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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Charter school would offer dual enrollment with NOVA

FCHS parents put up these signs outside the meeting
Founders of the charter school proposed for Fairfax County presented their vision to a packed room at a public meeting hosted by Fairfax County Public Schools at the FCPS headquarters building in Falls Church June 12.

The Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the charter school proposal Oct. 9 and will vote on it Oct. 25.

In one major change from a previous proposal for the Fairfax Leadership Academy (FLA), it would no longer offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Instead, it would provide dual enrollment with Northern Virginia Community College, allowing 11th and 12th graders to take NOVA classes, and earn college credits, at the FLA, said Eric Welch, the school’s founder.

That wouldn’t happen until 2017-18, however, as the school would open with just seventh and eighth-graders and would add another grade each year.

Falls Church High School already offers dual enrollment with NOVA and also has a very good AVID, a national program aimed at preparing at-risk students for college, which the FLA would also have.

There had been widespread concern among the FCHS community that if FLA also offers those programs, it would draw students from FCHS, which is less than a mile from the Graham Road Elementary School building where the FLA would be located.

In fact, Welch’s statement that the FLA will be a model of innovation for FCHS drew an outcry from the audience. “We’re the model for you,” one Falls Church parent interjected.

In response to a question about FLA’s potential impact on FCHS, Welch said, “We’re a small school. We don’t think we’ll have an impact on Falls Church. We wouldn’t do it if we thought that.” Welch, the chairman of the FLA Board of Directors, is the AVID coordinator at JEB Stuart High School.

FCPS Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko said if enrollment drops at FCHS, that could affect the school’s place on the queue for renovation money, but added, “I wouldn’t anticipate a great a impact.” The aging FCHS building is in dire need of renovation, but is really far down on the list.

“We’re not married to that location,” Welch said of the Graham Road building, but noted it will be empty and the schools around it are overcrowded, so it would be a good location. He didn’t mention its close proximity to Kingsley Commons and FLA’s close ties to the owner of that housing complex, John K. Freeman, whose organization, Arlington Boulevard Community Development, is providing funding to the FLA.

While charter schools in Virginia are open access—they have to accept everyone who applies and would use a lottery if there are too many applicants—Welch said “we can market it any way we want.” His plan is to market the FLA only to schools and community organizations inside the beltway in the Falls Church, Annandale, Merrifield, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Seven Corners areas.

Moniuszko told the audience that he has been appointed to chair a committee to review the FLA’s proposed operations and finances and “make a recommendation to the school board on the feasibility of the proposed school.”

The committee includes two principals, Sonya Swansbrough of Poe Middle School and Dan Meier of Robinson Secondary School, the cluster assistant superintendents, and other administrators. According to Moniuszko, FCPS staff members are supposed to be neutral in terms of whether they favor the charter or not.

Welch said his motivation in creating the FLA is to be able to offer a school that can provide more time for learning to reduce the achievement gap.

The charter school would be open 206 days a year (compared to 183 days in a traditional FCPS school) and would provide an eight-hour day (rather than six hours and 45 minutes.) Welch said the extra time would be used for the core subjects, extra help for students who need remediation, English language instruction, and electives like music and art.

The school’s schedule would include two-week intercessions, which would focus on career preparation—including mentoring with business professionals and visits to work sites—and service learning activities.

“As a charter school we get to do some innovative things that a comprehensive high school isn’t able to do,” said Anthony Terrell, an assistant principal at Fairfax High School and vice chairman of the FLA’s Board of Directors.

In addition to an extended schedule, the school will have an innovative structure. “All of the adults in the building will be teaching and working with students,” said Catherine Buffaloe, a special education teacher at Hayfield High School, who also serves on the FLA board.

According to Buffaloe, the FLA will address some of the achievement gap issues that plague FCPS. Fifty-five percent of students at NOVA need remediation, she said, and minorities are underrepresented in higher education. While 81 percent of white students in FCPS go to college, only 65 percent of black students, 55 percent of English language learners, and 56 percent of students from lower-income families do so.

