Charter school committee criticizes applicants’ answers, effort
Applicants for the Loudoun Math and IT Academy seemed unable to provide good answers to several questions that the School Board’s Charter School Committee posed to them at Thursday night’s meeting.
The school, which will have a STEM and IT focus, is modeled after the Chesapeake Science Point Academy (CSP) in Anne Arundel County, Md.
The meeting represented the first work session on the committee’s schedule.
The committee, comprised of Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) quizzed the applicants on school governance, instruction and curriculum.
Ali Gokce, the group’s leader and the school’s potential executive director, and former CSP principal Fatih Kandil attended the session to answer the board’s questions. Kandil said he serves in an advisory role for the group, not as leadership.
Gokce is a structural analyst in the aerospace field and has lived in Loudoun since 2005.
Kandil is principal of the Baltimore IT Academy, a charter school in Baltimore. He moved to Loudoun in 2010 for family reasons.
The committee’s most pointed criticism came from Sheridan.
When asked about how the school would exceed parent involvement, graduation rates and other practices in Loudoun County, the applicants told the School Board they would need to talk to school system staff.
“Are our practices not public?” Sheridan asked school system representatives after their response.
She questioned the motivations and the effort and ability of the applicants to sincerely put together a plan with details for the school.
“I believe you said ‘the teacher uses art to teach stuff.’ In reference to the [employee] handbook, ‘I don’t have time to deal with that,” Sheridan. “I would expect as someone who is looking to us to approve your charter school that you would come with the best answers possible and the most information possible.”
Kandil often answered questions by referencing practices at CSP and stating that the proposed school would follow the same path.
Turgeon asked the applicants if it was accurate that they would wait until after the charter’s approval to provide a contract that would provide a full curriculum to the board.
Gokce replied that she was correct and the final curriculum would be developed after the contract.
“As a baseline, our curriculum will be very similar to an LCPS middle school and high school program,” Gokce said. “The difference will be in the instruction methods and also IT tracks that we’ll be offering.”
Turgeon, a former teacher in the county, said the undeveloped curriculum was her primary concern.
“In my mind, if I were looking to start a charter, the catalyst should have been the curriculum,” Turgeon said. “The curriculum should have been there.”
Kandil offered that they would use CSP’s curriculum as a base and modify it based on the regulations and laws in Virginia before the contract was signed.
When Morse asked the applicants to define the phrase “volunteer teachers” in the application, Kandil gave an answer involving his experience as principal in CSP.
“We are referring to many of the volunteer teachers we had stay after school, an hour and a half maybe,” Kandil said. “They tutored our students in math and reading.”
Kandil said the teachers would also teach Saturday school classes without any expectation of compensation because of CSP’s limited funding.
“It was almost impossible to gain those extremely high [test] scores the first and second year if the teachers were not so dedicated,” Kandil said. “We presented all our realities to our teachers. . . if you’re not going to offer anything different other than traditional settings, than there’s no need to have charter schools.”
He said as more grades were added to CSP they were able to compensate teachers later for their service.
There was also an hour of public comment after the work session. Most in attendance spoke against the charter school.
The next meeting of the committee, a work session and public hearing, will be held Dec. 6.