|FCHS parents put up these signs outside the meeting|
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.
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.
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.
“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.