Last night, Virginia’s Albemarle County School Board unanimously approved the opening of a new charter school, an arts-infused middle school. What makes this decision an historic first for Virginia public education is that it is the first “true” charter school to open in the state – led by community leaders who developed the plan on their own and brought it to the school board who approved it.
Students in grades 5-8 can attend the Community Public Charter School free of charge starting in Fall of 2008. It will offer both a smaller learning environment and different approaches to learning designed to meet the needs of at-risk children.
Virginia’s General Assembly overhauled the state’s charter school laws in 2004. At the time, leaders expressed their hope that the changes would lead to an increase in the number of high quality charter school applications being submitted around the state. Prior the Albemarle decision, Virginia’s other charter schools had all been opened and operated, with varying autonomy, by their school districts to meet the needs of students considered to be at-risk.
“We have to remember that creating charter schools is really about improving the lives of everyday, real people,” said the new law’s author, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter. “I sponsored the Charter School Excellence and Accountability Act to make it possible for families to have greater educational options for their children at no additional cost to the taxpayers.”
Virginia now has 4 charter schools, down from 8 in 2004. Charter schools are public schools granted flexibility and autonomy from regulations and operations in traditional public schools, in exchange for meeting agreed-upon standards for students’ academic performance.
Nationwide, over one million students are enrolled in over 3,500 charter schools in 40 states. Virginia’s charter school law, which gives local school boards sole authority to approve charter schools, is considered weak compared with other states that allow multiple chartering authorities.
But since the changes to the law in 2004, there has been a marked increase in the number and strength of charter school applications submitted around the state, in such locations as Richmond, Norfolk, and Loudoun County.
The school’s leaders, Bobbi Snow and Sandy Richardson, began their project 3 years ago. Both are experienced public school teachers and administrators. In 2005, they received an important stamp of approval in the form of a startup grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
“Ms. Snow, Ms. Richardson, and the Albemarle School Board have helped us show what good things can happen if we give innovation and change a chance,” added Delegate Lingamfelter.
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