Montessori School planned for Sussex

SEAFORD — Former business property on the city of Seaford’s western limits is the future home for Sussex Montessori, a free public charter school structured on individualized and child-focused principles that organizers say will give families another elementary-level education option.

“Why Sussex County? Because there are very little choices in Sussex County,” said Linda Zankowsky, chairwoman of the Sussex Montessori board.

“There is not really any significant variety in Sussex County for parents to make a choice about their education for their children. We are offering a choice for children,” Ms. Zankowsky said at a May 21 public informational meeting at the Greenwood Public Library.

“We have Sussex Academy. We have some of the technical schools. You have choices in middle and high school but there are not really any choices for children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Sussex Montessori School provides one of those choices.”

Sussex Montessori School plans to open in the fall of 2020 for grades K-3 and then add a grade each year until full K-6 grade configuration is reached.

“We’re going to start K-3 and move all the way to the sixth grade eventually,” Ms. Zankowsky said. “We will start with 260 children. Then we will be growing to about 465 children.”

The school, to be located on the former Wheaton property (Tull’s prior to that) on Dairy Lane off Stein Highway, will be open to any Delaware residents, per state charter school mandate.

“Clearly, I don’t think that we are going to have students from Wilmington in our lottery,” Ms. Zankowsky said. “We are clearly targeting the middle to western part of Sussex County and even a little bit into Kent County.

“People just over the line in Harrington, it is not unheard of for them to think about coming down to the school as well.”

Several buildings on the existing property will be repurposed, including the barn that will be converted into first-floor classrooms, and in the second phase, second-floor meeting/presentation space.

Plans are to break ground in early September.

There will be five pods, each pod containing two classrooms.
Sussex Montessori will provide bus transportation for children in the surrounding area.

Exact bus routes and the distance buses will travel are being developed.
Altogether, it’s a $10 million project funded through state and federal education funding, private and public grants, fundraising and corporate sponsorship.

Sussex Montessori, which received an $850,000 grand from the Longwood Foundation, is seeking USDA long-term financing and short-term financing from banks backed by the USDA loan. This June is the target period to tie that up, Ms. Zankowsky said

The Sussex Montessori board is looking to secure about $6.5 million to open the school, most hopefully covered through fundraising.

The goal is to only carry about $4 million in debt, Ms. Zankowsky said.
Montessori Method is a learning philosophy based on the scientific research of Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome, Italy at the turn of the 20th century.

It is rooted on the belief that children are innate learners, driven by curiosity and thrive in physical and social settings prepared specifically for them.

“She (Dr. Montessori) understood children, when given the right environment would actually access that environment and would grow and would learn from it, and the teacher was really in the background to make sure they had access to the materials,” Ms. Zankowsky said.

Montessori calls its curriculum rigorous, individualized and highly structure, and classrooms are child-focused, mixed-age and sensory-intensive.

The search is underway for the head of school position, similar to superintendent, with four candidate interviews. The Montessori board hopes to have the head of school in place by this summer, Ms. Zankowsky said.

About 40 teachers have expressed interest in Sussex Montessori. Ms. Zankowsky noted that teachers must have special Montessori training.

Typically, the average Montessori class size is about 26, slightly larger than traditional elementary education.
Each classroom will have a teacher and a teaching assistant. School days are on par to public schools – 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.

Ms. Zankowsky said the Sussex school is shooting for “51 percent of our community being from low-income families.”
Like public schools in Delaware, Sussex Montessori will have state assessments and be accountable for student achievement.

Applications for the 2020-21 school year will be available online Nov. 4, 2019 at 8 a.m. Applications are due by the second Wednesday in January 2020.

If target enrollment is not met, parents may continue to enroll children up to May 1, 2020.

Applicants must be registered in their home school district to get into state system, and subsequently eligible for Sussex Montessori and the lottery, if needed.

If more students are enrolled than open seats at the end of the application period, Sussex Montessori will publicize and hold a lottery in public, applying preferences as stated in the school’s charter and in accordance with Delaware law.

Preferences fall in the following prioritized sequence:

  1. Children with siblings concurrently enrolled at Sussex Montessori.
  2. Children of the school’s founders (no more than five percent of the total enrollment).
  3. Children of staff members employed on a permanent basis at the school for at least 30 hours per week during the school year.
    The Stein Highway property was annexed into Seaford to access city water and sewer service.

Ms. Zankowsky said th project has been in the works for four years. The board is structured for 12 spots, with 10 members in place at present.
“Our actual interest in the school started because we are all board members of an organization called Montessori Works, whose sole purpose is to increase accessible Montessori education in Delaware,” said Ms. Zankowsky.
Montessori has a presence in the Wilmington area, including First State Montessori Academy, a 600-student K-8 charter school. Montessori has several independent schools in Wilmington, Dover Montessori Country Day Academy along with a small program in Lewes.
Regionally, there are a number of Montessori public charter schools in Washington, D.C., Baltimore area and in Pennsylvania.
On the web:

For more information about Sussex Montessori School, visit: https://montessoriworksde.org/contact-us/. Sussex Montessori is also on Facebook.

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