Charter school sets up operations near Laurel

By Lynn R. Parks.

A charter school that was originally planned for Georgetown is setting up temporary quarters in Laurel. According to Angie Savage, the school's curriculum specialist and a member of the charter school's founding board, those quarters on US 9 east of Laurel could become permanent. "We are looking at our options, but it seems to make sense to stay here," said Savage, who until May was an eighth-grade teacher with the Indian River School District. "There is enough land here that we could build a new facility if we need to. We are not totally decided, but things are leaning that way." The Georgetown Charter School will open in September next to the Living Water Church, which operated the El Shaddai Academy from 1978 to 1990. The school will serve kindergarten through grade six. A friends group made up of parents from the school is leasing the building and surrounding 15 acres for "a very modest amount of money," according to consultant Mike Oates. In turn, the school is renting the property from the friends group. Oates estimates that the initial setup, including renovations to the existing building and rental of modular classrooms, will cost $900,000. That money will initially come from loans from parents and banks and will be arranged by the friends group. The school will repay the friends group with its monthly rental payments. Monthly rent will be the total cost of setup, divided over 12 months. The school will pay its rent from money it will receive from the state, based on enrollment. Charter schools, which are public schools, receive per-pupil public funding in the same amount as regular schools. They do not receive property tax money. Oates said that the school has an option to buy the Laurel property. The purchase price is still being negotiated, he said. The school also has an option on 17.5 acres in Georgetown, near Delaware Technical and Community College.

The Laurel complex includes a full-size gymnasium as well as a classroom building. The classroom space will be used by the charter school for offices, a media resource center and a nurse's office. An eating area will also be set up in the building; Savage is arranging for food to be brought in as the kitchen in the building is not suited for food preparation for the school, Oates said. Classrooms will be set up in nine modular buildings the school is moving in. A tenth modular will provide additional administrative space and an 11th will be used for bathrooms. The school's original charter, granted by the state board of education, dictated that the school be established in Georgetown. The school requested a charter change to allow it to open in Laurel. A vote was expected by the state school board in April, but when a quorum did not attend the meeting the vote was pushed to May. The charter change request was approved. But in the meantime, the school lost enrollment. While last year there was a waiting list of 80 students, there are now 40 vacancies in the school, which will accommodate 640. All vacancies are in the third and sixth grades. Most of the students who have enrolled are from the Seaford School District and from the Georgetown area of the Indian River School District. Savage said that since the charter change, enrollment by Laurel students has increased. All teaching positions are filled. The school's principal is Becky King. Michelle Madden, Seaford, is its dean of students. Teachers will use direct instruction in English, reading and math classes. During the 45-minute class periods, they will follow scripts which the school will buy from an educational supply company. Using prompt words, they will solicit answers from the class, members of which will answer as a chorus. Students will be grouped in all subjects according to ability. They will wear uniforms and staff members will have to adhere to a "professional dress code." Savage, who has been working toward the formation of the school for three years, said that it is exciting to be nearing opening day. "It is exciting to be starting a brand new school with a good staff," she said. "And it is fantastic to have the parental involvement we have."

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