Board OKs plan for new charter school

Baltimore-based nonprofit to run Monarch Academy for elementary-age students in county

November 23, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

A new charter school is set to open in Anne Arundel County next fall, after the county school board approved a preliminary plan for a 600-student combined elementary and middle school.

The county school board's unanimous vote last week granted permission to Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell to draft a charter agreement within 30 days between the county school system and the school's management group, The Children's Guild, a 55-year-old Baltimore-based nonprofit. The school board must vote again to approve the charter.

The Children's Guild, which specializes in teaching emotionally disturbed children, will manage the Monarch Academy Public Charter School, which will be in Glen Burnie and eventually enroll 600 students. Andrew L. Ross, president and CEO of The Children's Guild, said representatives from the school plan to reach out immediately to community groups to find interested parents and students.

"What The Children's Guild has excelled at is taking the students who are difficult in education and helping them excel," Ross said. "We're thinking ... we can make those ideas work well with those children. We'd like to give this a try with just regular kids who might not be doing well in a traditional school. Maybe they're getting Cs, and their families feel like they're not doing well enough. We've been very successful with children who are difficult to educate. So now we just want to demonstrate that those ideas that are successful with those children will be successful with kids in regular schools."

This marks the third time the 73,000-student county school system will embark on the process of creating a charter school. Anne Arundel County has produced two charter schools, which are operated using a mix of public and private funds. And while charter schools maintain a level of autonomy, they must also adhere to state and county regulations.

Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School opened in 2005 and struggled to follow the school system's standards in special education and administrative and staffing matters. The Hanover school, which was threatened with closure, has largely rebounded, but remains on probation. The KIPP Harbor Academy closed in 2007, after struggling for two years to find space.

The Children's Guild has schools in Baltimore and Prince George's counties and for the past 11 years has been operating a program out of space at Annapolis Middle School.

Both school system and Children's Guild officials describe a "collaborative" relationship that they say they hope will allow them to avoid many of the past troubles with charter schools.

"This is a project that stands on its own merits," county schools spokesman Bob Mosier said. "We've had a very collaborative relationship with them. And we are confident that a program can be put together that will provide another pathway for our students."

The Children's Guild submitted its plan to the superintendent Aug. 27 and an advisory council comprises a broad spectrum of school officials, including Maxwell, recommended that the board approve the plans for Monarch.

"We believe this is a journey well worth traveling," Maxwell said at the board meeting.

Some have criticized the school system and the school board for a perceived unwillingness to play ball with charter schools, an assertion that Mosier described as "an unfair characterization."

"I think the superintendent has said many times, that assertion that this school system or this board has been trying to run charter schools out of the county, is simply unfounded," Mosier said.

Ross said because his group has worked closely with the county school system for more than a decade, he is confident the parties will have a good working relationship.

"While we've got a lot of freedom, it's still a public school," Ross said. "But I think our ability to work collaboratively with Anne Arundel in the past will mean that we have a good understanding of their needs, and I think they have an understanding of the professional way we approach things. There's no excuses. We're not going to complain. We're going to make it work. ... But we'll still have to deal with everything the public schools deal with, the regulations, the union. I'm not saying it's always easy. I look forward to that challenge. ...

"We're truly committed to staying in this county. No matter how difficult it becomes. We're making a commitment to these families and these children, and that's something we don't take lightly."

Monarch Academy is set to be housed at 6730 Bay Meadow Drive in Glen Burnie, inside a 55,000-square-foot office park, which includes some warehouse space. The school, which will begin as kindergarten, first and fifth grades, has arranged for a lease that will enable the school to rent more property as it expands, allowing it to avoid one of the pitfalls that has plagued other charter schools. Chesapeake Science Point, for example, which enrolls sixth through eighth graders, abandoned plans to expand to ninth grade because of space concerns.

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