Groundbreaking sets new Sussex Montessori School in motion

Dirt flew Thursday at the groundbreaking for the new Sussex Montessori School in Seaford. From left: Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent, State Sen. David Wilson, State Rep. Danny Short, Sussex Montessori board chair Linda Zankowsky, and State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

SEAFORD — To rousing applause, ground was broken Thursday for Sussex Montessori, a new charter school that will offer free child-centered education based on methodology used for over a century in many parts of the world.

Local, county and state officials and congressional liaisons joined Sussex Montessori representatives along with several families whose children are among the 263 young students that will be attending the school when it opens this September.

“This is such an exciting day,” said Linda Zankowsky, board chair of Sussex Montessori and Montessori Works. “This project started somewhere back in 2014 and has evolved over time with patience and perseverance. Quite honestly it was a small group of people — the board of Montessori Works — who were presented an opportunity by the Longwood Foundation. We took on that challenge. So here we are today.”

Ms. Zankowsky added the “goal of Montessori Works is to bring opportunities to children in the state of Delaware so that they have accessible opportunities for Montessori education for child-center programming.”

At the Feb. 27 groundbreaking for the Sussex Montessori School, Gov. John Carney lends a helping hand to Sofia Mangene, who will be attending kindergarten at the new charter school this fall. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe).

Located on Seaford’s western edge on Dairy Lane off Stein Highway, the school will initially open to elementary-age children, primarily from western Sussex County, for grades K-3. Enrollment will grow to 455 students in grades K-6 by 2024.

On hand for the Feb. 27 groundbreaking was Gov. John Carney.

“This is really exciting — and a big deal. And it’s a big deal for me because as I think about my most important responsibility, the job as your governor is to make sure that Delaware is a strong and growing economy state,” said Gov. Carney. “When you think about the most important ingredient in all of that, it’s education of our children – hands down. We need to make sure that every child in our state has opportunity to be successful.”

A total of 324 children registered for Sussex Montessori, from which 263 were selected in a Jan. 29 lottery and extended an offer. Commitment letters are due by March 20.

Linda Zankowsky, board chair of Seaford Montessori School,gestures during the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the new school in Seaford. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

According to Sussex Montessori, 94 percent of the families in the lottery reside in municipal areas where median income is below the average income in Sussex County. Additionally, a detailed review by board members who are Realtors determined that 165 students in the lottery pool are living in low to moderate income housing.

Montessori fits in that instructional puzzle, said Gov. Carney, whose educational initiatives include Opportunity Grant funding, geared to assist children from disadvantaged backgrounds and to help educators make sure those children are reading on elementary grade level, doing math proficiently in middle school and then graduating ready to go onto college or into the work force.

“We have focused on three, really four pretty direct and easily identified goals,” said Gov. Carney. “One is to make sure every child comes to kindergarten ready to learn. The second is to make sure that third graders can read proficiently at grade three, do math efficiently at middle school and then graduate high school, ready to go out productively into the work force or onto higher education. It turns out that we do a pretty good job for most of our children, but not so good for all of our children. That’s why through partnership with our partners in the General Assembly we have made additional funds available, called Opportunity Funds.”

“Having choices and having different opportunities to enable our children to be successful like Montessori education is so incredibly important,” Gov. Carney said. “So, bringing Montessori here to western Sussex County is just incredibly exciting and important.”

Ms. Zankowsky noted Opportunity Grant funding allow school districts to work with children from low income families and children with English language learners. “Our goal is to have a strong representation of those children in the school, so it is so important to what we are doing here,” she said.

Sussex Montessori is based on the former Wheatley farm property that was purchased in February 2019 after it was annexed into the city in January 2019.

The school campus will be completed in a series of phases.

The first phase is for 10 classrooms, administrative offices, parking and stormwater facilities by June 2020. Bancroft Construction Company was chosen as the Phase 1 contractor.

Phase 2, slated to begin in the fall of 2020, includes renovation of the historic grain barn for four additional classrooms for summer 2021.

Phase 3, to begin in fall 2021, encompasses five additional classrooms, with competition by summer of 2022. That will bring the classroom total to 19.

In July 2019, Lisa Coldiron was hired as Head of School.

A campaign is underway to raise $5.9 million of the total $10 million school construction cost.

Last October, Sussex Montessori reached a settlement agreement with PNC backed by USDA for $7.6 million to finance school construction. The Montessori effort has been bolstered financially by:

•$850,000 from the Longwood Foundation;

•$850,000 from the Delaware federal charter school grant;

•$100,000 from WSFS for Community Engagement; and

•$200,000 from the Welfare Foundation.

Founded in Italy by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, the Montessori education philosophy fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development, with a goal of nurturing each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding and respect.

“I’m a huge fan of Montessori style of teaching, not for any other reason than the results that it produces,” Seaford City Mayor David Genshaw.

Sussex Montessori, Mayor Genshaw said, meshes in concert with the city’s revitalization initiative.

“I look at this project that we started talking about four or five years ago and here we are today, and millions of dollars are going to be poured into this property for the benefit of the children of western Sussex,” Mayor Genshaw said. “We are so grateful that you chose Seaford. We’re excited. Our team is ready to go to work.”