4 charter schools get OK in city

New high school would focus on health sciences

December 20, 2005|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore school board approved last night applications for four charter schools - including the city's first charter high school - and rejected applications for five others.

The vote does not necessarily mean that the four successful applicants will open next school year, only that they will now enter into negotiations over logistics with the school system. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate independently.

Two of the applications approved propose converting existing schools, Rosemont Elementary and ConneXions Community Academy, to charter schools, while two involve the creation of new schools.

One of the new schools, proposed by a group of city teachers, would focus on environmental education and project-based learning. The other would be the city's first charter high school, centering on the health sciences.

The Green School of Baltimore would open next fall with kindergarten through second grade, adding a grade each year until it has a complete elementary/middle school.

Laura Weeldreyer, the school system's coordinator for new and charter schools, said the proposal was put forth by "a group of very dynamic city teachers" who are already incorporating environmental education into their individual classrooms. The teachers plan to operate their school in a church in Remington for two years while they look for a larger building.

The Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences (MATHS) would be the first school in Baltimore to train students for careers in biotechnology. Weeldreyer said the school would develop a biotechnology curriculum that the school system would then be able to use citywide.

While the school's planners initially proposed that MATHS be in East Baltimore, Weeldreyer said the school system is encouraging the school to find a location on the city's west side, in an attempt to quell criticism that the school would compete with Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

Dunbar, a citywide high school in East Baltimore, has been waiting for four years for a promised renovation that would enable it to be a showcase school focusing on the health professions. A group of Dunbar supporters criticized the charter school proposal at a school board meeting last week.

But Weeldreyer said thousands of students who apply each year to Dunbar and the other two city high schools focused on sciences, Polytechnic Institute and Digital Harbor High, are not accepted - either because of failure to meet admissions criteria or lack of space. (Dunbar and Poly have entrance requirements; Digital Harbor does not, nor would the new charter school.)

ConneXions, which serves grades six through eight, is asking for permission to add a high school, starting next year with a ninth grade and adding a grade each year. The operation of Rosemont, run by Coppin State University, would remain unchanged.

By converting to charter schools, Rosemont and ConneXions would each be eligible for $350,000 in federal charter school money over three years.

The school board turned down proposals for a performing arts elementary and middle school in Forest Park and two K-8 schools that would have been operated by a subsidiary of Imagine Schools. Imagine is a national school management company that has operated for profit. But the company announced this fall that it would form a nonprofit organization, enabling it to apply for charters in states such as Maryland, whose charter school law prohibits the granting of charters to for-profit companies.

Patterson Park Public Charter School, one of 12 charter schools that opened in Baltimore this year, subcontracted with Imagine to run that school.

Last night, the school board also officially turned down two applications that were withdrawn by their applicants, including a plan from Coppin State University and another for an all-boys high school.

In recommending which charter applications to approve, Weeldreyer said, the school system looked at whether the applicants have the expertise, experience and leadership to run a school; whether the proposed governing board and staff know how to manage public money; and whether they have a sound educational program.

The rejected applicants may appeal to the State Board of Education. They must show that the city school board acted illegally or in an arbitrary or capricious manner in rejecting the applications.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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