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Deputy Superintendent: charter school application “not complete,” 2013 opening unrealistic

Deputy Superintendent Ned Waterhouse spent more than an hour at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting describing the ways in which the Loudoun Math and IT Academy’s charter school application was “not complete.”

The report, produced by Loundoun County Public Schools administrators, is the first in a three-phase application and approval process. It took two months to complete, according to Waterhouse.

“If I could say one thing about this application, it is not complete,” Waterhouse said. “It needs much greater explanation in a number of areas.”

The proposed Academy would serve grades sixth through 12 with a program emphasizing math and science, modeled after the Chesapeake Science Point Charter School (CSP) in Maryland. A phased-in enrollment process would have 192 students enroll in the first year, with a maximum capacity of 672 students by the sixth year.

“There are frequent references to the Chesapeake Science Point program and the applicant draws many references to the practices and the programming,” Waterhouse said. “They intend to use that as a foundation going forward.”

Waterhouse called the description of educational programs “the biggest area that we have the most questions about.”

“The application does not offer enough detail about curriculum to describe in any detail or assess the instructional program,” Waterhouse said. “The responses to the State Board of Ed.‘s staff review comments don’t offer much more specificity. In many cases, those questions simply weren’t answered.”

The IT courses were the only ones that had a “substantial” description of content, Waterhouse said.

He also questioned the application’s description of the school as economically sound.

“Their first year assumes a budget deficit,” Waterhouse said. “We would not be allowed to do that.”

He said the application included fundraising projections but there was no evidence of commitments.

Waterhouse and other LCPS administrators talked with the applicants two weeks ago, who said they would provide answers as soon as possible.

“This is a group of folks who have day jobs and in all candor ... told me ‘we’re working on it,’” Waterhouse said. “‘We’re working on this at nights and on weekends and we just don’t have it ready.’”

Waterhouse said the vague details and confusion could be attributed to the newness of charter schools in the state.

“There has yet to be an application like this moving through the state process,” Waterhouse said. “They’re on new ground just as we are.”

He said the school would be unlikely to open next fall, and that a September 2014 opening was more likely.

Ali Gokce, the president of the Northern Virgina Education Foundation that put the charter school application forward, spoke during citizen’s time earlier in the meeting.

“This is an all-volunteer grassroots effort,” Gokce said. “One thing we lack is a strong experience in education, that’s why we started working with CSP.”

Gokce said the CSP has been a measurable success for Anne Arundel County.

“I invite anyone who has doubts about CSP’s successes to visit the school and see firsthand what we saw,” Gokce said.

He said the school, if approved, would abide by all state and federal regulations.

The application will now enter the second phase of review in a committee chaired by School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles). The process is expected to take two months, Morse said. The preliminary staff report on the Loudoun Math and IT Academy can be read here.


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