Sussex Academy responds to article, letters

May 11, 2014

In recent weeks, a news article and two subsequent letters to the editor have included statements and inferences about Sussex Academy, our county’s only charter school, that were largely untrue. The purpose of this letter is to help set the record straight.

First and foremost, Sussex Academy is not an exclusive school. We are a public school and we strongly encourage and actively pursue student applications from all corners of Sussex County regardless of race, religion or annual family income. We are continuously trying to improve our ability to reach and recruit applicants from underrepresented groups in order to better serve our Sussex County communities.

This involves an active board Outreach Committee that uses public relations, advertising, open houses, community presentations and word-of-mouth to reach underrepresented families and provide encouragement and assistance in applying for the sixth grade lottery. Today, our enrollment of students from lower income families is about the same percentage as the percentage of children 5-17 years of age living at or below the poverty level in Sussex County (18 percent, Census Data, American Community Survey, 2006-08).

There was a suggestion that Sussex Academy uses “preferences” to enroll children from high income families. Each year, prospective sixth grade students apply for admission through the very same open-to-the-public lottery system that has existed for the past 12 years, overseen by the state Department of Education. Preferences are allowed for children of teachers and siblings of existing students.

The Department of Education does permit our school to enroll a very small number of students (limited to less than 5 percent of total student enrollment) according to strict guidelines specified in our charter, to maintain a balanced and diverse enrollment. This could, and has, included preferences for students with special needs and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. All of these students, regardless of family income, are proactively seeking the sort of rigorous college preparatory coursework Sussex Academy provides.

It has been written that our fundraising efforts somehow affect our ability to serve students. In fact, we have always run a very cost-effective school. In 2013, students at Sussex Academy were ranked No.1 in the state of all 46 middle schools in science, reading and social studies, and No. 2 in math, despite receiving the lowest per-pupil reimbursement from state and local tax dollars of any public school in Delaware.

There has been some criticism of the need for Sussex Academy to raise private money to enlarge our new facility in order to accommodate grades 9-12. However, since no state or federal funding is available for charter school capital requirements, such funding can only come from private donations. Our community recognizes this, and has been very generous in its response.

There has also been a suggestion that Sussex Academy is now encumbered with a huge debt. In reality, as public records show, the school has successfully raised $6.8 million in private donations while borrowing $6.1 million, net, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The debt service payments for this loan are actually less than what the prior middle school was paying. Thus, the school is paying less now for building infrastructure than it was previously.

A letter printed by the Cape Gazette suggested that Sussex Academy is trying to be an elite private school and has a board comprised of wealthy professionals. One has only to review our list of current board members to see that the Sussex Academy board is made up of good people from all across Sussex County, representing a wide variety of professions and incomes. These include parents, teachers, a small business owner, two nonprofit directors, an attorney, coach, educators and others, almost all of whom would be startled to hear themselves described as “wealthy professionals.”

It is also important to note that the International Baccalaureate coursework to be introduced at Sussex Academy in 2016 is, in fact, becoming the new “gold standard” for educational achievement in high school. Every year, more and more top universities are recognizing and crediting students with IB diplomas, contrary to the assertion made in a recent letter. Currently, over 1,600 colleges and universities in the U.S. grant college credits for IB graduates.

Every charter school has a unique purpose. Ours has not changed since the founding of the Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences as a middle school, through its current expansion as the Sussex Academy, covering grades 6-12. With community support we will continue to work hard to significantly increase the number of Sussex County students who will be accepted, receive scholarships and succeed at selective colleges and universities. Within the next few years, we expect to graduate 110 seniors each year.

After graduating from college, a number of those students will return to Sussex County where they will start careers and professions, form new businesses and serve as our community leaders of the future. That is what Sussex Academy is all about.

Adam Marsh
Sussex Academy Executive Board

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