Middleburg Community Charter School is looking to renew its three-year contact with Loudoun County Public Schools, but it’s getting some criticism from a few School Board members.
The kindergarten through fifth-grade school opened as the first charter school in Northern Virginia in 2014. Its board of directors, made up of parents and other community members, signed a three-year contract with the Loudoun school system. This go-around, the board of directors is requesting a five-year contact that provides flexibility for it to one day expand to a middle school and enroll as many as 150 students.
As a charter school, MCCS operates as a school of choice under the umbrella of Loudoun County Public Schools, but it has more flexibility in how it meets state and federal standards than a typical public school.
Two School Board members who were not on the board when the charter school was approved three years ago raised questions this week about the benefits of operating a charter school in Loudoun.
“What does this school provide that a traditional school in Loudoun County is not providing?” Tom Marshall (Leesburg) asked his colleagues at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“I don’t see things happening here that other schools couldn’t do,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) added.
She pointed out that in the school’s first year, MCCS failed to meet accreditation standards when its students’ pass rate in science was 14 points shy of the benchmark. School leaders have said that rocky first year can be explained in part by unstable leadership. The first principal was off campus part time to earn her Virginia school administration license, and she ultimately had to resign just five months after the school opened because of a lapsed visa. Under a new principal, the school has worked with school improvement coaches to boost students’ test scores. Last year, it tallied some of the highest scores in the county.
“I’m not as easily discounting that first year,” Maloney said. “This is our first chance to look at this and say did this work, and to me one out of the two years we have data for, it didn’t. That is my concern.”
The School Board’s charter committee has recommended that the full board renew the charter school’s contract.
Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), who chairs that committee, said the committee is recommending a compromise to the school’s request to sign on to a five-year contract. Committee members suggest making it a five-year conditional charter, provided that the school can meet accreditation standards this year. The testing for that is underway this spring and the test results will be released in September.
Committee members have also asked MCCS to submit its request to eventually be allowed to enroll sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students as a supplemental proposal, separate from the contract under review.
In response to Marshall and Maloney’s concerns, Hornberger noted that MCCS offers curriculum and a management model that is unique to that school. It also provides an extended year calendar, with two-week intersessions in October and March. He suggested the board members visit the school and meet with parents of students who have attended to learn more.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the increased enrollment at the school over the years is one indication that MCCS’s model is working. Middleburg Elementary School closed in 2013 with an enrollment of 59 students and, since the charter school has moved into that building, enrollment has more than doubled, to 131 students. “It’s an optional program, so we’re obviously meeting a need or there would be no one attending the school,” Morse said.
The School Board heard from a few of those satisfied families Tuesday evening. Val Walters told them she’s never regretted pulling her two daughters out of another Loudoun County elementary school to put them on a bus for 30 minutes each day to attend MCCS.
“It was a place where they were challenged and encouraged to think independently. They were embraced with learning differences and they were in a community that fostered giving back to the community, all while fostering a love of learning,” she said. “I think sending kids to MCCS was the best option for our kids, and we hope other families have that same opportunity.”
The School Board is scheduled to vote on the new contract at its meeting Tuesday. See the contract here.