Uncharted Part 1: Starting a school
A few Loudoun parents and their partners hope to give Loudoun County a new first by the end of the year – a charter school.
The Loudoun Math & IT Academy, a charter school that made its way through state approval this past summer and is now being considered by the School Board, would be the first of its kind in Northern Virginia.
The school is modeled after Chesapeake Science Point Academy (CSP) to serve grades sixth through 12th.
A phased-in process would have 192 students enroll in the first year, with a capacity of 672 by the sixth year as it adds grades.
The school, unlike Thomas Jefferson High School, would have no application process, but a lottery would be enacted if more students applied than seats were available.
The school system is obligated to fund the school if its charter is approved, but the school’s governing board may use private funds and has control over the school, which is exempt from some state laws to allow a specialized curriculum.
Parents seeking educational choice
Ali Gokce, originally from Turkey, the applicants’ leader and founder of the school, first moved to Loudoun in 2005.
Gokce said he first heard of charter schools when he was getting his doctorate in Delaware.
His two children attended the Montessori School of Herndon, a private pre-school, which he said first made him consider other options.
He said his daughter was a good reader and student but his has son had attention issues.
“One of the teachers told my wife that the school setting is not exactly for kids like him,” Gokce said. “He would stand up and spread all his books and have a hard time focusing ... but he loves learning.”
In third grade, his son was almost put in the school’s special education program. That spurred Gokce into thinking alternative methods of education might be better for his child and other children.
Gokce talked with a friend, Ali Bacik who founded the Anne Arundel County charter school’s Chesapeake Science Point Academy and was president & CEO of the school’s private governing board, the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation until 2010.
“From there it just snowballed,” Gokce said.
The school’s seven applicants make up the Loudoun Math and IT Academy’s board, five of which are from Loudoun and two, Bacik and former CSP principal Fatih Kandil, who moved to Loudoun in 2010 for family reasons.
Gokce will be the school’s executive director, with systems engineer Mustafa Sahin in charge of the school’s curriculum. Sharon Inetas, a member of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, is focusing on building private and business partnerships with the school.
He said around 2010 Gokce and other parents worked on the application, but lacked education backgrounds and called on Bacik, who brought in Kandil to advise them.
Sahin said he wanted an alternative for students whose parents might not be able to afford the county’s private schools.
“The private school option is extremely costly,” Sahin said. “The regular public school system offers certain things that [they] do not in other countries, but when you look at academic levels, it’s not that competitive.”
Gokce said that while he’s planning on becoming the school’s first executive director, he would give up the position after the school’s opening.
He’s currently a structural analyst in the aerospace field.
“I just want to see the school set up, I want to see my kids in it,” Gokce said. “I’ll stay as long as I can. This will be a service to Loudoun, basically.”
He said he would leave it to the school’s governing board to hire his replacement and he hoped the person to succeed him would have a background in running charter schools.
CSP as a “model”
The applicants decided to model the proposed school after CSP, which has a history of academic successes, outperforming Maryland schools on the state’s standardized tests, the Maryland State Assessments (MSAs), by 20.3 percent.
The school, the first charter school in its county, has had a rocky and often critical relationship with its school system.
The school’s charter was temporarily renewed for the next three years, but a report done by the school system took issues with several areas of the school’s running.
“The learning curve in Anne Arundel County was huge,” Kandil said. “I noticed that the perception was not in place in terms of understanding how to operate a charter school. It took us a lot of time.”
The report criticized the school’s financial accountability, saying it lacked the capital necessary to pay operational expenses and would be in debt until 2017.
Kandil left the school in 2011 and was promoted to director of outreach and community with the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, which oversees two other charter schools in Maryland – the Chesapeake Math & IT Academy and the Baltimore IT Academy. In April 2012, he stepped down his position to become principal of Baltimore IT Academy in Baltimore.
Editor’s note: The printed story omitted Fatih Kandil’s current position as the principal of the Baltimore IT Academy. Loudoun Math and IT Academy’s application makes no mention of this position and he did not mention it in an interview with the Times-Mirror, he only referenced his prior position as director of outreach and community for the Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation. We regret the error.
This is the first of a three-part series on the Loudoun Math & IT Academy’s proposed charter. The second installment will focus on the application process and operational plans with the third discussing criticism of the project.
Editor’s Note: Ali Gokce is the husband of a former employee of the Loudoun Times-Mirror. This relationship has had no impact on coverage of this charter school application.