Delaware Charter Schools: Weighing the Educational and Taxpayer Pros and Cons
The number of charter schools in the state has increased. So the debate about the effectiveness of traditional public schools versus charters continues.
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In the Beginning
Delaware’s first charter schools—the Charter School of Wilmington and Positive Outcomes Charter School in Camden—opened in 1996, starting an educational experiment in Delaware that continues today.
Gregory Meece, now director of Newark Charter School, helped found the Charter School of Wilmington at the prompting of Red Clay school officials, then-Gov. Tom Carper and the local business community. At the time, Red Clay was seeking financial help from the state government for the now defunct Wilmington High School.
“It was horrible,” Meece says of Wilmington High School’s educational environment. “When I started work there, my car was stolen the first week on the job. It was just a culture that was toxic, and nothing was going to improve it.”
Money hadn’t fixed Wilmington High’s problems in the past, so government and education officials decided to try something different. They conceived the idea of co-locating a separate, top-performing math and science high school within Wilmington High’s walls.
Six of the state’s largest employers, including the DuPont Co., provided $600,000 in seed money to start the Charter School of Wilmington.
“These companies could not get employees coming out of the school system who were proficient in math or science, or even reading, or who had good work habits, and they had concerns,” Meece explains.
As development director, it was Meece’s job to recruit students to the new charter school.
“Our job was … to attract students with successful programs, and we did just that. [Charter School of Wilmington] is now one of the top-rated schools in the country.”
Meece started by educating parents on how charter schools differ from traditional district schools.
Charter schools are independent, tuition-free public schools, authorized by either the state department of education or a local school district. In Delaware, 19 charter schools are authorized by the Delaware Department of Education, and three—Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy and Delaware College Preparatory Academy—are authorized by Red Clay.