Arundel County's two charter schools work to get their spaces - and their pupils - ready.

Preparing to learn, teach

July 13, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The people behind Anne Arundel County's first charter schools are busy this summer, getting things ready to open in the fall.

Organizers of Chesapeake Science Point, a math and technology middle and high school in Glen Burnie, have hired staff and are working to renovate a building to meet county approval.

KIPP Harbor Academy began its three-week summer session Monday with more than 70 fifth-graders in the Annapolis Area Christian School's media center to introduce them to the school's mission before classes start in the fall.

Both charter schools, which receive public dollars but operate somewhat separately from the public school system, will be among the first authorized in Maryland under a 2003 state law.

Because they were the first in Anne Arundel, Chesapeake Science Point and KIPP faced uncertainty as the county school board criticized what they called vague direction by the law in areas such as financing and labor relations.

Teachers, for example, remain employees of the school system, although schools can negotiate individual provisions for their particular needs.

School board members accepted an agreement between KIPP and the county teachers union last week after rejecting an initial proposal.

Bill Jones, executive director of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, told the board that the union would no longer negotiate with charter schools until the board sent a representative.

Chesapeake Science Point officials said this would not prevent them from opening in the fall; the school would follow the school system's master agreement with all teachers.

"It's not a showstopper," said project manager Vural "Al" Aksakalli.

One of Chesapeake Science Point's founders, Jon Omural, will serve as the school's director, overseeing instruction and operations. A former insurance sales manager in Baltimore, Omural said he has taught in universities and middle schools in the United States and his native Turkey.

Omural said his school has hired most of its nine full-time teachers and four part-time teachers as well as five administrative staffers. About 132 students have been accepted, with a dozen more on a waiting list. Most of the children come from Glen Burnie, with some planning to travel from Annapolis or Severna Park, he said.

Aksakalli, Omural and others began planning the school two years ago.

Since becoming director, Omural has spent more than 12 hours a day meeting about details such as transportation and fielding questions from parents. Next week, he will meet with families individually. He also is coordinating minor renovations to the building the school is leasing from Glen Burnie Korean Presbyterian Church to meet county and school system requirements.

KIPP Harbor Academy also must make changes to a proposed building in Annapolis for the fall, although details of their agreement have not been completed, said founding board member Lizz Pawlson. Just in case, the school has temporary facilities lined up for both the first and second years, she said.

On Monday, a roomful of faces followed KIPP Principal B. Jallon Brown as she lectured the children on the importance of sitting up straight and keeping their eyes on the person who is speaking.

The school, part of a national chain of charters dedicated to helping students from underserved communities, heavily recruited from poor neighborhoods and public housing developments in Annapolis.

Public charter schools are open to all county residents, however. KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, provides buses for Annapolis children, but families from Millersville, Hanover and Glen Burnie drove to the program.

After the children were dismissed, Brown said she was relieved and excited.

"It was a pretty good first day," she said. "We hope to build on that, and return to something great in August."

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