Charter School Proposal

cornelious writes: A school that focuses on assisting underachieving students and not on test preparation could be coming to Charlottesville’s school system. A proposal for a charter middle school was submitted to the city School Board last week. Chairwoman of the School Board says it’s “interesting and would like to hear more about it,” or something to that effect. Seems to me this is an opportune time to bring this proposal forward.

23 thoughts on “Charter School Proposal”

  1. Im not too sure about this idea. I mean on the surface it sounds like a great idea but then you have to ask yourself would that money be better spent improving the public schools that already exist. I read that one of the primary benefits would be smaller classes but could they not use the extra money theyd be spending on the new school and teachers to just add teachers to the schools that they already have? I will have to read up on this a little bit more.

  2. Well, one thing it definitely has going for it is extended hours. I would LOVE to teach at a school that went as many hours as this one. I think it was along the lines of 8:15 – 5. One reason I think we lose kids in the middle grades is because we teach so many of them it’s hard to make a personal connection with each and every one. If you take underachieving kids, put them in a class of 10-12 students, have extended hours, a small school environment AND parental support (that is always the key), I have to think (and it may be naive and idealistic) that you’re going to be able to reach those kids better than I can when I teach 78 kids a day.

    Now, with the way things are going in the city, I’d be willing to jump ship to this charter school, except I’d be stuck with the same administration.

    The trend in middle and high schools is to create smaller schools within a school or some other way to have kids make a personal connection with adults in their school. This sounds like a great way of doing that.

  3. One reason I think we lose kids in the middle grades is because we teach so many of them it’s hard to make a personal connection with each and every one.

    I’m yet to hear a compelling reason for why we have multi-thousand-student high schools. (The reason that I hear cited the most recently, and probably rightly, is that schools need to be big enough to support a football team.) I’d like to know if any schools have moved to a model of having many small schools, with just a few hundred students in each.

    That’s a little tangential from your comment (smaller schools does not necessarily equate to smaller classes), but I thought I’d jump on the chance to mention it. :)

  4. I think that NYC has done something along these lines, though they tend to be focused magnet-type schools – schools developed around a theme – architecture, environmental science. I think I read something in the NY Times that while the schools were really good for the kids in them, in the end other schools in the division ended up overcrowded in order to create these smaller schools.

    The other drawback (as I see it) to the way NYC is doing it- can you imagine having to decide in the 8th grade if you want to go to an architecture school or environmental science school? I want to say I read this article in the last 6 weeks or so, but I can’t be sure. The more common trend is to create smaller schools within a school. Many middle schools are kind of set up that way with kids being taught by a team of teachers who see them every day and who are more likely to know them as a whole. I’d love to know if anyone in Virginia is doing it and how they’re making it work.

  5. More infrastructure means more money. Build the building (which is virtually impossible in c’ville given minimum acreage requirements currently on the various books — most of our current schools couldn’t be legally built for a lack of dirt). Once you buy the dirt and throw up a building, ya gotta staff it: principals, p.e. instructors & guidance counsellors (part time in a smaller venue?), etc. CCS has been underfunding its capital needs for a long time just maintaining its facilities. Do you know where the money would come from to buy and build the structures, let alone staff, heat, and maintain them?

  6. I currently work for a charter school resource center in Florida. I moved from Charlottesville in 2002. While charter schools operate differently in each state, Florida charter schools receive the same amount of money per student from the district, yet are responsible for their own start-up costs, including infrastructure.

    More generally, it takes a lot for charter schools to work well. Many are created out of good intentions yet with a lack of experience and knowledge on the part of those running it. It seems that the current initiative in Charlottesville has at least one person with substantial educational experience, which is a plus.

    Personally, I love the idea of using the arts as a medium for education. I would be hesitant to use an arts-only curriculum, however. There are many evidence-based strategies that exist for teaching at-risk and low-achieving students reading, math, social studies, etc. Incorporating these strategies into an arts curriculum might be a highly effective approach.

    Good luck to those involved in the process! Having worked with at-risk kids in Charlottesville for three years, I know there is a need. Creativity and open-minds can work wonders.

  7. Elizabeth – Your comments are purely negative – and perhaps you are right – maybe –

    We pour money into schools and have for a nunber of years and there may have been improvements – most seem to have been space and comfort ( needed, I admit) with little improvement in the end product .

