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    Middleburg Charter School faces probation

    Loudoun's first charter school is looking at possible probation for deficiencies in its personnel teaching certification.

    Loudoun County Public School Board members on the Charter Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full School Board adoption of the probation at a meeting Nov. 24.

    Principal Barbara Smith is still waiting for her certification to teach in the commonwealth to be processed.

    A number of Middleburg Community Charter School's teachers do not come up when searched in the license query section of The Virginia Department of Education website.

    “We're interested in resolving this as quickly as possible,” said Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles). "We do view it as a deficiency. [Certification is needed] to evidence their expertise. Not being able to prove that is a serious concern. So we are determined to make sure that all of the staff at MCCS are highly qualified and have all the certification.”

    Under Virginia state law, all charter schools are required to have fully certified teachers.

    According to the VDOE's Communications Director Charles Pyle, charter schools are considered public schools. So there are no special exceptions for something as basic as certification.

    Nothing has been finalized for MCCS yet. The committee will advise the board to put the probation in place at the Dec. 2 meeting of the full board.

    If the full board agrees, a letter would be sent to the charter's Board of Directors notifying them of the deficiency. They would be given a set number of days to respond.

    If put on probation, MCCS will be required to submit a written plan of action to the board on how it will remedy the shortcomings.

    The committee would like to see a timeline for that plan as well. Morse said they'd have to see that plan and the projected timeline for when the charter expects the licensing to come through, which would be taken into account in the decision for how long they would have to redeem themselves in the eyes of the board.

    An investigation will be launched into the licensing status of all MCCS teachers, who would be asked to submit their portfolio for certification.

    It's not unusual for delays, according to Pyle. Sometimes teachers and schools have sent all the necessary paperwork, but the licensing entities are waiting for transcripts or other documentation.

    “There can be a lag time at the beginning of the school year,” said Pyle. “Not so much on our end, but between the beginning of instruction and when the school division gets in the paperwork and documentation for issuance...It just happens.”

    Smith is both principal and a teacher of math for grades three through five. Having received her certification and further teaching experience largely outside of the United States from Canada, she had to go through the same re-certification as any teacher coming into Virginia.

    LCPS was in charge of hiring the teachers at MCCS, but Smith was hired by and answers to the charter's Board of Directors. They are held to the same state laws on accreditation as all schools in the county.

    “LCPS is responsible for checking the licensure of all our staff,” said Smith in a statement. “They are rigorous and take full responsibility for ensuring that our staff credentials are in order.”

    The setback comes with the territory, according to Morse. Because it's the county's first charter school, it's a learning experience for everyone. In the future, he said, one of the changes they'll make to the policy language is requiring physical evidence of licensure before hiring. Their argument for approval of the charter to the board in May was on the grounds that the certification was on its way.

    “Our job as the Committee is to find [the bumps in the road] and resolve them,” said Morse. “The first time through is always going to be the most difficult. The Charter Committee will find any of the pitfalls and change policies [for the future].”
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