As probation ends, charter school looks ahead

March 08, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,

Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School has been in celebration mode since the Anne Arundel County school board voted to end its term of probation by the close of the school year. But the school's insistence on pressing forward with plans to expand Chesapeake to a high school by next year, will likely provide a host of new challenges for the school.

A school department site report discussed at last week's school board meeting said Chesapeake had demonstrated "significant improvement" in its overall governance and management services since it was placed on probation July 12, 2006. The school was cited for not having a licensed or certified special education teacher, inadequate lease and budget plans and inadequate record keeping.

The board's vote to end Chesapeake's probationary period is a major victory for the charter school, which has struggled to adhere to state governance and operational standards, although it has consistently outperformed other county schools on standardized tests.

"I believe even though we've been on probation so long, it's been a learning experience for us," Principal Fatih Kandil said. "We were able to introduce the school system to the challenges that charter schools face. It was a learning experience for all parties involved. We are very excited that we are off probation. It wasn't just us, it was Dr. Maxwell, the school system. We did it all together."

But some of Chesapeake's organizational shortfalls and apparent communication problems with the school system that led to the tough sanctions against the charter school - including probation - surfaced at the school board meeting. Parents of Chesapeake students in their public comments to the board lobbied for the approval of a high school expansion - an item not on the meeting agenda. When pressed, Chesapeake officials then declared their intent to push forward an aggressive high school expansion plan for the next school year.

"We seem to be repeating some of the errors of the past," said Eugene Peterson, a board member. "I would strongly recommend that any of this information that you have has to go to our staff prior to announcing this at our board meeting."

Kandil said an unidentified property owner was offering a seven-year lease for a building in Hanover that is three times the size of the school's 17,000-square-foot building. Kandil said he was not sure whether the owner wanted his name publicly known but that he had followed Chesapeake's growth and was willing to provide $1.2 million in pledged renovations to get a steady tenant in light of the tough economic times. But the building owner had set a tight deadline: April 21.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County schools, said that even if Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and the school board were to receive all the necessary planning documents from Chesapeake and approve the plan before the April deadline, the expansion is still subject to Maryland Department of Education approval. He called Chesapeake's plan to open a high school by September "difficult at best."

Kandil said he had already submitted an educational specification report, lease and budget details to the county schools for review in December. The documents have gone back and forth between school department officials and Chesapeake with edits. Kandil said he has resubmitted two of the three documents and that the other will be resubmitted in the coming days.

"The longer you take, the harder it gets to meet the deadline," Maxwell told Chesapeake leaders during the meeting. "You need to work with haste if you want to have the opportunity to move this forward. Somebody is confused if there are people standing here and telling this board and myself that everything is OK and all the boxes are checked, because that is just not the case."

Maxwell also said that Chesapeake had promised at a school board meeting last year to hold off on an expansion until 2011, in order to avoid past mishaps.

Kandil dismissed the apparent miscommunication, saying he has been in talks with school department officials, including Kathy Lane, the director of Alternative Education for the county schools, about the high school expansion since December. It was not the school's intent to discuss the high school expansion at the meeting, he said, but the issue was pushed to the fore by parents.

"I knew that the board didn't know," Kandil said. "We were not planning to discuss anything with the board members. I had to provide some feedback. The procedure is we have to submit stuff to the administrators, then they are the ones that take it to the board. We were not planning to talk about the high school during the meeting."

Board member Victor E. Bernson Jr., who has been a longtime supporter of the school, urged his colleagues to "keep an open mind."

"I'd really like to see what you enterprising folks come up with in coming weeks," Bernson said. "I just think that's going to be great. My hope is that when this is all said and done, I want to see Chesapeake Science Point go from 6 to 12 [grades]. Keep up this good work. I do hope we can keep an open mind about these things."

Mary Frances Alcoser, the mother of a sixth-grader at the school, urged school board members to consider a high school expansion. Her daughter Dorothy has a speech impediment and is painfully shy but has blossomed at the school, Alcoser said. Most recently, Dorothy delivered an oral project to her classmates for Black History Month on Althea Gibson, an African-American woman who is widely credited with breaking the color barrier in the professional tennis world.

"I have never been a part of a more caring learning environment," Alcoser said. "My daughter wants to go to school now. To know Dorothy, that is a feat."

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