    As far as dirt is concerned – many small buildings may well be less expensive and more efficient than the monsters we insist on erecting now.

    Staff? The person proposing this seems not overly concerned about this – perhaps she knows the market and the type of teacher she wants. The article seemed to hint at teachers with experience outside the classroom which is a blessing in my view. If the selection of teachers is made from a pool of people experienced -out of the classroom- with concentration on the ability to teach competently and not with hidebound approaches may be a boon. I speak to the present system not the teachers.

    Where will the money come from? Where it has always come from, but perhaps with a better product.

    I`ve rattled on a bit but the essence is – "let`s give it a look" – as the man said "if you`re in a hole and the dirt is falling back on your head, stop digging."

    Maybe it is time to start another , and maybe better, hole.

  8. "Maybe it is time to start another , and maybe better, hole."

    I never thought I’d be taking up charter schools as a cause. I’ve always supported public schools. But I do increasingly feel like School, as it is practiced nationwide in public schools, is broke. Elizabeth talks about all the infrastructure that is required to run a proper school, so to speak. I’d like to believe that what it really takes/needs is committed people given room to do their stuff. People not necessarily with proper teacher training but with real experience and skills and an ability to connect with young people.

    It seems that at least part of the problem with mainstream schooling is all the emphasis on outcomes assessment and SOLs and measurement and all that blah blah blah. When I picture myself teaching at the secondary or elementary level, I can’t really see myself enjoying the experience OR making it enjoyable for the students if I have this huge list of items that must be covered/memorized/mastered for the Test.

    I don’t know, I just find myself really intrigued by the idea that some committed group of people might want to bypass all the usual bureaucratic crap and just teach kids. And do it in unorthodox ways. i hate the idea of taking money away from already underfunded public schools, but i also don’t see that a lot of evidence that the schools are doing great things with that money. i don’t think that’s the fault of the p.s. teachers or administrators–it’s more the system, the unrealistic expectations and constraints laid on the system, and the way politics gets played with the schools.

    my child starts p.s. next year and it bums me out sometimes.

  9. It bums you out because you HOPE they will be doing creative and interesting things all the while they are learning, but you are afraid they will sit behind a desk and be taught to memorize for a test. You want them to get up each day and be excited to go to school because they are going to be loved and challenged and taught to think and wonder about things. You want them to have different learning experiences that help them find out how THEY individually learn best. You want Kindergarten especially to be fun. I am not sure any of these things are true about public school. ( I have 3 there now) If Charter schools can bring that back, then sign my kids up.

  10. New structures of X size are required to have Y amount of empty acres around them. Somewhere (probably multiple somewheres) there are laws governing the amount of empty acres — we can’t choose a smaller amount.

    Average per student cost in our system is somewhere around $11,000-$12,000. Times sixty (the initial number of students envisioned for this charter school) is over half a million dollars. What do you propose CCS cut to fund that?

    We may pour money into schools, but in the past few years, we underfunded maintenance to the point that a new heating system had to be put in Jefferson School about fifteen seconds before CCS gave it to the City. We pushed back fixing the fire alarm system at CHS so long that the system in use was no longer manufactured and the whole thing had to replaced at unbudgeted expense. The 20 year capital plan expects and demands that roofs hang on 10 years past warranty and a number of schools have discovered it ain’t so and have had unexpected capital expenditures fixing leaks. It isn’t front line expenditure, but schools must have roofs and HVAC and functioning fire alarm systems. It costs. How physically unsafe must we make the buildings for the 4340 students remaining in CCS after we fund the 60 who can benefit from the Charter School? Why not just go whole hog into school vouchers and be done with it? Because public schools must take everybody at whatever expense; private schools and charter schools have the luxury of declining students.

    The money must come from somewhere and as swell as an arts based school for grades 5-8 sounds, it has to be paid for and it has to be paid for by those who remain behind in the city school system.

  11. Generalization can take either side of any discussion of a proposal`s merit.

    A line of thinking allowing for no change would still have our schools one – gender, one-room, and candle-lit.

    I think the time is ripe for change in how and in what environment we operate our school system.

