|Current plans call for the FLA to be based at the Graham Road Elementary School building.|
The vast majority of the 47 people who spoke at the hearing urged the school board to approve the FLA’s application, many of them repeating the same message: that a longer school day and year and smaller classes, with more individual help will level the playing field for lower-income, minority students. They also touted the school’s use of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program that helps lower-income students prepare for college.
Five Falls Church High School (FCHS) parents, all of them members of UPROAR, spoke out against the FLA, arguing that it isn’t needed, especially in its proposed location, the Graham Road Elementary School building.
“That’s $600,000 over three years that we won’t get,” Welch said after the hearing. “That may mean delaying the process. We’re going to have to reassess where we are with the budget.” Without those funds, he acknowledged, the school might not be able to open in fall 2013 as anticipated.
The rejection of the grant request follows a mostly negative report by a Fairfax County Public Schools staff review committee that recommended the school board not approve the FLA unless major changes are made in the budget, curriculum, admissions policies, plan for providing special education, and much more.
For the hearing, Welch rounded up teachers, community members, parents, and students to speak out in favor of the FLA. Noting that the board’s top priority is eliminating the achievement gap, he told the board, “We can help you make that happen.”
Del. Kaye Kory, a member of the FLA board, urged the school board to support the charter school because it would serve students who need extra help to succeed, citing statistics showing lower-income students are more likely to drop out.
Suzie Phipps, a parent with children at Bailey’s Elementary School, said the FLA model “would be another tool in the FCPS toolbox to meet its commitment to prepare every student for success beyond high school.” Former Bailey’s PTA president Christine Adams said the FLA’s small classrooms and innovative teaching would provide encouragement to lower-income students to help them “see beyond their current circumstances.”
Amelia Robinette, who has a daughter at FCHS, said FCHS is a great school but she supports the FLA because it would provide a choice to parents whose kids might “fall through the cracks” at a traditional school. The FLA won’t hurt FCHS and won’t affect its place in the renovation queue, she said.
“This is about kids who don’t have anybody advocating for them and not succeeding in school,” said Chris Minnich. A former student at J.E.B. Stuart High School, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, said AVID helped him succeed in school, while “most students float through from class to class without any real idea of what they could accomplish.”Terry Adams, president of the Annandale Sports Club, spoke about the “legal and moral imperative to close the achievement gap.”
Sharyn Franck, a member of the FLA board and founder of the Arlington Boulevard Community Development (ABCD) Organization, which is based at Kingsley Commons, said she is thrilled the FLA “will be in our neighborhood.” ABCD President John Freeman, the developer of Kingsley Commons, says the FLA will benefit students who have noone to help them with homework and no access to enrichment activities on weekends.
Among others who spoke in favor of the FLA were Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers; Maria Demarest, parent liaison at Bailey’s Elementary School; and Christian Deschauer, representing the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
All the talk about the FLA closing the achievement gap, however, missed a key point: The FLA would only serve 150 students, and there’s no guarantee that students who apply will be at-risk kids from lower-income families. Falls Church, Stuart, and Annandale high schools, from which the FLA hopes to draw its students, together enroll 3,196 students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.
Lynn Petrazzuolo, of UPROAR, explained why UPROAR is opposed to the FLA at the Graham Road location:
- The FCPS 2012 Legislative Program says charter schools are supposed to increase student achievement or address the unique needs of particular student populations “more effectively than other programs.” One of the major “innovations” of the FLA is the AVID program, she said, but FCHS and Stuart already have successful AVID programs that have helped eliminate achievement gaps. At FCHS, 100 percent of AVID students—and 99 percent at Stuart—went to a two or four-year college.
- While the Virginia Board of Education calls for charter schools to create innovate instructional programs, Petrazzuolo said, FLA would provide the same programs FCHS already provides, such as AVID, dual enrollment with Northern Virginia Community College, and collaborative teaching teams.
- Most of the advocates for the FLA are not from the FCHS community and don’t know what FCHS offers. What the school board should be asking is: “What is their school not doing that Falls Church is doing? And how do we replicate the Falls Church model in our other schools? not let’s divert funds to retest a theory that has already been proven successful and let’s do it at the expense of all other schools and students in the county.”
Rather than create a new charter school, she urged the school board to expand the scope of AVID, which would result in more at-risk students going to college.
Joan Daly of UPROAR took exception to statements in the FCPS committee report on the FLA that ignored statistics showing that poor students and those with limited English skills at Falls Church, Stuart, and Annandale, the schools targeted by the FLA, attend college at higher rates than students from those groups at other high schools.
“We have not and do not claim communities targeted by FLA don’t have at-risk students, but that there are other at-risk students in the county who have a greater need for additional support,” Daly said. “How do you justify to your constituents their subsidy of a school that only provides free transportation to students from communities already sending more of their students to college than your own constituents?”
Gary Petrazzuolo raised concerns, also cited by the review committee, that the FLA might not be able to enroll enough at-risk students to reach its goal of having those students comprise 60 percent of its student body. “If FLA does not succeed in attracting a sufficient number of at-risk students, its mission and financial footing are seriously compromised,” he said.
Another Falls Church parent, Vincent Forcier, called the Graham Road building a bad location for the FLA, because “it’s one of the most dangerous intersections in Fairfax County.”
The school board will discuss the FLA application at its Oct. 15 meeting and is scheduled to vote on it Oct. 25.