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    Hillsboro charter hopeful: school choice the name of the game

    Hillsboro Elementary’s current building might open its doors as Loudoun’s second charter in 2015. Courtesy Photo
    Less than a decade ago, Hillsboro Elementary School housed more than 100 students. But recently, the small community school's numbers dwindled to just 65. The threat of closed doors and empty classrooms loomed.

    But hope remains alive for Hillsboro with the recent approval of a collaborative effort between Loudoun County Public School board members and the Hillsboro parents and community to create a charter implementation application for formal board review. The decision was made at the Aug. 12 School Board meeting.

    “It means a lot to keep the school open, but we also want to increase capacity, to offer better educational programs,” said Hillsboro parent Tauvas Johnson. “And a lot of the town is in favor of keeping the school.”
    Hillsboro's plan is to have the charter open for business by September 2015.

    The 90-page plan is Hillsboro's case to the county that its charter will be different. As the second charter in Loudoun, it would offer choice to the community and give another option for parents whose children haven't found their educational fit.

    “I have always thought that you should be able to choose where your child goes [to school],” said Johnson. “You need to find the education, atmosphere, environment that's right for your child … Every child needs to be where they can learn the best. Every school should offer what a child needs to better their education.”

    The convenience to the immediate area was something they stressed as well. In recent years, buses have carried children past Hillsboro Elementary to Mountain View or Kenneth Colbert elementary schools.

    “There's nothing wrong with the building. It can be put to good use as a charter school to full capacity... And for Pete’s sake, to have teachers and parents drive by and take kids to other schools when we can offer what they need,” said Johnson.

    Chartering is just one option for the school to avoid closure. But to the parents at Hillsboro, the school's becoming a charter means more than keeping its doors open. It means offering a unique, individualized education that stands out from other schools in the county.

    Because it won't be operating within the rules of the traditional public school system, Hillsboro parents and charter committee members hope to be a laboratory for innovation, particularly with the integration of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.)

    Loudoun County focuses much of its energy on programs geared toward fostering STEM education in its students. Hillsboro wants to go a step further by being one of the only schools making a conscious effort to integrate 'A' for art.

    And they want to extend their school days rather than go for the recently opened Middleburg Charter model of an extended year. The decision to implement longer days comes with the belief that children learn better when education is stretched out daily.

    Community involvement is key for the Hillsboro plan. An integral part of the curriculum is co-teaching between certified teachers and experts in the community as part of the school's focus on enrichment. The community becomes more invested in the school that way.

    “If you can have an expert come in and teach [the students] about astronomy or something of that nature, kids are willing to take that in,” said Johnson.

    Loudoun's first charter school in Middleburg went through a yearlong tedious application drafting process with the board.

    Hillsboro hopes to replicate the same time frame less painfully. The board has doubts that the process will be as quick as the parents and community hope. The possible second Loudoun charter is already six months behind in the yearlong drafting process, according to board member Jeff Morse (R-Dulles).

    “The time frame with Middleburg was a nightmare, everyone up here [on the board] admits,” said Morse at the meeting. “I believe you [Hillsboro] may have a leg up, but there are a lot of pieces [of this plan] that are huge holes … The time and effort required to package this together is going to be significant … You're already six months behind. I'm challenged by that upfront.”

    While board members stressed that the process would likely take longer than the applicants anticipate, Hillsboro parents and community members decided to accept the challenge. They've already begun fundraising and implementing a charter committee.

    They believe their plan, which they presented to the board, is already far more detailed than Middleburg Charter's was when it first started its process. With a plan that includes details on everything from transportation routes to core curriculum to lunch menus, they hope there will be less details to work out.

    “After going and hearing that Middleburg was doing this and finding out what a charter was, we thought about trying to use this as a way to keep Hillsboro open and make [the curriculum] more about enrichment,” said Johnson. “We used [Middleburg] as kind of a step-by- step model … That would give us sort of an upper hand, maybe seeing what the School Board expected.”

    Comments

    Typically charters are run like religious schools and outside of urban areas do not do as well as the public schools. In urban areas they just gather up the smart students from the poor areas which is the only reason they do better than the surrounding schools.


    “I have always thought that you should be able to choose where your child goes [to school],” said Johnson. “You need to find the education, atmosphere, environment that’s right for your child … Every child needs to be where they can learn the best. Every school should offer what a child needs to better their education.”
    This statement is self contradictory.  How can every school offer what your child needs if you need to find the one that fits? My view is that the charter movement is the latest way people are using to funnel my tax dollars to their own private school. Parents who do not have the wherewithal to sway the board are left with fewer resources.

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    Loudoun Business Journal - Summer 2014

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