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Middleburg Charter Misses State’s Full Accreditation Mark

© Leesburg Today - 08/25/2015

In its first year, Middleburg Community Charter School fell short of state accreditation benchmarks, Loudoun County school leaders said Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education has given the school an ""accredited with warning"" label after just 50 percent of students tested passed the state Standards of Learning science exam.

The school's new principal and chairman of its board of directors met with Loudoun County Public Schools officials Tuesday to talk about what went wrong and how to improve instruction and boost test scores.

""This is a significant concern for the entire county-you are an LCPS school,"" School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles), chairman of the board's charter committee, said. ""We are concerned about the performance.""

He told Principal David Larson and David Quanbeck, chairman of the school's board of directors, that he understands some of the school's shortfalls. It was the first year implementing a new concept.

Plus, the School Board placed MCCS on probation after it came to light that the school's first principal, Barbara Smith, was not certified to teach or lead a school in Virginia. Larson was hired to lead the school in April after Smith was denied re-entry into the United States because of a lapsed visa.

""There were a lot of high hills to climb,"" Morse said.

Frankly, Larson said, he was not surprised the school failed to meet the accreditation standards.

""Not after seeing what was going on at the school when I first arrived in April,"" he said. ""The curriculum was not being addressed like it should have been.""

And, he added, Smith could not evaluate teachers because she lacked the state-required credentials. ""That's a major disadvantage,"" Larson said. ""When there's no collaboration between staff and administration, it's going to break down.""

The school leadership is working with the division's School Improvement Office to create a plan to make gains in all subject areas.

Although it's just science that has VDOE most concerned, Larson said he wasn't thrilled with any of the test scores. Unofficial scores released by VDOE show pass rates of 67 percent in history and social science, 71 percent in mathematics and 76 percent in reading. The official pass rates will be released Sept. 15, with scores from test retakes included, according to Director of Instruction Timothy Flynn.

Larson said school staff plans to test the students more frequently, possibly on a quarterly basis, so that classroom lessons can be adjusted throughout the year. He also plans to review lesson plans, observe instruction daily and hold more frequent staff meetings, among other changes.

Next month, staff from VDOE will want to see specifics of the school's improvement plan when they visit the school. They will check in again in the spring to see what steps were taken.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) cautioned board members and Larson to make the needed changes but still maintain the school's uniqueness among the county's elementary schools.

Larson said he's confident the school can still teach its Leonardo DaVinci Project curriculum and hold on to its project-based learning model.

""We can find a creative way to meet the standards and still hold true to the fidelity of the DaVinci curriculum,"" he said. ""The standards have to be embedded in what we're doing in the classroom.""

Each year, at least a handful of Loudoun public schools miss testing benchmarks and are designated as ""accredited with warning."" In 2014, the state gave four county schools that label: Tuscarora and Park View high schools, Sterling Middle School and Sterling Elementary School.

VDOE will release its accreditation ratings for all Virginia's schools next month.

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