The Delaware State Board of Education approved an application Thursday for charter school First State Military Academy, which is looking at locations in the Smyrna-Clayton area.
Board member Randall Hughes II abstained from the vote.
The board approved the application for the charter school following a recommendation of approval by Secretary of Education Mark Murphy. The Charter Accountabilities Committee previously recommended approval with conditions for First State Military Academy.
First State Military Academy will be a charter school that follows the model of Red Clay School District's Delaware Military Academy. The school's initial enrollment for the program will be 200 students with ninth and 10th grades. The school expects to reach the absolute enrollment of 500 students for grades nine through 12 by the end of the fourth year.
Before the approval, BOE members addressed issues raised by local JROTC programs. Members of JROTC programs in Kent County voiced their concern about the proposed charter school at a public hearing in May.
"There was concern around whether or not a school like this would have an adverse effect on programs elsewhere," said BOE board member G. Patrick Heffernan. "I guess my opinion on that is right now according to current (regulations) and statutes, that's not really a consideration."
BOE President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray thanked Heffernan for acknowledging the concerns brought up during the public hearing. Gray said it's difficult to see a possible impact on high school JROTC programs without any data and supporting evidence.
"Clearly this is driven by a choice process where you have individual parents and families making a decision to consider an alternative charter like First State," Gray said. "It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."
Giving students an option
First State Military Academy board Chairman C. Scott Kidner said the board is very excited their application was approved.
"We believe that this is going to provide a great opportunity for kids in the lower part of the state in Kent and Sussex counties and the lower part of New Castle County," Kidner said.
The school will blend a traditional JRTOC culture with project-based learning, which is also something Kidner and the board are excited about.
"We're really looking forward to bringing this educational model to Delaware," Kidner said. "This is a win-win for everybody."
Now that the charter school application has been approved, there's quite a bit of work for the board to do including securing a site, finding funding, hiring teachers, and building infrastructure. They're in the process of wrapping up the hiring of a commandant, which is the school leader. Moreover, there are requirements due to the state at the end of June and the end of the year to show the group is making progress.
Kidner said the group is still looking at potential sites in Smyrna or Clayton because the location makes sense when thinking about potential students. It would give students in the central and southern part of the state an option and it will also give students wait-listed from DMA an opportunity as well.
"We still don't want to go into specifics about it but we are looking at that neck of the woods," Kidner said. "We think that's a good area but quite frankly if someone walks over to us and says, 'Hey we've got this great piece of land, why don't you take a look,' in the general Kent County area, we'll absolutely do it."
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