Community leaders and parents in Kent County are hoping to bring a military charter school to the area, possibly even to Smyrna or Clayton, in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

The founding board of the First State Military Academy has been working on the application process for a few years, hoping to bring an academy to Kent County that will give students an education that resembles that of Red Clay School District's Delaware Military Academy, said Board Chairman C. Scott Kidner.

"First and foremost, we are creating a school environment, a school model where the cadets are in a different kind of school model than the traditional high school," Kidner said. "We're seeking to replicate the school environment, the school culture Delaware Military Academy has done so well at."

Giving Kent County students options

Kidner said that the group members are looking at several different locations in Kent County, and have had several conversations with property owners in the Smyrna-Clayton area. However, they'll begin serious discussions with property owners when the school receives its charter.

Kidner said having the school in Smyrna or Clayton would make sense, especially when considering prospective students.

Right now students in central and southern Delaware have zero options for a full-time military charter school. Moreover, there are still a lot of students in New Castle County who would like to go to Delaware Military Academy but are wait-listed due to limited space, Kidner said.

"We think there's an opportunity here," Kidner said.

Preparing students for the real world

The FSMA curriculum will follow that of a typical public school curriculum, but Kidner said the group hopes to blend the JROTC culture with project-based learning. He said essentially project-based learning creates large classes with two instructors that combine subjects such as math and science. Students will work in teams with each individual responsible for their own part of the project.

"The intent is to look at education differently and to educate kids in a manner that the real world is starting to do and has been doing," Kidner said. "We think the combination of those two components of education really brings together something neat and quite different from traditional schools in Delaware."

What's next?

The group had previously submitted an application in Dec. 2011 to the Delaware Department of Education; however, even though DOE agreed that the DMA model should be replicated in the southern part of the state, the application needed some work. Therefore, the group spent most of last year developing and rebuilding their application, Kidner said. An updated application was submitted in Dec. 2012.

Next up for the group is a review and vote by the Charter Accountabilities Committee; their recommendation will go to the State Board of Education, which will decide whether or not to approve the application.

If the state approves the application, the group will get their charter and will be able to move forward in the project. Once FSMA has its charter, Kidner said they'll start to seriously look at properties and hold more public engagement meetings.

"The response has been positive but I will say I'm not sure people understand what a charter school is, how they operate," Kidner said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."

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