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Delaware / Education / Municipal government / STEM

Delaware STEM Academy charter school gets shut down before it even opens

After a two-month review process, the Delaware Department of Education decided to shutter the New Castle school. More than 120 students must now find a new school to attend this fall.

At an open house for Delaware STEM Academy, June 2016. (Photo by Ben Porten)

The decision is in: Delaware STEM Academy (DSA) won’t ever get to open its doors.
Yesterday, at the Delaware State Board of Education monthly meeting, Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky announced his decision to close the New Castle charter school before its first semester this fall. His decision comes after the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC) voted to revoke DSA’s charter due to low enrollment numbers and financial issues.
“While the public record demonstrates that the school’s leadership and founding board are committed to the school, the low number of students and low levels of state and local funding raise too many concerns about Delaware STEM’s financial stability,” Godowsky said in a statement from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE). “My review of the documents led me to the same conclusion as that of the accountability committee — that the school has failed to meet legal standards for financial viability and fidelity to the approved charter.”
More than 120 students had enrolled in DSA, including one family who signed up at a DSA open house last week. As per DDOE regulations, DSA was supposed to have enrolled at least 200 students by April.
Executive director Brett Taylor didn’t respond to a request for comment on the closing, but earlier this week, he told us that school leadership had been in contact with families who were enrolled in the school about the ongoing review process.
DSA Board President Ted Williams, president of New Castle engineering firm Landmark Science and Engineering, said he still believes in the mission of the school.
“As a member of the Board, I still believe that a full STEM based education is the best for students and hope that a STEM based education can be implemented in the future whether [in] a new school or part of an existing school,” he wrote in an email.
We asked if this meant that he was interested in opening another school but haven’t heard back yet.
DSA received a $175,000 state grant to help launch the school and used nearly all of it on salaries and additional employment costs for Taylor and principal Laura Jennice.
When reached for comment, state Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark), who described this spending as “an abuse” of the state’s charter school expansion fund, wondered how Godowsky could “iterate that the leadership awarded this large amount of money can be faultless in this school’s failure.”
He continued: “Why and how was this charter approved in the first place by the state board DOE and the previous Secretary of Education?”
Eight other Delaware charter schools have closed since 2000, according to the DDOE website. Most recently, DDOE shut down Wilmington’s Delaware Met after only one semester. Delaware Met also received $175,000 from the state’s charter school startup and expansion fund, known as the Performance Fund.

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