Embattled Delaware charter elects to stay open

    The Delaware Met charter school in downtown Wilmington has only been open for a month.

    A struggling Wilmington charter school elected Monday to keep its doors open despite flagging enrollment and concerns over school climate.

    The Delaware Met, which serves ninth and tenth graders, opened just over a month ago in downtown Wilmington.

    Since then the school has faced a barrage of challenges, among them fights between students; conflict between students and staff; an electric malfunction caused by a wayward squirrel; and a temporary change in leadership, precipitated by the school leader taking maternity leave.

    “It felt like it snowballed really quickly,” said Ryan Harrington, the board’s acting chair.

    The school ended up holding three hastily called professional development days at the end of last week in an attempt to press the reset button.

    All told, students only attended the Delaware Met one day last week while the board scrambled to determine if its fledgling school was still viable.

    Meanwhile, the Delaware Met has been bleeding enrollment. When it opened on August 24, the school had 261 students, according to Harrington. It has since lost 38 students, or about 15 percent of its enrollment.

    That dip could threaten the school’s solvency since state funding for charters is largely tied to the number of students each charter educates. The state will take an official census of public school students this Wednesday, September 30. The Delaware Met’s funding for the rest of the school year will be contingent on the number of students enrolled at that time.

    “If I can’t pay the bills I can’t have a school,” said Harrington.

    After an analysis of the school’s finances, ultimately the board decided it could pay the bills. School leaders also convinced the board that they could remedy the school climate issues with continued professional development.

    The early distress comes as something of a surprise given the Delaware Met’s pedigree. The school contracted with Innovative Schools, a locally prominent education management organization that, according to its website, works with 15 other public and charter schools in the First State. Delaware Met’s education model, known as Big Picture Learning, is practiced at 51 other schools across the country and another 39 abroad.

    Big Picture Learning emphasizes project-based learning and encourages students to chart their own courses of study. School leaders admitted Monday that staff were struggling to transition students to this new style of learning.

    The Delaware Met could still face a formal review from the state department of education, perhaps as early as October. Formal review is the first step in revoking a school’s charter. If the state does revoke The Delaware Met’s charter, the school would close next June.

    The Delaware Met saga comes during a turbulent year for Delaware’s charter sector. The state closed two poor-performing charter schools in June. It ultimately spared another two whose leaders had been accused of using public funds to make personal purchases, but not before threatening to close each.

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