796 students, which prompted the Board to construct a new eight classroom wing to the Caesar Rodney School in 1934 and a new auditorium, locker rooms, shops, a new office area and ten additional classrooms in 1940. In 1938 Wilbur H. Jump retired as the district’s superintendent and William B. Simpson, the principal of the Caesar Rodney School, was promoted to the position of superintendent, supervising a staff that by 1940 had grown to 30 teachers.
At this time the district’s Black students were only being afforded an education in the district through grade eight. In 1939 the Dover Special School District opened the Booker T. Washington School, which also included ninth grade and accepted interested Caesar Rodney minority students. Those African American students wishing to continue their education beyond ninth grade at that time had to enroll in the Secondary School Department of Delaware State College, a situation that would continue until 1953 when the William W. Henry Comprehensive High School opened in Dover for minority students from throughout Kent County.
Despite the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which found "separate but equal" schooling unconstitutional, no efforts to desegregate the district schools took place throughout the decade of the 50’s. The only changes involving minority students that did occur were the addition of three more classrooms at Star Hill and the closing of the Dunbar School in 1957, thus consolidating all Black students at one location in the district.
By 1950 enrollment in the district had climbed to 1,035 students, which resulted in another addition to the Caesar Rodney School. This one, a tier of three classrooms at the eastern end of the school, completed the facade of what many area residents remember as the "old" section of the former Caesar Rodney Junior High School building.
The decade of the 50's was a time of dramatic growth for the district, jumping 238% from the 1950 total of 1,035 to 3,496 in 1960. To accommodate this growth the district opened a new elementary wing containing eight classrooms on the western side of the Caesar Rodney School in 1952, as well as a new gymnasium in the back. By 1955 a second elementary classroom wing was added that included a separate elementary office and library and in 1956 a new auto mechanics and home economics wing was added at the rear of the building for the high school students. In 1958 the district opened two more elementary classroom wings on the western side of the complex, as well as a new cafeteria in the rear, completing what was to become the first Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School building.
At the same time the Air Force began expanding what had been a relatively small Dover Air Force Base into a much larger transport center, with a resulting increase in personnel and their families and, for the district, a sharp increase in base students. In 1958 the base set up several metal buildings as classrooms, which were staffed by Caesar Rodney teachers. By 1960 the number of students served in these facilities had grown to 852, nearly the size of the entire district only ten years earlier. As a result, the district entered into negotiations with the Federal government for the construction of permanent buildings, as well as the money to operate them. The first of those was Dover Air Force Base School, which opened in 1961 and served students in grades one through twelve. That project was followed by the addition of six classrooms for the opening of school in 1962 and the construction of Dover Air Force Base Elementary School [the current Welch Elementary School] for the beginning of school in 1964. A year later a second, although smaller, elementary school was opened on base and the two schools were creatively named Dover Air Force Base Elementary School No. 1 and Dover Air Force Base Elementary School No. 2, with their names subsequently (and thankfully) being changed to their current Major George S. Welch and General Henry H. Arnold Elementary Schools respectively.
Although many of these projects had been started under the leadership of superintendent Simpson, he retired in 1961 after twenty-three years at the helm, passing the building projects and the reins of leadership to F. Niel Postlethwait, who became the district's fourth superintendent.
Though the 50's had seen tremendous growth in the district, the 60's saw the student population more than double to 8,348. During those years, the elementary population grew from 2,835 students to 6,375 and the secondary population jumped from 648 to 1,973. The single Caesar Rodney School on Camden-Wyoming Avenue could no longer accommodate the number of students it needed to serve. To deal with this increase the Board completed several major building projects, in addition to what was taking place on the base. The first was the opening of the W.B. Simpson Elementary School in Camden in 1962, followed by the Allen Frear Elementary School in Rising Sun for the 1963 school year. Also in 1963 the district opened the Kent County School for Trainables next to the Allen Frear School in Rising Sun, a school operated by the district but serving severely disabled students from around the county. That year the district also moved the expanding District Office staff from a house adjacent to the Caesar Rodney School on Camden-Wyoming Avenue to the former Dunbar School building on Old North Road.
In 1965, as a result of increasing pressure, the district's Black students at the Star Hill School were permitted to attend the elementary schools closest to their homes when school opened in the fall. Star Hill became a desegregated district elementary school and Black junior and senior high school students entered the Caesar Rodney School for the first time in its history.
