Fall’s big question; Sussex Academy’s big K-5 numbers

June 26, 2020

Will Delaware schools open their campuses this fall? Other than staying healthy in this time of COVID-19, that’s the No. 1 question now on the minds of students and parents.

“We’re watching the situation day-by-day,” said Delaware Tech President Mark Brainard. “Uncertainty is at an all-time high. We’re waiting for the state’s special committee on education to give us guidance at their July meeting. Our goal will be to preserve the academic year and try not to pivot from online learning to on-campus learning mid-term. That’s very disruptive. We did it this past spring but it wasn't easy. We were still able to graduate 1,800 students.”

Unemployment drives demand for Del Tech, which works to connect Delaware jobs with prepared students. “We have unprecedented unemployment. My gut feeling is that our enrollment will be up after having been fairly flat for the past few years. We’ve added 20 percent more distance learning offerings for the fall semester compared to last spring. The tough part is figuring out how to deal with labs and hands-on learning. How do you teach paramedics how to function in the back of a unit without them actually being onsite? How do you teach knife skills to culinary arts students? We have to get some students back on campus. There will be a million and one questions between now and August. Stay tuned.”

Cape District Superintendent Bob Fulton said Cape will be ready for distance learning if necessary. “We have enough devices for all of our students. We’re awaiting state guidance, but decisions on how to proceed in the fall will be ours.” He said surveys have been sent out to parents to gauge the effectiveness of this year’s distance learning.

If Cape reopens, Fulton’s biggest concern is transportation. “Many of our bus drivers are older. Because of our Sussex Consortium program, we have to go to all parts of the county, where there are larger COVID-19 incidents. We have to keep people safe.”

Cape will have more than 6,000 students this year, many of whom ride buses.

Sussex Academy had more than 850 applicants this spring for its new K-5 elementary at the former Jefferson School campus. “We’re very excited,” said SA Chief Operating Officer Duncan Smith. “We had to hold lotteries for every grade level. I think the reputation of our middle school and high school over the past 20 years played into that level of interest.” 

A tuition-free public charter school, the academy will open its 2020 academic year with capacity enrollment of 1,100 students in grades K-12. “We have waiting lists at every grade level,” said Smith. “We moved to online learning fairly seamlessly this spring. We’re ready if needed. But that’s really tough for the young kids who don’t know a lot of the other kids. We’re hoping to get them into the routine of a school setting.”

It’s safe to say every other administrator, teacher, parent and student throughout Delaware shares Smith’s hopes.

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