3 groups aspiring to open first local charter schools

Superintendent begins to look at educational, financial details

October 10, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Three organizations have told Anne Arundel County school officials they want to open charter schools in the county, triggering the first stages of a process that could end up giving the groups access to public funds.

The groups include KIPP, an organization with 38 schools nationwide including in Baltimore and Washington; Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, a group of local educators looking to open a middle- and high school science and technology program; and an organization calling itself Light Public Charter School.

The idea of local charters -- independently run schools that receive public money -- gets a generally positive response from Arundel school officials who, nonetheless, remain cautious.

School Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who had experience with charters when he headed a school district in North Carolina, said that such institutions often have more freedom to use innovative classroom strategies. But that independence has led to a range of results around the country, he said.

"There's certainly no silver bullet when it comes to charter schools," Smith said. However, "we are receptive to looking at the charter school applications that are coming in."

Board President Edward P. Carey said he plans to talk to other board members to see whether a workshop to learn more about the topic is needed.

"I want to see the details," he said.

Maryland legislation authorized charter schools last year, and Anne Arundel's school board adopted its charter policy last October.

Any group looking to open a charter school must submit an application, including an educational plan, budget, proof of insurance and an overview of facilities. The school board has four months to review the proposal.

Smith said he will be looking closely at educational and financial plans.

"I wouldn't want to be part of anything that is fundamentally weak," he said.

KIPP's plans

The superintendent has a tour scheduled at Baltimore's KIPP Ujima Village Academy on Tuesday to see how that school works with the school system.

KIPP -- "Knowledge is Power Program" -- would like to enroll 80 fifth-graders in the proposed KIPP Harbor Academy by July, said prospective principal Jallon Brown. The school, which would be in Annapolis, ultimately would serve 320 children in fifth through eighth grades.

Brown, a Hanover resident, is a former middle and elementary school teacher and participated in KIPP's leadership program, which includes courses at the University of California, Berkeley's business school.

Initially the group wanted to open a second school in Baltimore, Brown said, but transitions in the leadership of the city school district led the organization to look elsewhere.

KIPP focuses on students who would be first-generation college students, Brown said. Parents, children and teachers sign an agreement to commit significant time and work to the program.

For example, KIPP operates an extended school day, week and year. Children would attend a three-week session in the summer. Classes during the rest of the school year last until 5 p.m. four days a week, and until 4 p.m. Fridays. Students meet about two Saturdays a month.

Other proposals

Another applicant, Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, hopes to establish a school with no more than 460 middle and high school students. According to its Web site, its board is made up of local educators who hope to promote the success of youth in Baltimore-Washington's technology corridor.

The group proposing the Light Public Charter School has submitted a letter of intent and a prospectus, said Kathy D. Lane, who oversees alternative education for the Anne Arundel school system.

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