- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

After a slow start, the charter school movement in Virginia is experiencing a relative boom, with three new schools slated to open in the academic year 2002-2003 in addition to five that opened in September.

The state's charter law went into effect in 1998, but until recently only one charter school had emerged Victory Academy in Gloucester County, which opened in 2000.

The new schools will bring the total number of charter schools in Virginia to nine, but none in Northern Virginia.

Fairfax and Arlington will not accept applications for the third consecutive year. Alexandria, Falls Church and Loudoun and Prince William counties will accept charter school applications this year, according to end-of-year data compiled by the Department of Education.

"We are pleased we now have several additional schools and that we will be able to follow their progress," said Diane Pollard, education specialist with the Department of Education.

The new schools will open in Chesterfield, Hampton and York. Besides Gloucester County, charter schools are already open in Albemarle, Franklin and Greene counties and in Hampton and Roanoke.

The Chesterfield Community High School, which will convert to a charter school this year, will serve grades nine through 12 with a focus on the arts. The Hampton University Math, Science and Technology Center will integrate technology into all subject areas and will serve students in grades six through eight.

The York River Academy, with grades nine and 10, will provide academic, social and career preparatory education in computer and Web-based technology for students who may not graduate or graduate below potential.

Charter schools are specialized schools that are publicly funded and usually target a particular skill or quality. Some focus on remedial skills while others focus on back-to-basics education. In Virginia, charter school students are not exempt from the Standards of Learning, and teachers are considered Department of Education employees.

Thirty-five other states and the District currently also have charter school laws. Locally, the District has seen the fastest growth in charters, with 36 schools operating in 2001-2002. Maryland does not have a charter school law, but Frederick County is this year considering two proposals.

A proposal for the Jaime Escalante Charter School in Montgomery County is awaiting a board decision.

The charter school movement in Virginia had been a little slow to take off, Mrs. Pollard said.

"We are growing slowly because people are taking the time to make sure that the schools approved are comprehensive and will impact student achievement," she said.

Prince William School Board member John David Allen Sr., who introduced the motion to accept applications, said charter schools could give parents a choice "if they feel they need to be involved in directing their children's education."

However, he said, the county did not have a pressing need for such schools because there were several specialized programs catering to student needs within the public school system.

Fairfax School Board member-at-large Mychele Brickner said charters could help relieve issues that now plague the school system, such as overcrowding.

"Right now people tend not to look at issues like overcrowding. If someone wanted to open a school that would get children out of trailers and reduce crowding, it would be wonderful," she said.

Altogether, 82 school districts in the state have voted to consider charter applications, and 50 have voted against. If a School Board votes against the option, there is no other way for a charter school to come up in the district.

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