GEORGETOWN — All the boxes are checked and state approval is in hand for the Bryan Allen Stevenson School of Excellence, a free, public charter school that will embrace a service-learning approach.
In fall 2023, approximately 250 seventh and eighth graders will be the first BASSE students to enter the building. Owned by Delaware Technical Community College, it has been home for decades to Indian River School District’s Howard T. Ennis School, which will move to its new facility, on Patriots Way across from the current Sussex Central High School campus, in early January 2023.
The Delaware State Board of Education on May 2 approved BASSE’s follow-up charter school application.
“We’re very excited. And the work continues,” said Dr. Julius Mullen, BASSE executive director. “Our goal is to enroll 125 students per grade. We hope to incrementally add grades every year through 12th grade.”
In response to recommendations from the Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee, BASSE withdrew an initial charter application in the spring of 2021, with the intent to reengage with the department in January 2022.
“We wanted to strengthen three different areas,” Dr. Mullen said. “Obviously, we wanted to secure a building location. Second, we wanted to increase our parent support through our signatures. The primary reason behind that was because of the challenges associated with COVID, not being able to traditionally implement our outreach strategies as you would do before COVID. The third was to secure and strengthen our funding. We’ve done that.”
“We checked the boxes with those three specific areas, which played a significant role in the state’s decision,” said Dr. Mullen.
At its May 2 meeting, the state board of education offered kudos to BASSE on its re-application.
“I support the approval of the new charter school application that was submitted by the Bryan Allen Stevenson School of Excellence without condition,” said Department of Education Secretary Dr. Mark Holodick.
State board of education member Vincent Lofink applauded BASSE for putting their application on hold for a year and coming back and addressing “concerns expressed by both the state board of education and the Charter School Accountability Committee. It was a very thorough and a very good job.”
“Not only did their leadership address concerns but they were able to build community support while obtaining the endorsement of three local superintendents, which was incredibly impressive,” Mr. Lofink said, adding he is comforted in that BASSE has a short-term lease commitment on a building that was already used as a school.
State board member Dr. Audrey Noble commended those involved in this year’s application.
“Over the past year, they generated a much stronger proposal than what was submitted originally, and adequately responded to the concerns raised by the board last year,” said Dr. Noble. “Most importantly they collaborated with state-supported education partners. I believe that BASSE is offering the type of program that complements those offered by the traditional schools in Sussex County. BASSE has chosen to use the Del Tech building, saving significant state resources.”
BASSE is named in honor of Milton native Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed social justice activist and lawyer. Mr. Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller “Just Mercy.” He was portrayed by Michael B. Jordan in the 2019 feature film of the same name, which also starred Jamie Foxx.
Initial discussions for BASSE began in 2017.
BASSE utilized generous funding from the Longwood Foundation and Welfare Foundation as seed money.
“We will roll right into the traditional funding model according to the Department of Education and the state of Delaware. We will be no different in terms of state funding, local funding. We will have to fundraise,” Mr. Mullen said.
Through preparatory conversations and inspections, only minor renovations are anticipated in repurposing the Howard T. Ennis building.
“There will be renovations, but they will not be massive,” said Dr. Mullen. “We are thankful to the Indian River School District and Delaware Technical Community College for making sure that the building is in good shape.”
BASSE’s core values are excellence, equity, community, hope and voice in offering a challenging learning environment.
“We want to elevate the voice of our students by providing them with a platform to address local, state and community challenges. We will embrace a service to learning approach,” said Mr. Mullen. “We don’t want to dictate our career paths and future opportunities to our students. We want to expose them to options, so they can determine what works best for them.”
Dr. Mullen offered a hypothetical service-learning example.
“I grew up in Ellendale. And it’s no secret that Ellendale, along with other communities in our state and world, have had water issues,” said Dr. Mullen. “So, imagine, if I went to BASSE and would have this opportunity to come to school and partner with an environmental expert or business or company in Sussex County to help, participate and lead in a project to address the water issue in Ellendale.”
“That would be absolutely fascinating, where I can learn but also be part of the answer, be part of the resolution and share those experiences with my own family, my own community,” said Dr. Mullen, adding there are many projects that align with a student’s curriculum, career path and community need “through a service-learning lens.”
BASSE is grounded by a base of proximity, Dr. Mullen said. Mr. Stevenson defines proximity “as a pathway through which we learn the kinds of things we need to make healthier communities.”
Expanding on that, Dr. Mullen said, “The closer we are able to get to the hearts and minds of our kids, our students and families, the closer they will be able to get to their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations. To me, that’s proximity.”
BASSE is the third charter school in Sussex County, joining Sussex Academy in Georgetown and Sussex Montessori in Seaford, “all with different missions and specialties,” said Mr. Mullen.
There is some public misconception, he said.
“People think this is like an all-Black school,” said Dr. Mullen. “It is far from that. We want this school to be diverse and representative of our community — intentionally, strategically and purposely. We’re trying to dispel that misconception.”