  12. yes, exactly. my kid is currently at a Montessori school. we can’t afford to keep sending him there. currently, he loves it–he gets to decide what to work on for as long as he is interested in working on it. he’s not being tested, but he is being observed by caring people. if he wants to get up and walk around, he can. they don’t even have desks and chairs! he has uninterrupted time to work on whatever he wants to work on for the whole morning. and i know that public kindergarten is going, in many ways, to be completely the opposite of this.

    i don’t blame the p.s.’s for this situation. I think they’re just playing the hand they’re dealt–I’m sure the p.s. teachers don’t like it a whole lot better than anyone else. but when the government puts these one-size-fits all testing requirements on them, when they teach a population of students who come from such varied backgrounds in terms of preparation, etc., i’m sure they’re dealing the best they can.

  13. "New structures of X size are required to have Y amount of empty acres around them."

    This is surely an uniformed question, but who says they have to have a new structure? There are schools in the city (private, I believe) that operate out of buildings that were something else before. Couldn’t a charter school, if it were kept to a certain size, rent or purchase a building that had been used for something else?

    "Average per student cost in our system is somewhere around $11,000-$12,000. Times sixty (the initial number of students envisioned for this charter school) is over half a million dollars. What do you propose CCS cut to fund that?"

    Who is to say that the average cost per student in a charter school would be so high? Isn’t it possible that the cost you cite is so high BECAUSE it’s in the system, with all the bureaucracy and overhead that the system entails? If a charter school is explicitly trying to break that mold and approach schooling in a different way, maybe one of their goals is to avoid the overhead and the costs associated with mainstream public schooling.

    I think the whole point about charter schools is that you think outside the box–the usual way with public schools is you get land, build the building, the building looks the same as any other school building, the administration is set up the same way in every school, etc. It seems that charter schools are trying to say "there’s a different way to do this." What’s so scary about that?

  14. What child wouldn’t thrive in the environment you just described!!!! No desks and chairs? Sounds like heaven. I have 3, 8th grade and lower, that would have loved Montessori. I’m not sure we ARE doing the best we can, we just do it because it has always been done that way. More testing leads to more roteness and boredom. We set our teachers up for failure in that environment.

  15. This is a terrible development; I am surprised that it has happened as quickly as it has, although it’s certainly a predictable result of the problems created by NCLB and the SOLs, and given our new leadership, more viable than ever. The entire charter school movement is a truly cynical and ingenious attack on the public schools in two ways, both very much at issue in the CCPS: it deliberately attacks the weakest schools in the system with an eye towards driving them under by:

    – siphoning off money which could be used to improve the schools.

    – siphoning off the stronger students.

    The first is a fairly obvious problem noted by most observers; certainly as Elizabeth (Dede?) mentioned, the infrastructure maintenance issues alone are crippling the existing system. Certainly it’s tough to come up with funds for improvment in instruction – starving a school just as it most needs resources is guaranteed to hurt, but that’s not the biggest problem.

    The second aspect is the really nasty and often overlooked issue in ‘school reform’ discussions. Folks forget that the public schools are under a mandate to teach everyone, often under court order, even when the system and student(s) would prefer not.

    As the concentration of weaker students (who may have any number of issues ranging from special educational needs identification to behavioral problems) goes up in a classroom, the harder the task gets. Charter Schools are often able to cherry pick the students who show some promise (whether they are targeting elite kids or not), while the public schools are forced to continue to serve whomever is left, regardless of that student’s costs (both financial and behavioral) to the system.

    This negative feedback loop is designed to put public schools in a real bind, quite deliberately, by people who aren’t in the slightest interested in ‘reforming’ public schools: they want to discredit them and put them ‘out of business’. This is precisely the type of demographic disaster which has caused the slow degradation of the city schools for years, as middle-of-the-road students have migrated to the county, while they have exported to the CCPS their special needs students. Charter schools will merely accelerate this process.

    The head-in-the-sand unwillingness of most of our schoolboard (Ms. VanYahres excepted) to acknowledge and openly discuss these realities means they will never arrive at real, practical solutions to the problems we face.

