|Graham Road Elementary School|
Key elements of the proposal include a longer school day and year, wraparound social services, and programs to prepare disadvantaged youths for college, including the International Baccalaureate and AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) programs, says Eric Wolf Welch, a social studies teacher at JEB Stuart High School and one of the founders of the proposed Fairfax Leadership Academy.
Welch hopes the new school can open in 2013. The state Board of Education must review the charter proposal at least 18 months before the school opens. But it’s the Fairfax County School Board, however, that must vote on whether or not to approve it. Charter schools are public schools that have more flexibility to be innovative. There are four charter schools in Virginia; none of them is in Fairfax County.
Welch says the new school would have approximately 75 to 100 students per grade. Under Virginia’s rules for charter schools, anyone from Fairfax County, regardless of income, would be allowed to apply for admission. If too many students apply, a lottery would be held.
The school would have to comply with all FCPS policies. It could not, for example, exclude students eligible for special education. Welch expects 15 percent of the school’s students to be in special education, which would reflect the proportion in other area schools.
The group is pursuing the Graham Road Elementary School building as the most favorable location. That school will close, and its students will be relocated to a new building under construction on the site of the former Devonshire FCPS administrative building in fall 2012.
The Graham Road building would likely remain open to serve breakfast to children in the community, as a transportation hub for buses taking neighborhood children to the new school, and as an after-school SACC center.
Other locations that were explored for the Fairfax Leadership Academy—including a wing of Falls Church High School and the Willston Community Center—are not considered feasible.
Noting that FCPS has special schools targeting certain populations, such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and the academies for students pursuing vocational careers, Welch says he would like to offer another choice—for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including minorities, who could be the first in their families to attend college.
“We’re doing it to get a conversation started,” he says. He would like to see all Fairfax County Public Schools adopt a full-year calendar. According to Welch, the longer school schedule would allow for such things as taking students to visit colleges and to have mini-courses on topics like aviation incorporating a field trip to a Boeing plant.
Another way the proposed Fairfax Leadership Academyway would differ from other FCPS schools is that all administrators, even the head of school, would teach at least one class, Welch says. The school would also stress semester-long collaborative projects; leadership development through service learning and civic engagement; and career education through partnerships with businesses and local organizations.
Along with Welch, others working on the charter proposal include Shawn DeRose, director of student activities and athletics at TJHSST; Philip Bernhardt, coordinator of teacher preparation programs at George Washington University (GWU); Vince O’Neil, assistant head of GWU’s Online High School; Stu Singer, a former FCPS math teacher; Sherry Singer, a former FCPS biology teacher; Sharyn Franck, of the Arlington Boulevard Community Development Organization; and teachers from Twain and Poe middle schools.