Charter schools receive the same average per-pupil funding amount as other public schools in Fairfax County. Those funds travel with the student.

Moniuszko said the FLA would also receive needs-based funding just like any other FCPS school that qualifies if it meet the threshold for students from economically disadvantaged families, special education students, and English language learners.

The FLA also plans to apply for a $600,000 federal grant for the development and implementation of a charter school and its budget also calls for raising $250,000 from foundations or other private sources.

Critics of the FLA face an uphill battle, as the charter school continues to gain support in the education community.

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg said he supports the FLA because it would be a public school that is “teacher driven and student focused.” The school would determine what teachers to hire but applicants would go through the FCPS human resources process.


  1. Critics of FLA? What a comment! Every time one of the so-called critics has asked a question about the impact of the Charter School to the community is has been a challenge for FLA to answer, it has been the "silent treatment" and no public disclosure.

    Just look - the other night at Gatehouse, 3 x 5 cards were collected and only the "clown questions" like is the "school going to have sports" were answered - need I say more?

  2. Thanks. I concur with you. We often hear our elected representatives saying they "need our voices" to strategize new initiatives. This is absolutely not happening here. One more thing, there is nothing new about "dual enrollment with NOVA" This is not a new innovation, as it is available at other FCPS schools. Two things: Why go a Charter route to spend grant or corporate donated money on existing county tax funded/FCPS services? Why market this as a Charter School capability when it already exists - this makes no sense?

  3. Thank you for pointing out the comment: We’re not married to that location,” Welch said of the Graham Road building, but noted it will be empty and the schools around it are overcrowded, so it would be a good location. He didn’t mention its close proximity to Kingsley Commons and FLA’s close ties to the owner of that housing complex, John K. Freeman, whose organization, Arlington Boulevard Community Development, is providing funding to the FLA. I just looked up campaign contributions on the internet - it's in the public domain - Freeman to FLA member State Senator Chap Petersen $4500 - what an eye opener. Is perception reality?

  4. ...And Falls Church is not overcrowded - FLA slide showed it at 97 percent capacity...bring the charter and its funding to Falls Church to augment the ongoing outreach to the poorer community..I would like my children to be in smaller class sizes too.

  5. I would like to know how impartial is Dr. Moniuszko (to be sitting on the recommendation committee), when Eric Welch mentioned at a meeting at Falls Church that he has been advised by him.

  6. or perhaps the funding should be spread evenly amongst all of the schools with FLA targeted population? Share the wealth, then many more at risk students will benefit. If the teachers/administrators have the funding and the support of the school system to implement the programs that will help the most students succeed then everyone wins. Why be selective with a charter school? A charter school is a "no confidence" vote for the public schools in the immediate vicinity.

  7. The notion that FLA will be a model of innovation is questionable. That is the same line that the proponents of TJHSST sold in the 80s. If you look at TJ today, it does absolutely nothing that helps any other high schools, while siphoning off many of the top students year after year and negatively impacting the schools those students would otherwise attend. Opening up FLA would only further Balkanize a school system that used to be known for across-the-board excellence. Please spend the money to renovate FCHS instead.

  8. Why does the Annandale blog have a button on the JEB Stuart PTSA website? Is the message being sent to the public that the BLOG is a prime supporter to the the FLA?

  9. John Freeman has donated $15,500 to Chap Peterson since 2006. The schools around Graham Road are not overcrowded. State rep Kaye Kory represented FC on the fcps school board for over 8 years. On her watch and Tina Hone's ( former at large sb member)families fled the school, ineffective principals were installed, the building crumbled. IB a program that once required a commitment to the rigorous diploma program got watered down by that very school board so now students
    can pupil place out of their base school and take ONE IB class per year!

    IB is very expensive and has become a weak program that costs alot. All this and no support for FC which is still dealing with the aftermath. Nothing new in FLAs program offering. The community around Graham road doesn't need or want it. So why do Kaye, Tina and Chap want it?
    One must ask why all this political support for a program the community doesn't want? Just follow the money and egos.

  10. Freeman has given at least $15,500 to Peterson since 2006

  11. Chock it up to self licking egos