    As irritating as the perceived emphasis on and ‘special treatment’ of the academic elite is to the ‘disenfranchised’ , it is precisely the ability of the system to pull in talented students who pass the SOLs with flying colors that keeps the system passing, for now. A close look at the money spent by the CCPS on special needs students with identified disabilities reveals that the system is consideralby skewed financially towards those pupils already (interesting that ‘the community’ complains about disproportionate identification as special needs students – they should stop being insulted and realize that this is how the ‘racist’ system is trying to divert more money and resources to those students – in response to their needs).

    I am surprised at the speed with which this proposal has appeared; no doubt it’s proponents smell blood in the water, and recognize a cherry target for their ideas in the former Executive Director of Charter Schools, DC Board of Education (Dr. Griffin). Yet another fine resume element for our system leader: experience handing out cash (contracts) in arguably the most corrupt and incompetent system in the country.

    For further reading: a series of reports in the Washington Post evaluating the charter schools movement there has revealed that:

    – on average charter schools actually do worse than the regular public schools at meeting NCLB.

    – the level of corruption and fraud is higher than in the DC schools (a truly eye-popping feat).

    Anyone who cares whether or not Charlottesville has a viable school system providing a quality education to an egalitarian plurality of our population needs to speak up now. These are extremely perilous times, and the leadership we have is not only talking about the issues in real terms, they are taking us down the wrong path. We will wind up with a dysfunctional system that only attempts to address a single constituency and doesn’t even succeed at that.

  16. I agree on many levels that the charter school movement, as encouraged/formulated at the national political level, is a cynical and ingenious attack on public schooling in the U.S. I would suggest, though, that we don’t confuse the charter-school proponents at that level (GWB and pals, for example) with people working within their own community to start charter schools. I don’t know anything about the woman proposing the charter school referred to in the DP story (though I highly doubt she’s a GOP operative out to "to put public schools in a real bind, quite deliberately" or a person who isn’t "in the slightest interested in ‘reforming’ public schools" or someone who wants "to discredit them and put them ‘out of business’"–but, maybe cvillelibertarian knows much more about this one woman than I do).

    I do have friends who have helped to start up charter schools, though (as well as friends–public school teachers, in fact–who dream/contemplate starting a charter school). One friend is on the board/helped to start up a charter school in Chicago. It serves urban girls, focusing on science, math, and technology. None of these girls are rich; most are African-American girls coming from poor neighborhoods in Chicago (to quote their website, "70% African American, 15% Latina, 13% Caucasian, 1% Asian and 2% multi-racial" and "70% qualify for free or reduced lunch"). Maybe this is somehow cherry-picking, but I don’t think so. My friend has told me that the school deals with the usual problems that a school serving this socioeconomic population faces–teen pregnancy, dropping out, etc. Their website is at, if you’re interested.

    So, to reiterate Thing 1, I don’t think you can really tar everyone involved in the charter school movement with the same broad brush–while some forces behind the movement may be cynically conspiring to break the whole system irretrievably, it seems to me that the people who actually START the schools and run them really do care about kids and really think that the public schools are just not working anymore (and not because of lack of money, necessarily). As I said, everyone I know who’s been involved in starting a charter school has actually taught in the public schools.

    Secondly, I really wonder how true it is that charter schools always and everywhere serve the elite/stronger students. The proposed charter school described in the DP article seems to want to target the underachieving students, not the overachievers. Maybe it’s cherry picking in the sense that they end up with the ones who are most motivated to change even if those kids are not currently achieving, and then the p.s.’s are left with the underachievers who DON’T have motivation/support to change. But it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case that charter schools are simply replicating a St. Anne’s/Belfield situation with rich white kids getting the good stuff like they always do.

    Moreover, what’s the intellectual backing for an argument that says that the one-size-fits all approach taken by the p.s.’s is the way to go? there seem to be kids for whom the traditional p.s. education approach just doesn’t work. why shouldn’t there be alternatives? Even if p.s.’s were massively well funded, that approach to schooling might STILL not work for all students–even at great, well-funded, high-achieving high schools, there are always kids who don’t take to mainstream schooling and underachieve. A 3000-student high school is kind of a twisted place in which to experience education, whether the teachers are great and well-paid or not. I went to a highly regarded large suburban high school with well-paid teachers and successful programs. It was kind of a horrible place anyway–anyone who went to a mega-high school might know what I’m talking about.

