|Falls Church High School|
The charter school proposal was submitted to the Virginia Board of Education Oct. 27 by a group of educators led by JEB Stuart High School teacher Eric Welch. If the state board finds the proposal in order, it goes to the Fairfax County School Board for a vote in April.
The charter school, known as the Fairfax Leadership Academy, would serve about 450 students in grades 7-12. The school would have a longer school day and would operate all year. The proposal calls for a focus on leadership development through entrepreneurship and service programs.
UPROAR is concerned that a charter school just down the road will draw students away from FCHS. The charter school would have the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, which FCHS doesn’t have.
According to Joan Daly, one of the leaders of UPROAR, 130 students who had been assigned to FCHS this year transferred to other public schools because they wanted to attend schools with the IB program. Three nearby public high schools have the IB program—Annandale, Stuart, and Marshall—while FCHS’s attempt to bring in the IB program has been rejected.
At a PTA meeting in November, FCPS Principal Cathy Benner said if the charter school is approved, it could do “incredible damage to our school.” She said it doesn’t make sense to create a new school with the AVID program, when FCHS already has the best AVID program in the country. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a program that prepares disadvantaged students for college.
Hispanic parents who attended a special meeting on the charter proposal Dec. 8 “pretty much all oppose it,” and about 60 of them signed the UPROAR petition, says Maria Mateus, the Hispanic parents liaison at FCHS. At first, the parents were confused about the term “at-risk” in the charter proposal. But once they understood that their children likely wouldn’t be the target population, they weren’t so enthusiastic about it, she said.
Daly said the same misunderstanding occurred during a meeting Dec. 13 where Welch spoke to parents in the Culmore commuity. Those parents thought the school would be for at-risk youths with substance abuse or other problems. Welch’s idea of “at-risk,” however, refers to students who might have to settle for Northern Virginia Community College rather than a four-year college, and the charter application calls for all students to take the IB curriculum.
Hispanic parents are happy with FCHS and “don’t want to lose teachers and students,” Mateus says. They want the school to be renovated and are concerned that if enrollment drops, the renovation would be delayed.
According to Daly, Welch never contacted FCHS parents about the charter school. “We were left out of the discussion,” she says, and the whole process has been marked by “a lack of transparency.”
Daly understands why parents transfer their children to “better” schools, having had her two oldest children “pupil-placed” at Woodson High School because FCHS had a rocky patch with a couple of inadequate principals. She says the current principal, Cathy Benner, is committed to turning the school around, but putting a new school just down the road “threatens our progress.”
Vince Forcier, a Falls Church parent who lives close to Graham Road Elementary School, is concerned that a new high school, with insufficient parking and poor ingress and egress, would create more traffic congestion at the Route 50/Graham Road intersection, which is already one of the most dangerous intersections in the county.
School board members Sandy Evans (Mason) and Patty Reed (Providence) have agreed to discuss the charter school and FCHS’s renovation needs at the next FCHS PTA meeting Jan. 4.
Daly and other representatives of UPROAR are planning to speak against the charter application at a state board of education meeting Jan. 11 and at a state board hearing on the proposal Feb. 22.