Organizers of Sussex County's only charter school say eighth-graders looking toward high school need more choices. They say research shows only 30 percent of high school graduates from Sussex County attend a four-year university and more than 70 percent of seniors can't pass an advanced placement test.
“Our answer is the Sussex Academy,” said board chairman Dean Swingle during a March 19 presentation to Sussex County Council.
Thanks to a $15.5 million deal to swap school buildings with Delmarva Christian High School, the Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences middle school will expand to include all four grades of high school over the next four years, starting by enrolling freshmen in September. Swingle said the charter high school plans to follow International Baccalaureate curriculum for juniors and seniors
Delmarva Christian High School students will move across Georgetown to the smaller campus of Sussex Academy. A large portion of the more than 130,000-square-foot Delmarva Christian High School was never used, but Swingle said plans call for construction to eventually expand and take over the entire building.
Academy officials predict more than 700 students will attend within four years; this year's enrollment at Delmarva Christian High School is 185 students.
Swingle said because of Sussex Academy's academic success, more than 100 sixth-grade students are turned away each year in the annual lottery for about 110 open slots. Contrary to public opinion, Swingle said, there are no minimum requirements to attend Sussex Academy. “The school is open to all, but we do have a reputation as a harder academic school,” he said. “Our numbers are set by the state, and we take as many students as we can.”
He said the school consistently ranks among the top two in state testing results of 47 Delaware middle schools.
“We feel a lot of our students are leaving middle school and not being challenged in high school,” Swingle said. “This is not a competition because we understand there is a school for every kid. Hopefully, this will raise the bar for all schools because students need more options.”
Swingle said Sussex Academy has raised nearly $5 million and will borrow $5.8 million, leaving another $5 million to be raised through donations. Charter schools receive funding similar to public schools with one exception – no funds are allocated for building or other capital projects.
Sussex Academy – formed in 2000 – currently has 325 students in grades 6-8 and anticipates an increase to 446 students when the ninth-grade class is added. Within four years, the school's enrollment is projected to be 760 students.
Delmarva Christian High School, in its eighth year as a private school, has an enrollment of 185 students this year. According to the school's website, 98 percent of the school's graduates attend college. Both schools are enrolling students for next year.
Swingle said the school's mission will be to prepare 120 graduates each year to succeed in college.