Members of Harford's two Friends meetings said last week that they plan to open the county's first Quaker school since Colonial times in September 2005.
Harford Friends School will begin as a middle school, said Mary Ellen Saterlie, chairwoman of school planning and a member of the 11-member board of founding trustees, who come from the Deer Creek and Little Falls Friends meetings.
"That's the time when people are looking for smaller class sizes," she said. "We felt that's where there is a need."
Harford County has six private and eight public middle schools. Four of the public schools are over 100 percent capacity, according to county and state records.
In addition, said Harford Friends trustee Paul Babikow, the number of home-schooled children is also rising in the county, from about 100 10 years ago to more than 1,000 in 2001. Private schools in Baltimore and Baltimore County also draw students from Harford, he said.
The coeducational private school - which will be open to children of any faith - will incorporate several ideas central to the Quaker faith in its environment, Saterlie said, including the importance of the individual and his or her unique talents, community service and developing an inquiring mind.
"We hope to make this a very open learning situation for children to raise questions and seek a variety of sources for answers to questions and broader issues," she said.
Babikow added that the school will aim to shape strong individuals, who in turn "strengthen the community and the world" and develop into future leaders.
Saterlie said the school would seek to hold tuition in the $7,000 to $8,000 a year range, though that figure is preliminary. The curriculum will be focused on academic achievement, she said, and the school plans to seek accreditation from the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.
Harford Friends School would be eligible for membership in the association after three years, and for accreditation after five, said Ron Goldblatt, executive director of the association. The accreditation process, he said, is like an intensive audit, and takes about two to three years to complete.
The Friends trustees hope to receive school incorporation from the state by next spring, Babikow said. They also hope to name a head of school by early summer so work can begin on the curriculum.
Significant challenges remain, he said: Finding a temporary and permanent site for the school and raising $3.5 million.
While some pledges have been made, primarily from trustees, he said, a consultant is coming on board to help with a fund-raising campaign.
Saterlie said the group is seeking 50 to 100 acres for its campus, preferably in a central location in the county.
The proposed school would become the eighth Friends school in Maryland, said Sarah Sweeney-Denham of the Friends Council on Education. The others are Friends School of Baltimore and six in the Washington area, including Sidwell, she said.
There are 80 Friends schools nationwide, she said.
According to Our Harford Heritage, a history of the county written by C. Milton Wright, Friends schools sprang up in the county in the early 1700s, with the establishment of Quaker meetings at Bush River, Deer Creek and Little Falls. Broad Creek Friends meeting, established in 1828, also formed a school.
Friends schools remained a strong presence in the county until the mid-19th century, said trustee Alice Remsberg, when public education began to gain a foothold in the county.
"Education's always been an important part of the Quaker philosophy," Remsberg said.
The school will begin with sixth grade, and add classes each year, Saterlie said. The goal is to build the school into one with kindergarten through 12th grade, she said.
The group has been working on the school project for about four years, she said. Through a summer learning program sponsored by the Friends, she said, parents have expressed interest in seeing a Quaker school in the county.
"We're really excited about it and I think we have excellent people involved," Saterlie said.