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Board Approves Second Loudoun Charter School

© Leesburg Today - 06/23/2015

Hillsboro Charter Academy is set to open in the fall of 2016, following the approval of the county's School Board Tuesday.

Loudoun will soon have a second public charter school.

Hillsboro Charter Academy is set to open in the fall of 2016, following the approval of the county's School Board Tuesday.

""This is the pinnacle of a long, uphill battle,"" said Jeff Morse (Dulles), who chairs the board's charter committee. ""We've been working with the Hillsboro community to try to put together a new opportunity and a new choice for the students across the county.""

More than two years ago, parents and teachers at Hillsboro Elementary School began drafting an application to convert one of the county's oldest schools into a charter facility. Their efforts were spurred by comments from School Board members in February 2013 that the two smallest schools in the county, Hillsboro and Middleburg, should get creative to boost enrollment or face closure.

A committee of the School Board and school system administrators have worked with the applicants for the past several months to fine-tune the plan for the school.

It was in numerous late-night committee meetings that the group addressed details of how the school would operate, so Rebecca Fuller, the lead charter applicant, said she felt confident ahead of Tuesday's meeting that the board would back the proposal.

""It was so clear that we were working together toward the same end,"" she said.

Still, Fuller cried when the 8-1 vote was cast.

""I couldn't help it. … This was a long time coming,"" she said. ""Now, we start the fun work. We get to create something fabulous.""

Hillsboro Charter Academy will be a free elementary school of choice for all Loudoun residents. Students will be selected through a lottery system, except those who attend Hillsboro Elementary in the 2015-16 academic year will be grandfathered in.

The school will operate on the same academic calendar as other Loudoun County Public Schools, but will offer an extended day schedule, as well as after-school and summer enrichment programs. It also will offer full-day kindergarten, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum, and an in-house gifted program.

Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) was the one board member who opposed the charter application. She told the applicants at the beginning of the vetting process that if the school's principal would not be an employee of Loudoun County Public Schools, then she would not support it.

""We are condoning that the principal be hired by an all-volunteer board and giving no requirement that those board members have any educational experience,"" she said. ""I can't support that.""

The Hillsboro Charter Academy application is the third charter proposal this School Board-made up of several board members who were elected on promises to promote school choice-has received in the past three and a half years. The first, a proposal for the Loudoun Math & IT Academy, was approved by the Virginia Board of Education before it came to the local board. The Loudoun board rejected it, citing financial and instructional shortcomings. The second application, for the Middleburg Community Charter School, was approved and the school opened in August 2014.

Morse suggested that the Hillsboro program may not be the county's last charter school. He said, ""Maybe one day we'll have one over on the far eastern side of the county.""

Virginia is home to seven public charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded programs, but are allowed flexibility in how they meet state and federal academic benchmarks.

For more information on Hillsboro Charter Academy, go to hillsborocharter.org.

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