The expansive Town of Whitehall proposal calls for a charter elementary school to be included in the first phase on construction. An application to open that school by 2016 is currently before the Delaware Board of Education.
The expansive plans for the Town of Whitehall include bringing more than just new homes to southern New Castle County.
The project also includes a proposal to launch Mapleton Charter School, a kindergarten and elementary school that could open off of Lorewood Grove Road with 300 students in 2016 before doubling in size by 2019.
“The concept for Whitehall is a walkable community where everything residents could need would be found right in their community,” said Michael Stetter, who chairs Mapleton Charter’s seven-member board of directors. “So we feel it makes good sense for a neighborhood school to be a centerpiece of that construction.”
According to the Mapleton charter application currently pending before the Delaware Board of Education, the school would feature an expeditionary learning curriculum model that “emphasizes learner-centered instruction which energizes and motivates students through high-level tasks and active roles in the classroom.”
“We were looking for a curriculum that would be different than what you might find in traditional public schools throughout the state,” said Dawn Downes, the director of academic programs for the Wilmington-based Innovative Schools Development Corporation, which has been hired to serve as Mapleton’s charter management organization. “And what we found is that in its 17 years of existence, with use in 160 schools nationwide, the expeditionary learning model has proven to be highly effective across different socio-economic demographics.”
Centered around Common Core and state standards, the curriculum at Mapleton would organize students into small, learning groups that would engage in self-directed and cooperative learning through a blend of classroom- and community-based projects, Downes said.
“For instance, since the school would sit on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, students might engage in 12 weeks of integrated studies that take a look of the development of the canal and its impact on the region,” she said. “Through the use of field studies, visits by community experts and hands-on learning, the lesson would include the cross overs of several content areas, including history and ecology, with the goal of developing patterns of deeper learning and thinking. And then at the end, the students would present what they learned to their parents.”
A similar learning model is currently used at Kuumba Academy in Wilmington and the Sussex Academy of the Arts & Sciences in Georgetown.
The state board of education is expected to vote on Mapleton’s charter application in mid-April.
If approved, Mapleton Charter would open in 2016 with 100 students per grade level from kindergarten through second grade, with third grade to be added in 2017, followed by fourth grade in 2018 and fifth grade in 2019.
Stetter, who previously worked as director of accountability resources and director of curriculum and professional development for the Delaware Department of Education, said the founding board won’t hire an architectural firm to design the actual building until the state board of education has voted.
“It’s still too early to talk about things like square footage and the building’s layout,” he said.
While the state provides charter schools with operating funds based on a per student formula, school construction costs must be borne by the charter school’s founding organization.
Stetter said the Mapleton Charter board won’t begin seeking out loans and pursuing other private funding sources to finance those capital costs until it knows the fate of its application.
“Even if it’s approved, it’s going to be a challenge to come up with a design that we can afford,” he said. “But, in the end, we feel strongly that there’s a need for a school like the one we’re proposing, because right now there aren’t a whole lot of other options south of the canal. And those that do exist in the M.O.T. area currently have a tremendous waiting list.”