main banner

Saturday, September 15, 2012

FCPS committee recommends that FLA charter school application not be approved

A Charter School Review Committee, convened by Fairfax County Public Schools to evaluate the application submitted by the Fairfax Leadership Academy (FLA) has recommended that the school board “not accept” the application “as submitted.” A report by the committee, released by FCPS Sept. 14 says the “the proposal as currently described should not be approved” unless a long list of issues can be resolved by Dec. 1.

FLA proposes establishing a grade 7-12 charter school to serve “academically at-risk” students or those who are not thriving academically, emotionally, or socially in their traditional public school. The charter school would enroll students from the Falls Church, Bailey’s Crossroads, and Annandale area. It would be located in the Graham Road Elementary School building and would open in August 2013.

FLA plans to offer a full-year school calendar, longer school hours, and smaller class sizes. All  students would participate in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and dual-enrollment courses offered through Northern Virginia Community College. The FLA proposal was submitted by Eric Welch, a teacher at JEB Stuart High School

The committee, composed of FCPS staff, called for the application to address these issues:
  • Develop a budget that meets Virginia Standards of Quality staffing requirements.
  • Secure written commitments for the additional public-private external funding proposed in the application.
  • Establish an admission policy that will fulfill FLA’s goal of a student body that is 60 percent comprised of “academically at-risk” students.
  • Provide more detailed information on how FLA will deliver classroom instruction.
  • Amend the application and budget to deliver support as needed to students requiring Level 2 special education services.
“Overall, we see the FCPS staff review committee’s report as positive and the fact that we have moved through this initial review phase as progress,” said Welch.

The application will be presented as new business to the Fairfax County School Board at its regular meeting on Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. at Luther Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church. The school board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Oct. 9, consider it at a work session Oct. 15, and vote on it Oct. 25. [It is not clear why the board is supposed to vote on the FLA Oct. 25, when the applicant doesn’t have to fix the problems in the proposal until Dec. 1. Mason school board member Sandy Evans says that’s an issue “the board should discuss.”]

The review committee questioned where there is evidence, which is required, that “an adequate number of parents, teachers, pupils, or any combination thereof, support the formation of a public charter school.”

“FLA has shown limited support for its formation by parents, teachers, and/or students,” states the report by the committee. As of Sept. 7, FLA had received 27 letters or statements of support from the community,  including only one from a parent. The committee report says FLA was able to meet only 10 percent of its goal to collect 5,000 signatures on a petition in support of the school.

“It should be noted that a coalition of parents from Falls Church High School (UPROAR) has consistently stated their opposition to establishing a charter school for grades 7-12 at the Graham Road site,” the report says. “UPROAR’s petition, as of this writing, has received 579 signatures in opposition to FLA’s application.”

The review committee agreed with the applicant that there is a need for the FLA because of the concentration of immigrants and students living in poverty in the Stuart, Falls Church, and Annandale high school pyramids and the need to address the achievement gap.

The committee reviewed a report by UPROAR on four-year college entry rates in FCPS schools, which found that, when the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced price lunches is taken into account, Falls Church, Stuart, and Annandale actually perform far above other county schools in sending minority and low-income students to four-year colleges.

“While the UPROAR report appears to be accurate in its analysis of the data regarding college entry,” the committee states, “the fact remains that the targeted attendance area for FLA does have a concentration of students in poverty, as well as English language learners, who are not attending two-year or four-year colleges.”

When it comes to the curriculum, instruction, and assessment, the committee highlighted several shortcomings in the application: not enough funds budgeted  for instructional materials, the proposed use of textbooks not approved by the state Board of Education, the lack of a specific plan to meet the needs of at-risk students and English language learners, insufficient funding for professional development, the lack of a demonstrated commitment from community partners to establish learning partnerships, and limited curriculum offerings.

The committee found the application’s plan for providing special education services “not acceptable as submitted.” While charter schools may not be required to provide highly specialized services to students with severe needs, like autism, the committee states, if the school doesn’t provide a continuum of services to students with disabilities, both the FLA and FCPS could be sued for discrimination.

The committee called for the FLA and FCPS to agree to a “memorandum of understanding” outlining a long list of procedures involving the identification of students with disabilities, individual learning plans for them, transportation for them, and much more.

The applicant’s plan to use a lottery to determine who gets to enroll at the FLA was also fund to be unacceptable. The proposed system could result in a greater percentage of academically high-performing students, the committee says, which “raises serious questions concerning the ability of the proposed charter school to accomplish a student population consisting of 60 percent or more academically at-risk students.”

The committee found the proposed budget for the school not acceptable because it underestimates staffing costs, start-up costs, and the costs involved in renovating the building and bringing it up to code.

As the first charter school application in Northern Virginia, Welch said he expected there would be “a series of steps working with the district staff and school board to ultimately meet the requirements for operating this school. This report gives us specific targets which we will work towards meeting over the next several weeks.”

“The committee’s report also validates our school’s mission, management practices and that there is a need for our school’s program within FCPS. We received ‘acceptable’ marks for these areas in the report,” Welch said. “This review committee’s report confirms our belief that our school can help FCPS meet its mission of reducing the achievement gap and that our existence will not have a negative impact, but rather a positive impact, on the district.”

1 comment:

  1. Didnt Sandy Evans say she was going to speak to the Cluster 2 community first to see if the Charter School was a good idea? Let's step right over the Cluster 2 taxpayer, and decide without input - that is the mindset and methodology - so sad.