Board to vote on 2 charter school proposals

Programs would offer science and college-prep curricula to middle, high school students

March 02, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Planning for Anne Arundel County's first two charter schools could begin in earnest if school board members approve two applications at a meeting today.

Representatives of the two proposed schools say they feel secure about the process and their applications.

"I'm pretty confident that things are going to go well on Wednesday," said B. Jallon Brown, who would be principal of one of the schools, KIPP Harbor Academy.

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, would offer a college-preparatory education in the Annapolis area to middle school pupils starting in July. The school also asks parents, teachers and students to commit to extended school days and Saturday sessions throughout the year.

The second proposal, Chesapeake Science Point, would serve as a science magnet school for middle and high school students.

In February, a committee of school system staff that reviewed the applications and interviewed organizers recommended approval, with reservations about their ability to execute the proposed plans, particularly given federal mandates to improve student performance each year. Neither school was familiar with the data reporting requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, for example.

"They're our scores, so we're accountable for their outcomes," said Kathy Lane, the school system's director of alternative education.

Staff members also questioned the number of resources sought from the school system. Both schools, for example, hoped to contract services such as transportation.

"Basically, they are asking us to do a lot of what it takes to run a school, and that's not the superintendent's vision," Lane said, referring to Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Brown and Vural "Al" Aksakalli, the project manager for Chesapeake Science Point, said their schools will function if necessary without contracted services from the district.

"We just thought that the partnership might be a simple way to get those services provided," Brown said. "Either way we're flexible and willing to do whatever is necessary to open up our school successfully."

State lawmakers opened the door to charter schools - publicly funded and nonsectarian institutions - when they approved the Maryland Public Charter School Act in 2003. Approval of charter school applications was left with individual school boards.

If the two Anne Arundel applications are accepted, the school system and organizers will develop legally binding charter agreements that will settle details on unresolved issues.

School board members have expressed some concerns about the proposals and the board's responsibilities. Organizers of a proposed charter school can appeal a local board's denial to the state board of education.

Community groups such as RESPECT Inc., a coalition of African-American organizations in Anne Arundel County, have expressed their support of KIPP. But Mary Alice Gehrdes, a parent of several students in the Annapolis feeder system, questioned whether the school belonged in Annapolis.

Research funded by the Annapolis Challenge grant showed students would benefit from the continuity of remaining in the public school program, she wrote in a letter to board members in January.

An application for a third school, the LITE Public Charter School, is being finalized, said April Bramble, who would be the school's principal. Organizers hope to start offering classes during the 2005-2006 school year, although the first day will probably be postponed until October or December.

"We're just trying to make sure that we have a very well-written application so the delays will be limited," she said.

Proposed public charter schools

KIPP Harbor Academy

Mission: college-preparatory education for students who would be first-generation college students Location: Annapolis Population: grades 5 through 8 Proposed opening date: summer 2005 Number of pupils in the first year: 80 fifth-graders

Chesapeake Science Point

Mission: focus on science, math and technology Location: Glen Burnie Population: middle and high school Proposed opening date: fall 2005 Number of students in the first year: 120 sixth- and seventh-graders Source: Anne Arundel County schools

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