- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

One would-be District of Columbia charter school wants toddlers studying next to parents. Another would like to immerse second-graders in dance lessons. Some call for longer school days and an extended school year, while others focus on more parental involvement.
But all the residents, administrators and teachers backing the proposed schools have one goal in common: better educational opportunities for D.C. youngsters.
The D.C. Charter School Board is currently considering 12 proposed new charter schools across the city for the fall of 2001.
"Variety is the whole idea of choice," said Robert Crane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a D.C. advocacy organization. "People start them with a glorious idea of what education should look like. Naturally, that leads to variety."
Three years ago, the District opened three charter schools. Today, 7,500 students study at 27 charter schools in the city. Seven more schools will open this fall.
All of the charter schools, except for two approved by the Board of Education, have remained open. The board is one of two chartering authorities in the city and doesn't plan to approve any applicants for fall 2001.
The other chartering board, the D.C. Charter School Board, heard from 12 applicants last week about their schools, their goals and their plans. The Public Charter Board can approve 10.
Among the offerings to be considered for approval by January:
* The Center of Hope Destiny Public Charter School, hoping to serve 540 pre-kindergarten to fourth-grade students in Ward 4. The school hopes to raise Stanford 9 scores for its students by 15 to 25 percent and plans to enforce a "code of civility." The center plans to contract with Advantage School Inc., which has already opened one school in the city and will open another this fall.
* D.C. Fine Arts Charter Academy hopes to offer the basics while broadening its kindergarten-through-second grade students in the arts. The school wants to open its doors to children from the entire city and keep those children in school from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 200 days a year, 20 days longer than the public schools do.
* Teckworld Adult Public Charter School Inc. wants to enhance education for 1,500 adults, 16 to 55 years old, annually by providing college preparatory classes, information technology training, innovative GED programs and providing computers and Internet access to students at home.
* East of the River Family Education Public Charter School wants to provide a "comprehensive Family Literacy Program" for 72 children ages 3 to 5 and their primary caregivers in Ward 8.
* Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) D.C. Academy plans to be a college preparatory middle school in Southeast with extended hours and a longer school year. Students would be in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They would attend school three weeks in the summer. The school, already established in the Bronx, N.Y., and in Houston, gives children 90 minutes to read novels at the end of each school day. The school would also focus on character skills, and provides 800 numbers, pagers and cell phones for students and parents to contact teachers at night for homework help.
While the D.C. Charter Board declined to comment on specific applicants, Executive Director Nelson Smith said he was pleased by the response.
"I think what I always find exciting is the collaboration between business and other important community institutions and parents and other grass-roots people," he said. "Now the tough issue for the [applicants] is: Do they have a plausible plan? Have they scoped out real estate possibilities, financing?"
Since the law allowing charters in the District passed in 1996, the D.C. Charter Board has considered 57 applicants, approving 18. All of them have been "fulfilling their mission and most are making progress," said Mr. Smith.
None of the D.C. Charter Board's charters have been revoked so far. Two Board of Education charters were revoked in 1998 and 1999.
The D.C. Charter Board will review the applicants and decide in August whether to approve or deny any applicants or, more likely, approve with conditions or give first-stage clearance. Approvals will be made by January.
Dana Nerenberg, founder of the D.C. Fine Arts Charter Academy, is hoping her application is one of those approved.
"I put in a good application, but I know the process has become increasingly selective," she said. "If it doesn't work, I'll try again next year."

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