The doors are closing on Landmark Career Academy, an alternative education program for Fairfax County students.
Landmark Career Academy, based at Landmark Mall in Alexandria, focuses on experiential learning and work-study opportunities. But with the mall slated for redevelopment later this year, FCPS administration decided to shutter the program at the end of the school year rather than find it a new home.
School officials sees the closure as the chance to turn over a new leaf for alternative education offerings, but Landmark Career Academy’s staff and students are not on the same page.
Landmark Career Academy opened 20 years ago, in 1994, as an offshoot of Bryant Alternative High School, and since then 294 students have graduated from the program.
The program takes in juniors and seniors from high schools across the county who are not succeeding within a traditional school environment, working to prevent them from dropping out of school. Students take classes toward their high school diploma while also taking part in jobs, internships or career training for credit.
While the school system is closing the academy at the end of June, it wants to keep similar opportunities for work-study open to county students.
“Landmark Career Academy provided important opportunities for kids over the years, but now the model needs to change,” School Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said. “We need to update.”
Kate Salerno, coordinator of nontraditional school programs, said FCPS is planning to open reimagined iterations of Landmark at three of the school system’s career and technical education academies.
These centers, located within existing high schools, offer specialized, career-oriented courses for juniors and seniors, but operate within the traditional school schedule. The new programs adapted from Landmark Career Academy would bring alternative education into the mix, providing greater course and scheduling flexibility for working students.
FCPS plans to incorporate the nontraditional programs into the academies at Edison, Falls Church and West Potomac high schools, Salerno said. The goal is to open all three programs by the start of the next school year, with a target enrollment of 20-25 students each.
That would allow this style of education to reach more students, Salerno said. Landmark Academy served 18-25 students each of the last three school years, about as many students as one of the new programs.
“We need to keep this opportunity open, but make it more accessible to students,” Storck said.
The current teachers and students at Landmark Career Academy, though, remain skeptical of the school system’s plans, not least because they feel like they have not been a part of the process.
“Right now, we feel like they’re keeping us in the dark,” Bybee said. “We’re sitting here in limbo.”
Staff and students were notified in October 2013 that Landmark would not be continuing in its current location, Salerno said.
Then, in January, staff again met with FCPS officials. But while they were told they would be moving to another program, the details still have not been shared, said Dennis Bybee, who has worked as a math and science instructor at Landmark for 15 years. According to Bybee, that has left teachers worried for their jobs and students questioning their academic future.
Salerno said staff positions from Landmark Career Academy will be transitioned into other nontraditional school programs, and employees will also be given an opportunity to apply for positions elsewhere in the school system.
Salerno also said she plans to work closely with the Landmark staff to help the eight students who will remain at the academy after the June graduation find a new place in the school system.