Opponents and supporters of a proposed charter school for at-risk students spoke before the Fairfax County School Board on Tuesday night during a public hearing on the alternative school’s application.
A majority of the nearly 40 parents and community members who spoke during the hearing said they were concerned that the public charter school would take funding and resources from the Fairfax County Public Schools system and that programming was redundant to what is already being offered at neighboring high schools.
The charter school effort is headed by 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.
Tuesday night, parents said the services proposed by Welch — the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program and college-dual enrollment options — are already offered and successful at neighboring Falls Church High School.
“When these parents say they need [Fairfax Leadership Academy], you should be asking, ‘What is their school not doing that Falls Church is doing, and how do we replicate the Falls Church [High School] model in other schools’” said parent Lynn Petrazzuolo, a member of UPROAR (United Parents for Renovating Our Academic Resources), which is a parent-led advocacy group pushing for renovations to Falls Church High School. “You should not be thinking, ‘Let’s divert funds to retest a theory that has already been proven successful and let’s do it at the expense of all other schools and all other students in the county.’”
Parents like Petrazzuolo said that school resources should be used to benefit more students than those who would be selected to attend Fairfax Leadership Academy, a process which will be conducted by lottery, according to the academy’s leadership.
Funding for the charter school has been problematic. A charter school review committee questioned Fairfax Leadership Academy’s current funding proposal.
According to the committee report, the FLA budget includes no external private funding, which is “a critical issue with the FLA proposal.”
“While FLA might be able to provide a minimally adequate program within the contingency budget, there will be no ability to absorb unanticipated added expenditures such as those required to provide additional support to students with Level 2 disabilities, or to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers with multiple advanced degrees and certifications, etc. FLA’s budget also does not adequately address start-up costs (furniture and equipment) and the facility modifications that are needed to comply with the FCPS Program of Studies,” reads the report. Other costs may be incurred with the renovation of Graham Road Elementary School, which FLA plans to use as its school, but which was closed by the school system because of site issues and renovation costs.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Welch said FLA would not receive a federal start-up grant for charter schools, which is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
“This proposal is not about any one school in FCPS and their concerns about resources or renovations. We don’t want to stand in their way of getting those resources and renovations,” said Welch, who is the executive director for Fairfax Leadership Academy. “We were recently notified that we will not receive a federal charter school implementation grant for this upcoming year. This is going to cause us to reassess our plan for this school. But that does not change the need for this school … the achievement gap still exists.”
The School Board will hold a work session on the charter school application Monday, Oct. 15, at the Gatehouse Administration Center. A vote is currently scheduled for the Thursday, Oct. 25, School Board business meeting at Luther Jackson Middle School.