    I do understand the problems associated with siphoning money off from the public schools. But it’s possible that blaming the charter schools is missing the point. There’s a dearth of money for public schools, it seems to me, because people don’t want to pay taxes/pay for their public schools. The politicians who seem to get elected these days run on platforms of no/less taxation. The public schools do need more money in order to meet the challenges that face them, but why view as the enemy the charter start-up that wants to approach education in a creative way in a small setting to serve an overlooked or underachieving population? Why not blame city/state residents who somehow imagine that they can get everything they want in life without having to pay for it, who elect exactly the kind of politicians who will lie and tell them they can have what they want without having to pay for it?

  17. Hi Cecil,

    Thanks for the feeback, but I think I probably was being too diplomatic in my original language, and that obscured a couple of points:

    – I really didn’t mean to talk about the academic elite anywhere in this discussion.

    – I fully recognize that this new school is not targeting ‘elite’ students, but rather is targeting lower achieving students who show some promise and might thrive in a different environment.

    – The ‘hard cases’ I’m talking about are the lower achieving students who:

    A. Don’t want to be there, but are often there as part of court-ordered responses to JD issues.

    B. Are serious disciplinary problems.

    C. Disrupt the classroom environment for other students, often making it impossible for any learning to take place.

    D. Have such serious ED or LD issues that they are unlikely to ever meet the NCLB/SOL requirements.

    E. As a result of all the above COST WAY, WAY more, per-pupil than the low-achieving non-hard-cases which this proposed charter school will target.

    These costs come from:

    – administrative time and effort (discipline, court testimony/presence*).

    – higher ‘contact personel’ costs (aids, resource teachers, more teaching positions to keep class sizes down).

    – lost instruction time forother students in the classroom when the teacher has to spend time dealing with disruptive students.

    *I would like to know where the heck Dean Turner and the Rev’s are during these court sessions. Perhaps they could do more than scream racism next time the system moves to suspend a student who is violent and/or engages in a gun violation.

    I don’t know anything about the woman who is proposing this – I’m sure her motives are genuine and civic-minded. I did not (and do not mean to) ipugn the motives of any of the proponents (or the parents who take advantage of these opportunities for their children) of this school: they are making a very rational response to a serious problem.

    Their motives are irrelevant though – what I am describing is the way in which Charter schools (successful ones at least) operate on school systems. Most of the achievement gap noted in the city school systems is really the result of a giant demographic hole in the middle.

    Academic (and economic) middle-of-the road students have been leaving the city for years, both because of the schools and the real estate market. Entrenched poverty in the city is just that, entrenched – those students have not been leaving.

    The city is suffering a problem of demographics – we have a bipolar population in the city, and it is reflected in our schools. Real estate prices, urban renewal and self-segregation have resulted in VERY disparate groups of students, with disparate needs – this has nothing to do with racism in the schools – it is not caused by or an effect of racism in the schools.

    Self-segregation is a result of racial identity politics, practiced by both whites and blacks, but most recently and loudly by Dean Turner & Co. If one really wants to attack racism, this is the place to start. Of course, it would be very interesting to know why Dean Turner opted to live on Brandywine Drive rather than Ridge St. At least Mayor Cox put his money (and kids) where his mouth is.

  18. I’m sorry – I re-read your post, and realized I didn’t fully respond:

    The giant demographic hole will only get worse if a charter school is enacted and even more of the non-problem students are able to get out of the city schools; the concentration of problem students will go up. Here’s an example with made up numbers:

    1975 – 1000 students

    100 – Academic Elite (SOL passers)

    800 – Everyday Joe/Jane (SOL Passers)

    100 – JD’s, SpEd’s (SOL Failers)

    90% pass rate – not too bad!

    1995 – 800 students

    100 Academic Elite (SOL Passers)

    500 Everyday Jane/Joe (SOL Passers) (some ran off to the county)

    200 JDs, SpEd’s (SOL Failers)

    75% pass rate (Hey now!!! we’re going downhill!!!)

    2005 – 600 students

    10 Academic Elite (die hard liberals committed to PS, rest went to new Einstein High School) – passers

    90 Everyday Joe/Jane (rest fled to Charter Schools) – passers

    500 – JDs, SpeD’s (more students identified as SpEd’s to get remedial services) – failers

    17% pass rate…CCPS taken over by State and handed over to private company – Griffin & Smith head for the ‘golf course’.

