A group of educators trying to found the Fairfax County’s first charter school has been given a tentative Dec. 1 deadline to address concerns on funding and operations after questions were raised late last week by the school system’s Charter School Review Committee.
Although the committee has recommended to the School Board a Dec. 1 deadline, the board is scheduled to vote on how the application will proceed Oct. 25.
Leading the effort is J.E.B. Stuart High School teacher Eric Welch, who has proposed a school serving 450 students (at full capacity) in grades seven through 12. The school, which would be named the Fairfax Leadership Academy, would enroll students living in Falls Church, Bailey’s Crossroads and the Annandale areas, with a focus on at-risk students. Welch said he is determined to provide a year-round school calendar, longer school days and smaller class sizes to bolster student achievement. If approved, the school would open next fall.
“There were no real surprises in the report [on the charter school’s application],” Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko said. “In order for the school to open next fall, you really need to be selecting students in January.”
Students, he said, would be chosen through a lottery system.
Fairfax Leadership Academy received the Virginia Board of Education’s authorization in April. In Virginia, charter applications are first reviewed by the state and then by the local school board.
In Fairfax County, the leadership academy was reviewed against 17 components, 16 of which are required by Virginia charter law. Most of the components focus on the admission process, funding, community support and other operational questions. The additional component was added by the committee to ensure the charter school would address the needs of special-education students.
“The reason we put that in there is charter schools nationwide have run into issues with special education,” Moniuszko said. “If they choose not to follow those special education requirements, which are federal requirements, the school system gets cited.”
Meeting Level 2 special-education service requirements was among the issues the school system is asking the charter school applicants to address. Level 2 special-education services are provided to students who spend 50 percent of their day with additional special-education services, usually students with mild disabilities.
“Nothing was a surprise that came out of the report because we met with the staff during the summer. Nothing wasn’t anticipated,” Welch said. “This is a step in the process. The school system isn’t just going to give us a thumbs-up and say ‘off you go.’”
In addition to its questions on special education, the school system said Fairfax Leadership Academy needed to provide more information on budgeting, public-private funding resources, its admission policy, classroom instruction services and materials — such as textbooks — that would be used in the classroom, and how these details would meet state, federal and school system requirements.
“It’s helpful to us to know where we are and what needs to be addressed,” Welch said. “We’re fine with the process because we want to be a part of the school system and have our kids be a part of the school system.”
Fairfax County’s School Board was given a review of the application and recommendations from staff during its regular meeting Thursday night. The board will host a public hearing on the proposal Oct. 9, with a work session to follow on Oct. 15.