School board to consider two charter proposals

Independent public schools would serve special-needs students in Harford County

May 21, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Two charter schools seeking to provide alternatives to the public system will seek approval tomorrow from the county school board.

The independent schools, which would use taxpayer money to operate, must submit detailed information on enrollment, classrooms, curriculum and whether programs will be offered for special-needs students.

The board is expected to act on applications for the Restoration Alternative Academy Public Charter School and the Ben Carson Public Charter School.

"These applications have been before the board for a few years," said Donald R. Morrison, director of information for the school system. "There were deficiencies in the applications and the board has given both charter schools time to answer its concerns."

Restoration Alternative Academy, which already has received conditional approval, might open as soon as September in classrooms at the former Aberdeen High School, said the Rev. Nathaniel Johnson, pastor of Aberdeen Bible Church and president of the nonprofit group backing the project.

The academy would offer eighth- and ninth-grade classes to at-risk students primarily in the Aberdeen area, but also in Havre de Grace and Belcamp. Eventually, Johnson envisions a four-year high school curriculum.

"We will still be a public school following all the regulations," Johnson said. "But we have a number of kids who need more directed teaching in smaller classrooms. We believe we also can assist parents with our strong mentoring structure. There are many people looking for this."

One of the school board's concerns was whether Restoration Academy could meet the 30-student enrollment minimum. But Johnson said that requirement has been met and surpassed.

"We have that plus," Johnson said. "We went door to door and met with church and community groups. Now we have a waiting list with 10 students."

Thomas P. Bernier, an attorney on the board of the Ben Carson school, said its application is ready for consideration. The school, which would target children with special needs, would not open until the fall of 2007 and has not settled on a location.

"We have done everything they asked to date and passed our audit with the State Board of Education," Bernier said.

If the schools are chartered, they will bring to 53 the number of public schools in Harford County. Maryland has about 15 charter schools, with about a dozen more seeking approval.

"These schools can fill needs not being met or fill them in a different way," Morrison said. "If they meet the requirements, they must be chartered."

The application process is deliberately arduous because the charter schools "must show us their ability to operate a school," said Kathy Carmello, governmental relations administrator for the school system. Applicants must provide details of staff, students and schedules.

"We would love to see these schools open in the county," Carmello said. "They would enhance our programs. They could bring something innovative and creative to public education."

The board has thoroughly reviewed the applications to determine that all requirements are met, Morrison said.

"The board is the steward of public money for education," Morrison said. "The last thing anyone wants is an unsuccessful charter school."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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