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Casey Miller (left) and Mary Kate Williams sing in the eighth-grade musical “Godspell, Jr.” at Ursuline Academy.
Photograph courtesy of Keegan Images

Choosing the right school is a big decision. Fortunately, Wilmington offers many outstanding educational options, each suited to different interests, abilities and means.

The city boasts the current state teacher of the year and the two best public high schools in the state. It is also home to excellent private institutions such as Tower Hill School and Padua Academy.

Tower Hill School, established in 1919, is a coeducational, independent college prep school for students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Its campus and educators are exceptional, and the academic, artistic and athletic offerings are solid. Padua Academy is an all-girl private Catholic high school focused on spiritual, intellectual, personal, physical and social development. At Ninth and Broom streets for more than 50 years, Padua enjoys the community’s respect for its tradition of excellence.

What is common at all the exceptional schools is a drive for academic excellence and a desire to help students feel grounded as individuals and as members of a community.

Ursuline Academy

“Our girls come from all over,” says director of development Moira Owens. “I’m amazed at the number of out-of-state students, many of them driving an hour each way from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. I think a lot of people like the idea of single-sex education.”

Established 114 years ago, Ursuline has been a tradition in many families for generations. The school is coeducational from age 3 through third grade, then becomes single-sex through grade 12. “Ursuline Academy has an incredible academic history, with a lot of girls getting into very good colleges and 100 percent going on to higher education,” Owens says. The 2007 graduating class received a total of $4.3 million in academic and athletic grants and scholarships toward college.

Ursuline is a sports powerhouse, producing state championship contenders in basketball and volleyball. Student Elena DelleDonne was the nation’s top female basketball recruit.

Ursuline’s girls are required to complete 80 hours of volunteer service by the end of sophomore year, but many exceed the expectation. Students average 230 hours with local agencies such as Ministry of Caring, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, area hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, daycare centers and others. The school develops very good relationships with local nonprofit organizations, and those organizations know they can count on Ursuline girls.

Salesianum High School

Salesianum, an all-male college preparatory Catholic high school, has been a city tradition for more than 100 years.

Since it was founded in 1905, “Sallies,” as it is affectionately known, has enjoyed a reputation for academic and athletic excellence. With 1,000 students, it is the largest college prep school in Delaware.

“Kids come here with the expectation that they’re going on to college, and that’s what we gear our whole program to,” says Father Bill McCandless, the principal.

What makes Salesianum so special “is the spirituality you find here,” he adds. “Our patron saint is St. Francis De Sales, who focuses on the everyday person doing spectacular things. We try to bring the spirit of St. Francis into everything we do.” Say to any Salesian, “Be who you are,” and he’ll finish with, “and be that well.” It’s the Sallies slogan and the overarching theme.

Salesianum receives twice as many applications as there are seats available each year, so school officials review each carefully to determine if the applicant meets the requirements for success.

“We always encourage people if they haven’t been accepted, to contact us to ask us why,” says McCandless. “This past year, an eighth grade student sent me an email with a PowerPoint explaining why he should be accepted and asked for an interview. We thought it must be the parents’ doing, but this kid came in with a 12-page PowerPoint presentation and went through it alone. His mom was out in the car. We were blown away and accepted him on the spot.”

The Charter School

of Wilmington

The Charter School of Wilmington was established in 1996 as an independent college prep high school, grades 9-12. Offering a strong academic program focused on science and mathematics, Wilmington Charter is ranked No. 1 in all five categories of the Delaware Student Testing Program

Charter currently has an enrollment of 948 students, and it has a waiting list each year, with nearly 600 applicants vying for only 240 positions.

Charter was created, is supported and operated by a consortium of six local companies: DuPont, Hercules Incorporated, Christiana Care Health System, Delmarva Power, AstraZeneca and Verizon.

Principal Ron Russo believes the school’s success is based on having a focused, clear vision and mission, and on using site-based management and market accountability.

Market accountability simply means they answer directly to the customer: the parents.

“Charter kids are very talented students who want to succeed,” Russo says. “The kids tend to want to take more classes, more challenging classes, and they prod us to provide it,” says Russo. In addition to more than 20 AP courses, college level courses are taught by University of Delaware professors.

Ninety-eight percent of Charter students go to college, and it’s common for freshmen to take advanced courses when they get there. Some leave Charter as sophomores in college. Others may leave Charter at the end of junior year to start college as freshmen.

Kuumba Academy

Kuumba Academy Charter School is housed in one of the few surviving buildings of architectural great Frank Furness. Founded in 2001, Kuumba provides students with a vigorous curriculum in visual arts, music, drama and dance, in addition to traditional academics and computer technology. Serving 254 children, Kuumba is the only arts-based elementary school in Delaware.

“Kuumba is a very unique place and a real benefit to the children who come here,” says Dr. Sondra Shippen, head of school. The student population is 99 percent African American, nearly all Wilmington residents.

Kuumba was designed to serve at-risk students. “Children who would not normally get exposure to these things are not only exposed to them, but exposed on a regular basis,” says Shippen. Students visit the Christina Cultural Arts Center three times a week and take regular guided tours of the Delaware Art Museum.

The students are doing well, too, with Delaware Student Testing Program scores “right on point,” Shippen says. “For us, it’s all about what we have to do to push ourselves to the next level. We’re not a private school. We just have very high expectations.”

Cab Calloway School

Of The Arts

The Cab Calloway School of the Arts was established in 1992 as a “magnet” school. Cab has an enrollment of 830 students in grades six through 12, with class sizes from 16 to 24 students. Since 2001, when the state began rating schools based on Delaware Student Testing Program performance, Cab has ranked consistently in the top three.

And, contrary to what one might expect from a school for the arts, the students’ strengths have proven to be math, reading and writing. “We can’t only offer excellence in the arts, because we have students going into pre-med and pre-law, too. We need to prepare all of them,” says head of school Julie Rumschlag.

Cab offers a broad range of Advanced Placement courses. Because Cab is housed in the same building as The Charter School of Wilmington, students can take several AP courses and play on Charter’s sports team.

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