When a school doesn’t fit its building, school officials usually decide to build a new one. But Delmarva Christian High School and Sussex Academy in Georgetown have a different plan.
Sussex Academy, a charter middle school that serves 340 students, wants to expand into a high school, increasing its population. Delmarva Christian, on the other hand, was built to accommodate 700 students based on projections made 12 years ago, but school administrators have reevaluated and changed the target population to 350 students.
Each school had what the other wanted, and the solution was simple: Switch schools.
On June 11, representatives from Sussex Academy and Delmarva Christian met at Dover Public Library for a signing ceremony and celebratory reception to officially exchange facilities.
For Sussex Academy, the total cost for upgrading in building size from 38,000 square feet to 122,000 square feet and paying off the mortgage on the previous school is $15 million. So far, the school has raised $11.3 million, with the help of a 40-year loan of $6.25 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Rural Development, a program that financially supports health services, education and emergency service facilities, among other services.
Delmarva Christian comes out of the exchange with cash, which it plans to use to build an arts and athletic center with a stage, two regulation-sized basketball courts, locker rooms, classrooms and expansions on existing offices in addition to retiring the mortgage on their previous facility. Campaign Chairman Joe Schell spoke of the enormous changes by noting, "Unlike a lot of schools afraid of change, both boards have embraced [it]."
Sussex Academy will expand toward a full high school, adding a new grade each year, starting in the fall when it will add a ninth grade to the middle school format. Sussex Academy also plans to add International Baccalaureate programs to its curriculum. About 50 students are expected to enroll in the first freshmen class, but school officials anticipate by the time the class graduates, the class of 2017 will have 60 students and the following classes will grow each year.
The goal of the academy is to match the success of Delmarva Christian, where 100 percent of students go on to college. "We want to do what Delmarva Christian is doing," said Trish Oliphant, director of Sussex Academy. Delmarva Christian, in turn, plans to continue its focus on individualized learning and preparing students spiritually, academically and physically for their lives. "Our desire is to always stay true to the vision and mission that is DCHS," said Mike Vonhof, principal of Delmarva Christian.
"[With this exchange] we have forged a great relationship," Oliphant said.
"Georgetown is becoming a central hub for education in Sussex County," said Representative Brian Pettyjohn, "A lot of prayers were answered," he said.