Three groups planning charter schools in Anne Arundel County are to submit their applications to the school system today, hoping to offer an educational alternative for hundreds of county families as early as next fall.
All three say they are eager to use the freedom afforded by charter schools to provide individual attention to increase student success. And that excites leaders of Maryland's charter school community.
"We know kids don't all learn the same way," said Joni Gardner, president of the Maryland Charter School Network. "We have options available to us to provide choices in public education, so let's do it."
Charter schools, which have sprung up across the nation as alternative educational options, are publicly funded but independent from a school system.
Under Maryland law, applications are subject to review and approval by local school boards. After the three groups submit their proposals, board members have 120 days to reach a decision.
Statewide, more than 50 organizations are in various stages of planning charter schools, said State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard. Of those, he said, 19 applied for grants of more than $400,000 to develop their ideas. The three groups considering Anne Arundel have solicited these funds.
The groups are:
Chesapeake Science Point in Glen Burnie, which would focus on science and technology for students in middle and high school;
LITE Public Charter School, a group proposing a program for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade dedicated to character education in Annapolis;
KIPP Harbor Academy, which is hoping to start a college preparatory middle-school program in Annapolis similar to 38 others that KIPP operates nationwide.
For those three groups, the work won't stop once the applications are handed to Arundel school officials. All three groups are continuing to meet with community leaders and parents, and are searching for additional money and locations for their schools.
Members of the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, a nonprofit group that organizes educational and cultural activities, has proposed the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School based on a needs assessment of the Baltimore area conducted after the charter school legislation was approved last year.
They chose Anne Arundel because several members of the founding committee who have education experience live in the county, said project manager Vural "Al" Aksakalli.
"We decided we have the right expertise to undertake such a project in Anne Arundel County," Aksakalli said.
The group decided to locate in Glen Burnie because many families fit the profile of qualifying for free- or reduced-priced lunch, an indicator of poverty.
"It's really difficult for school officials to allocate individual time for all of these students," Aksakalli said.
Chesapeake Science Point will enroll sixth- and seventh-graders the first year, until it has about 420 students from sixth to 12th grade.
Standards would be high. Students at Chesapeake Science Point would have individual learning plans that would be reviewed twice a year, Aksakalli said. Students would be required to take at least three Advanced Placement courses to graduate. A director of science projects would coordinate independent research and participation in state and national math and science competitions.
"We're going to provide some opportunities to release the highest intellectual potential," he said.
Around Labor Day, members went door to door in Glen Burnie to get the word out. "We had people thanking us, literally, for undertaking this," Aksakalli said. Organizers also held meetings at public libraries in April and have sought support from elected officials.
A meeting about LITE (Looking Inward Toward Education) Public Charter School will be held at Mills-Parole Elementary School in Annapolis on Friday.
The proposed school is sponsored by Restoration Community Development Corp. Restoration provides such services as after-school programs and support for shelters and food banks, said April Bramble, a former Anne Arundel teacher who would be the school's principal.
The group chose to focus on character education to instill good morals and decision-making skills. She and other leaders plan to offer individual academic programs to students in small classes.
"Special-education teachers have to individualize their plans," Bramble said. "My philosophy is all students have special needs."
The school also plans to work with Anne Arundel Community College to offer programs such as plumbing, child care and commercial banking, which would be eligible for community college credit, Bramble said.
Such courses "build responsible citizens and build a sense of pride," she said. Students could use those skills to get part-time jobs while in high school or college, she said.