MOT Charter School cleared a major hurdle last week its quest to open Middletown's newest high school by the fall of 2014.
The state Board of Education voted unanimously June 20 to approve the 10-year-old charter school's request to add ninth through 12th grades to its existing K-8 program, concluding a formal application process that began in January.
"It's awesome," Head of School Linda Jennings said of the board's approval. "It certainly makes us feel like all the hard work we've put into our school over the years has been validated and now we can focus on moving forward."
MOT Charter, which currently operates a single story, 75,000-square-foot school on Levels Road, is proposing to build its $13-million high school off of Cedar Lane Road on a 33-acre plot immediately adjacent to the Appoquinimink School District's Cedar Lane campus, which includes Cedar Lane Early Childhood Center, Cedar Lane Elementary and Alfred G. Waters Middle School.
The proposed 77,360-square-foot high school would house two separate academies – one devoted to the arts and the other to science and technology.
Students at the Arts Academy would pursue pathways in visual arts, performing arts and digital communications, while students in the Science and Technology Academy would pursue engineering, biomedical and a catch-all science pathway.
"When we went to look for great schools to model, we found two right here in the state of Delaware that are both housed under the same roof," Jennings said, referring to Wilmington's 21-year-old Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the 17-year-old Wilmington Charter School. "Our academies would function in a very similar manner, except where those schools are run by two different entities, ours would both be under the umbrella of MOT Charter."
Jennings said the high school will open with 376 ninth- and 10th-graders, including 188 in each academy. The school would then add 11th grade in 2015 and 12th grade in 2016, at which point the student body would reach 750.
That would more than double the total enrollment at MOT Charter, which currently has about 675 students in its K-8 program on Levels Road. This spring, the school graduated 72 students in its eighth grade class.
"I started receiving inquiries from parents within hours of our application being approved by the state board of education, so I feel confident we can find enough students to fill the high school," Jennings said. "With all the families who are currently driving north to find an excellent education for their children, we believe the demand is there for the types of quality programs we'll be offering."
Jennings said the school is planning to hire 24 teachers and administrators by next spring, with one principal for each of the academies. Currently, Elaine Elston, the principal at the Levels Road campus, is serving as the acting administrator for the entire school, which will eventually grow to include a staff of 42 educators.
Page 2 of 2 - The MOT Charter high school also is slated to start with a full complement of extra-curricular activities, including a range of performing arts programs, Model U.N., Science Olympiad, a robotics team, Math League and an extension of its current middle school athletics programs, with the possible addition of baseball/softball and lacrosse in the future.
A few steps still remain, however, before the new MOT Charter high school becomes a certainty.
While charter schools in Delaware receive operating funds from the state on a per pupil basis, capital costs – like the construction of a new high school – must be borne by the charter agency.
Jennings said MOT Charter recently received a $1 million grant from The Longwood Foundation, as well as a $150,000 commitment from the Welfare Foundation and a $20,000 grant from the Laffey-McHugh Foundation.
"We'll be financing the remainder, but we'd like to have at least another $1 million in hand by the time we break ground," Jennings said. "We're going to make this go, one way or the other."
MOT Charter also still must navigate through the New Castle County building approval process, which can take up to a year or more to complete in some cases.
MOT Charter submitted its architectural designs and subdivision proposal to the county's department of land use on June 7 and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing by the county planning board.
Jennings said the school would house students in modular classrooms if its permanent building is not completed before July 15, 2014.
"Our goal is to break ground by October and that's what we're focusing on now," Jennings said. "We think we have a good proposal and a strong project with state and parental support, and we believe we'll be ready to move forward in time to open our doors in the fall of next year."