The Bryan Allen Stevenson School Of Excellence will open this fall for the 2024-2025 school year.

New Sussex charter school boosts enrollment, set to open this fall

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

The Bryan Allen Stevenson School Of Excellence will open this fall for the 2024-2025 school year.

The Bryan Allen Stevenson School Of Excellence will open this fall for the 2024-2025 school year.

From delaying opening for a year to having to create a waitlist, it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of excitement for the state’s newest and 24th charter school: the Bryan Allen Stevenson School Of Excellence (BASSE).

The charter, originally scheduled to open its doors in fall 2023, will be opening fall of this year, school officials confirm.

RELATED: Low enrollment forces new Sussex charter to delay opening

“We have 206 students across all three grade levels right now,” said Chantalle Ashford, BASSE’s founder and dean of academic excellence. “We added the eighth grade for this year because we wanted to make sure our families who had intended to come to us for seventh grade would still be accommodated with us this year.”

Eventually, the school will become a high school as well by adding a grade level each year with this inaugural group of students. 

In the 2025-2026 school year, the eighth graders will be the first ninth grade class, in 2026-2027, they will be the first 10th grade class and so forth.

RELATED: Bryan Allen Stevenson charter wins state OK; will open in 2023

The delay was triggered because state law requires charter schools to have 80% of their authorized enrollment by April 1 to operate the following academic year.

For BASSE’s original timeline, it only had 124 students enrolled. To get to 80% of the state-authorized 250 students, the school was 76 students shy of the 200 minimum it needed to open.

Now, the eighth grade class is completely full, with 50 students.

“We’re recruiting across all grade levels, because the first day of school will come around and maybe some families might change their minds and make a different decision,” Ashford said, “and so we will also be hosting a waitlist as well.”

The sixth grade class has 92 enrolled and the seventh grade class has 64 students.

Ashford said the goal, which she expects to achieve, is to get up to 100 students in grades six and seven, and the school’s goal for eighth grade has already been met.  

Stevenson Charter will join Sussex Academy and Sussex Montessori Public Charter as the three charter schools in Sussex County.

“The charter community is excited to have another educational choice for our students in southern Delaware,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network.

It just received a $100,000 gift from the namesake, Bryan Allen Stevenson, which will be used for general operating expenses and to help finish renovations to the building. 

Ashford said they’re mainly doing “lipstick” and “cosmetic” upgrades – essentially, painting the walls, cleaning rooms, making sure classrooms are updated and look nice. 

The school’s also making sure all its mechanicals are working properly, Ashford said, like security systems, HVAC and also integrating a security window at the entryway.

BASSE will be inside the old Howard T. Ennis School building in Georgetown, Sussex County. The charter will rent the building from Delaware Technical Community College, which now owns the property.

Ashford said the recruitment efforts really vamped up over the past year and there’s still more events this summer to engage families with the new school.

These include tabling events where families can get all the information they’d like and need to make a decision on their child’s school. 

On the second Thursday of every month, BASSE hosts a parent night. Ashford said word-of-mouth has helped the school garner more interest, too.

Opening a new school comes with a slew of challenges, Ashford pointed out. 

“I’ve been in education my entire career and I’m very comfortable in this field, but as you’re opening a new school, you start to see some of the other things that may be in a bigger district,” she said. “They have whole teams of people work on schools, but when you’re a small single-site school, you don’t have that.”

The new charter has two people working on a lot of projects to get the school started, she said, while districts might have an easier time opening a new school because of the manpower they have.

That’s been the biggest challenge in the opening of BASSE, Ashford said. 

 

And while the national teacher shortage might seem like a huge barrier to starting a new school, she said that the challenge for Stevenson Charter hasn’t been any different than any other school or district in the state.

Still, the school has 13 open positions, including:

  • 8 teachers (art, English, health/physical education, math, science, social studies, Spanish and special education)
  • 3 student support service employees (​​International Baccalaureate coordinator and instructional coach, counselor and school nurse)
  • 1 administrator (special education coordinator)
  • 1 facilities worker (custodian)
  • 1 paraeducator
  • 1 nutrition worker (cafeteria and morning support personnel)
  • 1 secretarial/clerical worker (office administrator)

Interested candidates can apply here.

Ashford said the openings have had more than 200 applicants and she’s more than confident that those positions will be filled with the current pool of candidates.

“I think what we’re offering as a school is unique, and so I think people are interested in that,” she said. “We have a unique identity… and folks are excited about that.”

One unique factor is the school will focus on service learning, allowing students to get out into the community to learn and address the prominent issues of modern society.

For example, some students may be interested in researching environmental problems by solving water-related issues in the local community. 

Others may be interested in healthcare projects exploring the impact of toxic stress on children, families and communities while seeking solutions to mitigate the overall risks in Delaware.

“We are doing something different at BASSE, the subjects aren’t different, but how we are talking and learning about them is,” Ashford said, “and how we’re offering that to all of our students is different.”

She said the world is always changing and education should reflect that, and said the school leans away from staying the same.

Project-based learning is another feature of the charter.

“Hopefully, our students who are going to become leaders, will be able to share that innovation and different ways of doing education with the work they’re actually doing [after graduating],” Ashford said. 

Massett said the innovative charter will provide students in grades six through 12 with an incredible opportunity to give back to their community while mastering their academics through the service-learning model. 

“Through this model, students will live out Bryan Stevenson’s belief that being proximate to the problems we face in society will give them the tools necessary to work with their community to create the change our world needs,” Massett said.

Who is Bryan Allen Stevenson?

BASSE has the namesake of Bryan Allen Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Bryan Allen Stevenson

Bryan Allen Stevenson

That human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama has helped free or reduce the sentences of 125 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” was turned into the movie “Just Mercy” starring Michael B. Jordan.  

The novel and film tell the story of Stevenson’s most prominent case, where he and the Equal Justice Initiative fought to appeal the sentence of Walter McMillian, who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death for a 1986 murder of an 18-year-old white woman in Monroeville, Alabama. 

The jury in his trial ignored multiple alibi witnesses who testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was ultimately freed. 

More information about the Bryan Allen Stevenson School Of Excellence can be found here.

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