2021 | Schools

Board of Education to consider two charter school applications

One proposal is for business-focused middle school

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The Montgomery County Board of Education next week will review two applications for charter schools which, if approved, would be among the first in the county’s history.

Montgomery County Public Schools has received two applications for new charter schools — tuition-free schools that are publicly funded but privately run — according to three board members.

Board members said they don’t yet have information about the applications or who submitted them, but there will be a public presentation during the board’s meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m curious to see who is bringing forward charter applications and what the program design is,” board member Pat O’Neill said in an interview.

One application that will be reviewed by the board is from the Mentoring by Example College & Career Academy Business Learning Institute, a business-focused middle school that would be in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring area, according to organization leaders.

There are currently no charter schools in operation in Montgomery County. Only one has ever received approval from the school board, which has the authority to approve and deny applications.

In 2011, the board approved a Montessori-based elementary school in the Kensington area in a move O’Neill at the time called “historic” for a movement attempting to expand beyond inner-city districts.

But the school, Crossway Community, had trouble with funding and switched to a private school in 2014 after just one year operating as a charter. Funding is usually provided largely through grants, district officials said.

The only other current school board member who was on the board for deliberations about Crossway was Judy Docca, who opposed it. At the time, she said the district should “invest in the many programs and services we already provide.”

Docca could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

If approved, the proposed charter schools would open In September 2022, for the 2022-23 school year, according to school district documents outlining the application process.

But, first, the applications will undergo a rigorous review process by the Board of Education.

The Mentoring by Example College & Career Academy Business Learning Institute (M.E.C.C.A) aims to “introduce students purposefully to careers, career options and collegiate study options” in middle school, so they are better prepared for specialized programs in high school, according to Lachaundra Graham, head of the design team for the school.

“The key for charter school operators is to offer something that is not currently present, but adds value,” Graham said. “So, for us, introducing business at the middle school level is filling a void that has been identified as a necessary element of instruction.”

Any academic skill level could be successful in the program, Graham said, from those who need more help to thrive to those who are academically advanced.

Enrollment would be open to any middle school student in the county, though the program is expected to be based in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring area. M.E.C.C.A previously identified a building to house the program, but it was sold during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed the program review process. Graham said school leaders are searching for a new site.

M.E.C.C.A. previously proposed its school in Washington, D.C., but it was not approved.

The most recent proposal to the D.C. Public Charter School Board was for a middle and high school that would have enrolled about 75 students in its first year, with annual expansions.

Its mission, according to the application, would be to prepare students to “lead, manage, and conduct business competently in a global society.”

O’Neill said she is interested in reviewing the charter applications, and will look for programs that offer a “fresh approach” to education, have thorough plans, and are “designed to serve the diverse needs of students.”

The board will receive a preliminary briefing about the two proposals on Tuesday. No action is expected.

The board has 120 days once an application is submitted to make a decision, according to state law. Graham said M.E.C.C.A. submitted its application on April 1, meaning the deadline for a decision is July 30.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com