Organizers are planning a new high school in Sussex County to be named for lawyer and justice advocate Bryan Stevenson. Chairwoman Alonna Berry said the school will encompass grades 9 through 12.
“We’re building a school from the ground up. We’re building curriculum. We’re looking at location. Our intention is to be a public charter school because we thought it was important to be free of charge,” she said.
Berry said a 12-person board of directors is getting the word out and will begin fundraising, with the intention of seeking a charter from the state later this year. The plan is to start with 200 students and grow to 300, Berry said. She said the school was originally an idea of Stevenson’s family, after the passing of his father.
“The question was, ‘What is our role in our community here in Sussex County?’” Berry said.
To determine what kind of school they wanted, Berry, an educator with eight years experience, said the board studied schools in rural environments, from locales as far flung as Idaho and North Carolina. She said often in these kinds of communities, students leave and never come back, draining communities of valuable brain power. Berry said she wants students at the school to want to stick around and help their community.
The solution, she said, is for service learning, a system of matching community service to what the students are learning in their curriculum. “We want to build partnerships with local nonprofits, community organizations, hospitals, doctor’s offices, whatever it may be, to have these real workplace experiences, but kids are doing it in the lens of service,” Berry said. “They will see there is not only a need, but that they have impact.”
At this point, the board has not selected a site. One option is to start in existing building and then build a new school. Berry said they are looking in central Sussex, or perhaps the Milton area, which has a connection to Stevenson himself. The plan is to open by 2021 or 2022. “We want kids from across the county to be able to access the school,” Berry said.
Stevenson is founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing legal representation to people who have been wrongly convicted, prisoners who lack the resources to pay for legal representation and those denied a fair trial. A native of Milton and graduate of Cape Henlopen High School, he started the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. in 1989.
Berry said Stevenson is serving in an advisory capacity and is being kept up to date on progress. Stevenson’s sister, Christy Taylor, said, “We’re excited to move forward with a plan that will be located in Sussex.”
She said they are hoping to partner with Delaware State University to help students prepare for college, and that the school will offer subjects such as aviation, agriculture and math. Taylor said the goal is to reach kids who have not been reached in the past.
Referring to her brother, Taylor said, “We’re trying to celebrate the inspiration he’s brought.”
For more information on the school, go to www.basseinc.org.