2012-08-16 / Front Page
Marine Corps charter school to develop character, leadership
Providing support for veterans key component of community service project
EATONTOWN — A piece of Fort Monmouth property may become the future home of the Marine Corps Character and Leadership Charter School, which is hoping for a 2014 opening.
“We’re looking at any properties that would be conducive to putting a school there; a full four-year college prep school of about 500 students,” said Lt. Col. James Sfayer, one of the founders of the charter school.
“The process is slow and it’s methodical but we’re working within the process right now. I think it’s going to happen but I think it’s going to take us about a year and a half to get where we want to go.”
Sfayer has been an instructor for the Marine Corps’ JROTC program for 19 years and was asked by the military service branch to research the feasibility of setting up a school in the northeast region.
As a member of the Veterans Committee for the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), Sfayer said he was attracted to the idea of combining a charter school, whose mission was developing character and leadership, with a veterans center.
“Our mission is to co-locate the charter school with the veterans center so that we can use leverage on resources of the charter school to help support the veterans. The program for the veterans is already done and all that stuff is already worked out. What we’re trying to do right now is find a home on fort Monmouth,” explained Sfayer.
Because the proposed charter school is going to be public school open to highschool boys and girls within a 22-mile radius of Fort Monmouth, the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) needs to first approve the application before the school can open its doors.
“We submitted the charter school application but because we weren’t able to identify the building in time, it was rejected so we’ve got to go back in and submit it again in March. And hopefully we’ll have a building by then,” said Sfayer.
He also said it was too early to project a budget for the proposed school because the DOE determines how much funding the Marine Corps charter school would get based on the number of students enrolled and the locations they would come from.
Founding member Chris Macioch of Oceanport said he would compare the Marine Corps charter school to MAST (Marine Academy of Science & Technology), which has a JROTC program.
Instead of taking the top tier of the academically talented however, the charter school would be open to the average academic student.
“I think it’s going to offer something. You know, everyone learns differently. It’s going to offer something to a student who would thrive in that kind of structure, a student that doesn’t have the grades to get into MAST. MAST takes the cream of the crop of the entire Monmouth County and this will open it up to someone who is not an academic,” said Macioch in an interview on July 18.
“I think the other schools will see what they’re doing. When public schools hear charter, I think a lot of times they get a little nervous but I think it’s great for the entire community.”
A few years ago, the Lt. Col. was a part of the team that developed the Veterans Transition Initiative, a veterans transition program focused on developing business skills. Sfayer said he wants to incorporate some of those components into a community service project that students attending the charter school would have to complete.
“As a [founding] board we’ve identified that there’s going to be a very large gap between services available for veterans and the amount of money that’s going into it because the number of veterans needing help is going up dramatically as kids get out of the military,” he said.
“With budgets being cut back, you’ve got to use creativity to figure out ways to provide continuous help and support for these guys, leveraging existing resources and that’s why the combination of the two is the home run.”
As part of the community service project, students would spend five to 10 hours a year helping veterans either at the support center or their homes in the area. Parents and teachers would also be heavily involved in the activities.
“It could be anything from developing battle study program, where the kids have the WWII or Korean War and Vietnam veterans come in and make a presentation,” explained Sfayer. Other service projects could include helping veterans fill out VA (Veterans Administration) forms and identify what benefits are available or completing an outreach program called Operation Provide Comfort, where students and parents go the veterans’ home to do yard work or shovel snow. The community service component is just one cog in the potential charter school operations. The 21st century curriculum would comply with DOE standards and feature core content areas such as science, technology, English and mathematics.
Sfayer said that class sizes would be small, students would be encouraged to bring their own computers, all text books would be electronic books and every teacher would have to have their Masters degree.The school would use a lottery system to enlist the students, who would be required to be part of the JROTC program. However, Sfayer made it clear that the charter school is not a recruiting center and students are not required to serve in the military afterwards.
However, because of the Marine Corps component, there would be a strict dress code that bans eccentric haircuts and tattoos as well as disciplinary program and honor code.
“We believe that if you treat them with dignity and respect, we’re pretty confident that the type of kid who’s going to want to come to this type of program is going to crave the discipline, crave the structure and the order, but more importantly crave the challenge of being a part of something larger than high school,” said Sfayer.
“It’s going to be focused on an academic standpoint. It’s going to be the highest possible achievement that we can get out of the kids and we’re going to use the most innovative and creative ways to do that; all state of the art.”
Additionally, the charter school would also have a vocational component such as gardening or culinary art. However, it is not likely that the school would have an athletics program. Instead, students would be able to participate for their home-town school districts until the charter school becomes more developed. Sfayer said it is possible to introduce a sport like swimming or lacrosse after four years, but the decision to add an athletics program would also depend on the budget.
Perhaps the most important piece of a student’s learning at the proposed Marine Corps charter school is their personal mission statement, said Sfayer.
“The personal mission statement is critical because when you start to teach kids time management and how to take charge of their lives, if they don’t know where they’re going, they’ll probably never get there,” he said.
“We want them to have a clear vision of what’s important to them right now and as they progress through the four years, by the fourth year that mission statement will probably change three or four times, maybe more. But at the end of the four years, they’ll have a personal mission statement that most adults would wish they had.”