    This is what I’m saying. It is not simply a question of all students thriving equally when given equal resourses (as you suggested). Equality of opportunity does not guarantee equality of achievement. Not all students have the same abilities. Our system should strive first and foremost to accurately and objectively assess the needs of the students and then target them appropriately.

  19. The primary benefit of a charter school for the proposed population of children is that it would require parent involvement. Short of this, it won’t really make any difference. Despite what the public has been led to believe, class size, curricula, and even teachers pale in their ability to affect student achievement when compared to the variable of parent involvement.

    Wouldn’t it be great to see this "novel" style of teaching happen in all of the schools? I know my children could learn pretty quickly through the arts. Hands-on learning beats test-driven lessons any day! And think how much happier our teachers would be…

  20. "Despite what the public has been led to believe, class size, curricula, and even teachers pale in their ability to affect student achievement when compared to the variable of parent involvement"

    I am not sure about " Despite what the public has been led to believe" because no one in theor right mind would believe to the contrary -This is without doubt the best way to help a child with school – get involved.

    Some of my happiest times with my daughter was working with her on school projects and homework. Try it, you`ll like it.

    Much superior to "Math Intervention" projects and by the way what in Hell does that mean? It must be something like "OK, now you`ve done it, we will bring down the wrath of "Math Intervention" on you – that will teach you.

    If that doesn`t work we will try "Quantum Math Intervention".

    Sounds as if it were invented to give a raise to an arithmetic teacher.

  21. "I am not sure about " Despite what the public has been led to believe" because no one in theor right mind would believe to the contrary -This is without doubt the best way to help a child with school – get involved."

    yeah, you’d *think* that anyone in their right mind would realize that the best way to help your child succeed in school is to get involved and would realize that more $$, smaller class sizes, different curricula, etc., are secondary–but you’d be wrong. In many people’s minds, getting involved in their kids’ educations (going to PTO meetings, volunteering at their schools, helping with homework, creating a learning-friendly environment in the home) seems like the hard way–it seems easier to just let the schools do it. That’s kind of the ideology that’s taken over, unfortunately–"isn’t that what the schools are for, to educate my children?" Parents see their role as something different.

    Note: I’m not defending this mentality–I think it is the #1 reason kids are not doing well in schools. I’m not convinced that the reason certain private schools do "better" than public schools is a money issue (often the private school teachers are more poorly paid than the public school teachers). It’s not that the facilities are better at private schools, either. It’s not even that the kids tend to come from money. It’s that often the parents of those kids tend to be more tuned into what’s going on with their kids’ schooling–asking questions, calling up teachers, going to meetings, etc.

  22. Well, Cecil , I believe that is what is going on but I don`t think it is because of a mindset or ignorance. I think it is because there is, for instance, no dinner hour where families get together and talk -it`s amazing what comes up at a family meal- and I know "but we have to work and the kids must do this and Blah, Blah Blah. Well it`s your family and it`s your kids, and it`s your responsibility to assure there is discipline and routine regardless of personal desires. If you have a child, who needs attention, give it to them. There is always a way but of course there are sacrifices – well , make them. The "dinner hour" of course is merely one example but I mention it because I remember that is where we learned our table manners (not in college for God`s sake), we talked about our homework (and when we were going to do it!) , we discussed what the kids were thinking about and why they couldn`t have so and so merely because the Jone`s kid has it. – and on and on.

    The strongest family is the family where the parents make tough, unselfish choices for the good of all.

    The answer to everything I have said is probably "They are my kids and I`ll rear them the way I want to"

    To that I say OK but please make sure it is for the sake of the kids and not parental selfishness or lack of self discipline.

    Take a look at how your child is doing then look inward and see how you can help- YOU – not miss Brown at PS 21 or the child counselor, or Dean of whatever. YOU.

  23. There is a chance that the teacher cuts proposed this budgt will increase the size of our classes as we have them now- with the behaviors that go along with our low achievers this is suicide for the process. One or two kids with problems- most can handle- more than 3 you don’t teach- you manage. As a teacher I look at this proposal in two ways.

    1- great- the lowest kids get the help they need in small classes.

    2- at first my thoughts were- that is not fair to the achievers but when you have kids who can behave- you can put more in a class.

Comments are closed.