Three charter schools – one in each county – are asking the state Department of Education to expand their operations.
The requests, called “major modifications” of the schools’ charters, were filed by the Newark Charter School, the Sussex Academy and the Academy of Dover.
The applications will be reviewed by the department’s Charter School Office and forwarded to the State Board of Education for a decision at the board’s March meeting.
In addition, the department received one application for a new charter, the Destiny Leadership Academy, intended to serve students from kindergarten through eighth grade at an as-yet-undetermined location in Kent County. The review process for approving new charters lasts a month longer, ending at the state board’s April meeting.
The largest of the applications, for Newark Charter, calls for increasing its current authorized enrollment of 2,470 students up to 3,155 students by adding 42 students per grade level for kindergarten through third grade and 43 students per grade level for fourth grade through high school. The application also includes plans for an addition to connect the primary and intermediate school buildings and for construction of a fourth building – to house the middle school grades – on adjacent land recently acquired by Newark Charter. The application estimates that the new building, the addition and related renovations would cost $20 million.
According to the application, the expansion would begin in the 2022-23 school year in kindergarten through ninth grade and continue over four years. With more than 3,000 children on its waiting list at the start of the current school year, Newark Charter anticipates no difficulty filling the additional seats.
Sussex Academy, based in Georgetown, currently has a middle school and high school program, with an authorized enrollment of 840 students. It wants to add a kindergarten through fifth grade program for 240 students. Sussex Academy is working to acquire the Jefferson School property at 22051 Wilson Road, three miles from its current site, to house the elementary program. Jefferson, a private school that currently enrolls fewer than 100 students from pre-school through eighth grade, would be dissolved if the Sussex Academy expansion is approved.
With a building readily available, Sussex Academy would open its elementary program for the fall 2020 semester, starting with 40 students in kindergarten and first grade classes and 20 in grades 2-5. It would reach its target enrollment of 40 students per elementary grade in the 2024-25 school year.
The school’s application states that the expansion would have minimal impact on existing public schools. It notes that 70 percent of the school’s current middle and high school enrollment comes from the Indian River and Cape Henlopen districts. School leaders anticipate that a similar percentage would enroll in the elementary program. Because of steady enrollment growth, Cape Henlopen is currently building larger schools and Indian River is trying to get residents to approve a referendum so it can expand its own capacity.
Sussex Academy is also requesting permission to eliminate the “special interest” enrollment preference contained in its charter that permits students to use an essay and interview process to apply. The school wants to eliminate this preference because there is a perception that it functions as a “back-door option” to obtain admission if an applicant does not qualify for another preference, such as being a sibling of a current student or a child of a staff member.
The smallest of the applications, for Academy of Dover, seeks authorization to increase enrollment by 30 students, to 330, by adding sixth grade to the current K-5 program this fall. Since opening in 2003 with the goal of growing into a K-6 school in three years, the academy has made several tweaks to its grade structure and enrollment authorizations. By 2013-14, it had become a K-4 school with an authorized enrollment of 300 students. A few years later, according to the modification request, the charter was amended to restore fifth grade classes.
The application notes that most of the academy’s students live within the Capital School District, whose elementary schools have a K-6 structure. By adding sixth grade, the application states, academy students would not have to transfer into another elementary school for one year before moving into middle school.
According to the application, 89 percent of the families of current students in fourth and fifth grades are interested in keeping their children at the academy for sixth grades, and there is strong interest in the sixth grade program among parents of students in lower grades.
The application acknowledges that the school has experienced some financial problems in recent years but points out that adding sixth grade will enable the school to make greater use of the building it rents at 104 Saulsbury Road without incurring any additional facility costs.
The proposal for a new charter, the Destiny Leadership Academy, is the first received by the state in two years. The Sussex Montessori School, which applied in January 2018, is due to open in Seaford this fall.
If its application is approved, Destiny Leadership could open in the fall of 2021, but charter rules would permit it to delay its opening until 2022. Additional details were not available this week as Department of Education staff members were reviewing the application for completeness before posting it on the department’s website.
One surprise in the current cycle was the proposed school whose application was not submitted. Organizers of the Bryan Allen Stevenson School of Excellence, a high school planned for the Milton area, had anticipated filing for a charter this year. The school, which would have a curriculum that emphasizes service learning, is named for the Milton native who has become a distinguished civil rights attorney whose memoir, “Just Mercy,” is also the title of a feature film that goes into national release this Friday, January 10.
“Over the past year, we've made a ton of progress and gained more insight and information,” says Alonna Berry, chairman of the proposed school’s board of directors. Based on its timeline for land acquisition and construction, the board plans to submit its charter application a year from now, with the expectation of opening in the fall of 2022, Berry says.