As a result of the increased secondary population at this time the parking lot of the school was filled with temporary buildings and some students attended classes down the street in the fire hall. In the fall of 1967 the new Caesar Rodney High School was opened on Old North Road, leaving the original Caesar Rodney School building to serve as Caesar Rodney Junior High. To accommodate the continually growing high school population a third wing was added to the new high school for the opening of school in 1968. At the same time the now decrepit 1916 original red brick Caesar Rodney School building was razed and replaced by a new three story classroom wing for the junior high.
Also in 1967, F. Niel Postlethwait left the district to assume the position of Deputy State Superintendent. His replacement was Warren H. White, who would remain as superindendent until 1971. Upon his resignation F. Niel Postlethwait returned to the district from the Department of Public Instruction and continued to lead the district until his retirement in 1989, providing a combined twenty-four years of leadership to the district over the course of his career.
With regard to enrollment, the decade of the 70's actually saw an overall decline, down to 6,858 students by 1980. However, although the elementary enrollment peaked in 1970 and then declined steadily thereafter, the secondary schools would not peak until the late 70's. Despite the decline in enrollment the district opened it's newest elementary, W. Reily Brown, in the fall of 1970 to deal with the tail end of the elementary enrollment bubble.
During the 80's, the enrollment of the district continued to decline slightly, dropping to 6,312 students by 1990. Decreasing enrollments at Dover Air Force Base High School made it difficult to offer all of the programs that were available to students at the larger Caesar Rodney High School. As a result, the base sophomores, juniors and seniors were transferred to Caesar Rodney High School for the opening of school in 1980 and Dover Air Force Base High School ceased to exist. At that point the former junior-senior high school building was used to serve only grades seven through nine. Several years later the ninth graders also moved to CR High and the sixth graders from Welch Elementary joined the seventh and eighth graders in the newly reorganized Dover Air Force Base Middle School.
As the 80's drew to a close F. Niel Postlethwait announced his retirement as superintendent and in 1989 the district hired William J. Bach to lead the district into the 90's. The last decade of the century saw a reversal in the downward enrollment trend of the previous twenty years, with the district reporting a total enrollment of 6,737 students during the 2000 school year. Although this was an increase of less than seven percent, the district was forced to pursue the construction of several new buildings, not because of space but because the oldest buildings were no longer able to be maintained at a standard comparable to the newer buildings of the district.
The original four wings of the Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School developed increasing numbers of roof leaks, structural problems, and heating problems that the maintenance staff could not stay ahead of. As a result the district constructed a new Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School south of Camden, which was ready for the opening of school in 1997. Shortly thereafter the district began construction of two new middle schools to replace the deteriorating Caesar Rodney Junior High School building. Fred Fifer III Middle School in Camden and F. Niel Postlethwait Middle School in Rising Sun were completed just in time for the opening of school in 1999.
At that time the sixth grade classes from the district elementary schools joined the seventh and eighth graders from the former junior high in filling these new buildings. The Caesar Rodney Junior High School building, including all of the additions to the original Caesar Rodney School and the first Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School wings, were leveled during the summer of 1999 to make way for new athletic fields for Fifer Middle School.
In 1998 William J. Bach retired and David E. Robinson was promoted from the high school principalship to lead the district into the new millennium as its seventh superintendent. With the completion of the new middle schools he focused the district's attention on the aging Star Hill Elementary School building and the increasingly overcrowded and worn Caesar Rodney High School. In the fall of 2000 district residents approved a referendum to renovate and expand both of these facilities and architects are currently completing the design phase for each project, with construction planned to begin on both during the summer of 2001 (see our renovations page for more information).
From the joining of several one room schoolhouse districts in 1915 that were housed in several aging frame structures and served a mere handful of students the Caesar Rodney School District has grown to one of America's premiere public school districts, serving nearly 7,000 students whose families are spread over more than 140 square miles and whose buildings are among the finest school facilities in the state. The Caesar Rodney School District takes pride in its long history of service to its community and is committed to continuing its record of service, accomplishment and improvement in the years to come.
* excerpted and adapted from The Challenge of Change: Efforts to Improve Educational Practice at Caesar Rodney Junior High School by Harold Roberts, 1994, University of Delaware, Newark, DE