- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The founders of the proposed Jaime Escalante Charter School in Montgomery County dream of opening a different kind of school.
Right now, though, that dream is stuck in a familiar groove: lack of facilities and funds.
Over the next three weeks, the school's applicants have the challenge of finding a location for the school before submitting their application to the county school board for a third time.
The founders a handful of educators and parents have not yet found the site nor the money, but they are hopeful they will over the next few days.
They are determined because they say: Something needs to be done about the county's minority students, who often enter high school unable to read, write or do math at grade level.
"We view charter schools not as an indication that something is wrong with the public school system, but as a vehicle for reform and change," said Joseph A. Hawkins, one of Escalante's founders and an applicant.
Despite the school system's efforts, he said, minority students often fall through the cracks, particularly at the high school level.
County teachers, who are supporting the school, said they are moved by the various problems they encounter when working with minority students.
While all students in the county showed gains in tests over the past few years, "when you look at the scores, you find that while the minorities have gained, so have the white and Asian students. And there is still a gap," said Julie Greenberg, a teacher at Montgomery Blair High School and an applicant for the charter school.
With an eye on the achievement gap, the applicants have designed a program under which students will start school as late as 9 a.m., and go into what could be a longer school day.
There will be no principal. Instead, the school's executive director will handle the clerical and logistic work, and the instructional leader will deal with the academic matters.
"We thought we could use the money we would pay a principal to improve programs for students," Mr. Hawkins said.
Teachers will eat lunch with students to get to know them better, and all students will be offered the prestigious international baccalaureate program.
The academic focus will be so tight that the school will have no football team.
"Children will come to this school to excel at academics. Sports is not our mission," Mr. Hawkins said.
When the Escalante charter originally was proposed last year, its founders hoped to locate it in Silver Spring, with its large population of Hispanics students who typically have been low achievers in state and county tests, along with blacks.
The Escalante application was rejected, and the empty Silver Spring school building has since been rented out to a private school, Mr. Hawkins said.
This year, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended that the board reject the school's proposal. "I am not convinced that acceptance of the application for the Jaime Escalante Charter School would offer a unique alternative to existing public school programs. Nor do I believe that it would produce an instructional program that would be aligned with educational and budgetary priorities of the Board of Education," he wrote.
Despite the negative recommendation, the school avoided an outright rejection from the school board last week. Instead, the board voted 5-3 to give the charter applicants a month to work with some of its recommendations, including a plan to physically separate the charter's middle and high schools, locating both in existing high school and middle school facilities.
Member Stephen A. Abrams, at large, who proposed the resolution, recommended that the school locate in the Wheaton cluster an idea that does not please the applicants.
"We started out with a particular neighborhood because we thought people there needed help. If you ask us to move, it takes away from that vision," Mr. Hawkins said.
The board also has refused to provide transportation and costs over and above a fixed per-pupil allocation, asking instead that the charter school look for grants from outside sources.
The school's applicants will now meet with Deputy Superintendent James A. Williams to reach an agreement, before resubmitting its application next month.
Mr. Hawkins said he is hopeful that the school will open in the next few years, although news about budget cuts for the Montgomery County schools could become another stumbling block.
Mr. Weast this week announced a new six-year plan under which classroom additions would be delayed and some modernization projects suspended.
Board member Sharon W. Cox, at-large, who voted for the resolution, said Escalante appeared to have "potential" and said school board members would work with the charter school's applicants to help them find facilities and funds.
"I believe this school offers an opportunity to explore some strategies that we aren't necessarily using in Montgomery County," she said.
Kermit Burnett, District 4, one of the board members who has opposed the school, did not return calls for comment.
Montgomery County is one of two school systems in Maryland that accepts charter school applications. Maryland is one of 14 states in the country without a charter school law.


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