Construction is scheduled to begin after a formal groundbreaking this month on the first of three buildings that will comprise the campus of an unique high school. If all goes according to plan, it will open in September, 2003, with 300 ninth- and tenth-graders and add a grade in each of the subsequent academic years.

Delaware Military Academy will be the first charter school in the nation to offer a curriculum centered around a full-time Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Only two other public schools -- one in St. Louis and the other in Detroit -- have full-time Navy Junior R.O.T.C.

The academy is the culmination of an effort by Charles Baldwin, a retired Navy master chief petty officer turned educator, and John Wintermantel, a soon-to-retire lieutenant colonel employed full-time by the Delaware Army National Guard.

"We know that Junior R.O.T.C. [offered] a couple hours a week works. Why wouldn't it work that much better if offered all day five days a week?" Wintermantel said.

"It's all about leadership," adds Baldwin, who will be commandant, the equivalent of principal.

Students will take standard high school academic courses and meet state graduation requirements. Naval science and related courses, such as oceanography and naval history, will take the place of electives. There will be a sports program, but with a twist -- including such non-conventional activities as rowing and land navigation.

The significant difference, however, will be found in the matter of discipline. Students will wear regulation Navy khaki and dress blue uniforms and fill a variety of positions as cadet officers and petty officers.

While Baldwin agrees that Junior R.O.T.C. is recognized as a vehicle for motivating, to the point of 'turning around' in some cases, recalcitrant youngsters, he said that is not a primary objective of the new academy. "We can help that kind of student, but we're open to everyone. We expect to get many of the same kids who would do well in any high school," he said.

As with any charter school, Delaware Military Academy will be a public school. It will not require an entrance examination nor will there be any tuition. It will accept both male and female students on an equal basis. If oversubscribed, there will be a random lottery among those applying before the Jan. 8 state-established charter application deadline.

There will be a briefing session for interested or potentially interested parents and students on Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in Conrad Middle School in Woodcrest.

Wintermantel, who will be director of operations, said the academy is looking to draw students completing both public and non-public eighth grades and living mostly within about a five-mile radius from its campus on Middleboro Road near Banning Park in Christiana Hundred. It will be a day school, but he said the only comparable institution in the region is Valley Forge (Pa.) Military Academy, which is a resident institution with a $20,000 annual tuition.

Military academies fell into general disfavor during the Vietnam War era and many venerable ones either folded or adopted new guises. Widener University, which sprang from Pennsylvania Military College, is a pointed example. Even though the pendulum of public sentiment vis--vis the military has swung back to a favorable position, there has not been any rush to re-establish former ones or create new ones.

Enrolling in Delaware Military Academy entails no military obligation upon graduation, but Baldwin said four years of preparation at the secondary school level is excellent preparation for a military career. "We provide schools for youngsters that age who are considering vocational careers, or arts or science careers. Why not have the same thing for someone thinking about making the military their life's work?" he said.

With more than 10% of high school graduates in that category and as many as 20% becomng involved to some extent with the military, it makes sense for them to at least have a taste of what that is about in advance, he adds.

In the more immediate future, he adds, it gives students a leg-up in competing for Navy R.O.T.C. college scholarships at some 100 colleges and universities, including Villanova, Penn and Penn State, or appointment to one of the service academies. Having Junior R.O.T.C. credits on a transcript also is a plus for general college admission.

The charter school model was chosen because it provides both flexibility and a revenue stream, he said. "It allows us to be innovative."

The academy will have a slightly longer than average school day and some voluntary activities on Saturdays.. It will not be a year-around operation, but will offer an optional summer-camp program. Academic financing will come from the equivalent of per-student tuition that the state and public school districts are required to furnish. The Navy supplies uniforms and other support elements for the Junior R.O.T.C. portion of the program.

It expects to recruit at least part of its faculty from among teachers who use the one-year leave-of-absence provision of the charter school law to come on a trial basis. In its first year, the academy plans to employ 17 teachers and have a total staff of 23.

The academy is chartered by the Red Clay Consolidated School District, which Wintermantel said has been highly supportive.

To some extent, Delaware is fortunate to be able to secure a Navy Junior R.O.T.C. program. The state had been allotted two -- at Seaford and Christiana High Schools -- but when the program was expanded two years ago, the program's Pensacola, Fla., headquarters "saw fit to give us one of the new slots," Baldwin said.

He acknowledges that he may have had a less-than-passive role in swaying that decision. Before retiring in 1993, he was runner-up for appointment as master chief of the Navy, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, who reports directly to the chief of naval operations. "I do have a few [high ranking] Navy friends," he admits, adding that the Delaware congressional delegation, and especially Senator Thomas Carper, a former naval aviator, have backed the project.

After retirement, Baldwin signed on as associate naval science instructor in the Seaford Junior R.O.T.C. program and then went on to establish the unit at Christiana. The latter won recognition three times as being in the top 20% of units nationally. Three of his former Junior R.O.T.C. students were appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn.

More recently, he was principal of Kirk Middle School in the Christina School District for two years.

A native of Illinois, he came to Delaware 15 years ago when he and his wife, Rica, decided to make their home here while he was stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Base. The family decided to remain while he served during the Persian Gulf War and aboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower as command master chief. His children, Antonella and William, are graduates of Thomas McKean High School.

Wintermantel is a native of New Castle and graduate of William Penn High School and Wilmington College. He is completing 30 years of National Guard service.

Posted on November 4, 2002

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