Jefferson School could be absorbed

The Jefferson School may become part of Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences, both in Georgetown, if all goes according to plan.

The Sussex Academy Executive Board voted on Wednesday, Oct. 19, to submit a major modification application to the state Department of Education. The application seeks to add grades kindergarten through five to the school’s current six through 12.

According to Sussex Academy Foundation Chairman Joseph Schell, the foundation is prepared to make an offer for The Jefferson School.

Sussex Academy, a free public charter school, has 858 students enrolled in grades six through 12. The Jefferson School, a tuition-based private school, has 85 students enrolled in grades pre-K through eight. Should the purchase go as planned, the pre-k would be dissolved.

As for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, Jefferson has about 45. An elementary school student body that small would not be cost effective, meaning Sussex Academy would open enrollment to a yet-to-be-determined number of additional elementary school students.

Schell presented financial impact estimates for the expansion using a conservative 120-student example.The Jefferson School, which would become Sussex Academy’s elementary school campus, has a maximum student capacity of 240.

“It seems to me that if we believe this is going to be a successful venture, to take on K-5 in that campus, have a complete school, give more hope to the community that there’s a way you can get your child into this school,” Schell said, “My guess is that we will be closer to 200 or 240 students than 100. It’s a gamble, but I think it’s a good gamble.”

Jefferson employs 17 teachers. With Schell’s 120-student body, that number would be knocked down to seven, but there is no guarantee any of them would be hired. The only Jefferson alum that would retain their position is Connie Hendricks, head of school.

Eric Anderson, Sussex Academy’s head of school, would remain in his position, as well. Hendricks would serve under him as the elementary school head.

“They’re way overstaffed, mainly because they didn’t know how many [students] they’d be getting in the last two years ... and their curriculum requires them to have more teachers than we do here,” Schell said.

He added he that believed many of the teachers would leave of their own volition, as they were ready to retire or were not qualified to teach in a public school.

Jefferson’s focus on environment, though, is something Schell hopes to keep.

“There’s an environmental science effort which we think is great, we want to continue that and bring it into the high school,” he said. “We should be getting more ‘green,’ as we learn from them.”

Jefferson is one of only two schools in Delaware that has obtained Green Ribbon status from the U.S. Department of Education.

The major modification application must be filed by Dec. 31, and it could be as late as April 2020 when Sussex Academy finds out if it’s been approved. Should it be approved and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the purchase would be finalized around June 2020. The school would open to grades K-12 in the 2020-2021 school year.