Sussex Academy is on the wrong path
I am saddened, but not surprised, by the resolution adopted by the Seaford and Cape school districts and feel it is bound to be taken on by others. Those matters they are addressing, failure to serve the poor, special needs, Blacks and Hispanics, have evolved to be legitimate concerns.
We started Sussex Academy as a middle school. Its underlying premise was that the middle years were the years that most influenced students to feel confident and strive for positive futures. We were well aware, though, that the least expensive schooling costs were middle schools. High schools require huge expenditures for labs, high level science/math teachers, extracurricular activities, sports, etc. (Second in cost are the primary grades due to lower class size, paraprofessionals, services, etc.)
Also, before we started, we set in place several important factors. On the original board sat a devoted member of the Black community and one of the Hispanic community and the board membership was countywide. Early on, we set in place a plan for reduction in personal costs to children of poverty for their activities, sent two existing teachers (of the 15 teachers) to be fully certified in special education, and did outreach in internal communities in every town.
We did all this, not only to be inclusive, but with our rigid intent to run a pure, fair lottery system of enrollment. We prepared for whatever kind of student won a spot and used no preferential selection.
In fact, the financial/class background of the student had no effect on our operation. We received the same state allotment for each child and had no need for parents to contribute in any way. We had built a small, beautiful facility and had little capital cost to pay off and little maintenance delay.
Therefore, other than a rare PTA drive or such, most of the operating revenue went to the students by way of the teachers ‘ pay and supplies. We were not soliciting monies from parents and legacy grantors.
When the school decided to advance to a high school, they totally changed the image/model they intended. It was set up to mimic a prep school for the elite. Some indicators were 1.) the beginning abuse of giving preference to certain students relative to admission, the composition of the board, enlarged with mainly wealthy professionals and many layers of bureaucracy for a tiny school of 300.
A small but significant indicator was their selection of the International Baccalaureate as its instructional program. It is a fine scholastic program, but it is generally known that if you want to use high school-earned credits for college (and therefore save tuition costs), you can use only AP classes. Most US colleges do not accept IB credits.
But the most obvious reason why they are forced to pander to the elite is that they have encumbered a huge capital cost that must be paid off by either soliciting from parents, holding fundraisers, seeking grants (for a public school), or burdening the limited operational finances they have for teachers and instruction.
I do not think anyone acted in anything but the best intentions. Yet, I believe that by default they built a system that is inherently discriminating and will be the subject of resolutions, lawsuits and public ire. I hope they rethink what they are doing for the sake of all.
Dr. Nancy Feichtl
author/original executive director