Op-Ed: Surplus Plans Threaten Progress at Middleburg Charter School

By Robert Lisouski, Chairman

Middleburg Community Charter School Board of Directors

The article printed in the June 8 edition of Loudoun Nowregarding the Joint Committee meeting between the Loudoun Board of Supervisors and the Loudoun County School Board highlighted what could indeed be a troubling development for small elementary and charter schools in Loudoun County.

It was clear from those of us who attended the meeting that School Board Chairman Jeff Morse represented his board’s desire to transfer the Middleburg Community Charter School property over to the Town of Middleburg. Vice Chairman Ralph Buona clearly conveyed the Board of Supervisors’ opposition to the LCPS initiative to surplus the building occupied by MCCS as an interim measure in the transfer process and more overtly as an attempt to use the Board of Supervisors as the means to shutter small schools in Western Loudoun.

We at MCCS have no doubt that the Loudoun County School Board sees the value and contribution that MCCS has made to the Middleburg community and Loudoun County at large. Based upon their recent unanimous approval of the renewal of our charter for another five years and the support to start a second charter school in Loudoun with the Hillsboro Charter Academy, LCPS has underscored its support of small schools and it flies in the face of the logic that they would take such extraordinary steps just to shut these schools down.

Both schools serve a vital need in the communities in which they are located, but also to the wider Loudoun County population because they draw attendance from the entire county, thus reducing some of the pressure felt on the communities in which our students live. However, more important than that, these charter schools offer innovative and cost-effective options for parents seeking more than the traditional form of education for their elementary school children.

What was started as an educational experiment, with no handbook but plenty of hope, is now an established school with a waiting list the size of its maximum enrollment of 144 students (when the school was scheduled for closure in 2014, it had 55 students attending).  MCCS has been a model for the county in project/problem-based learning and STEAM-integration, served in part as inspiration for several other programs recently established throughout LCPS.  As a community-based school, we set the bar high and have continued to evolve, achieving numerous accomplishments and major successes along the way.

The nonprofit board that runs the school carefully administers its finances and starts each year with a zero based budget. Like every other LCPS school, MCCS receives the same per pupil contribution from the county. However, MCCS raises additional funds through grants and community donations which directly support the charter school’s innovative educational programs. We are not only a cost-effective educational alternative, but an example of what can be done by a dedicated group of educational professionals and community stakeholders to serve the community in which they live.

We are proud of the momentous milestones achieved since MCCS opened in 2014. Our classrooms extended well beyond the walls of the school; you are likely to find our students learning to swim at the Middleburg Community Center, taking field trips to the local Middleburg Library, on walking tours throughout historic Middleburg, interviewing local “community helpers,” partnering with Middleburg charities and businesses, performing at town events, or eating lunch with town firefighters and police officers. We have taken a 114-year-old historic school, not only breathed life into it, but filled it to capacity and thrived making local, state and even national news. Our school was spotlighted on the national news for our students’ assessment of the 2016 election process, technology initiatives such as Code.Org at which the president of Microsoft, the CEO of Code.Org and Ivanka Trump showcased MCCS as a model school for introducing coding into the classroom, and MCCS won a national competition for its “Anti-Bullying Campaign.” Not bad for a school that four years prior was scheduled to be shut down.

These successes would not have been possible without the dynamic partnership that continues to grow between parents, teachers, students, our community, and LCPS alongside a commitment to Project and Problem Based-Learning, STEAM Integration, and the Leonardo da Vinci philosophy, on which the school is founded. We are committed to continue on our successful path for a long time to come. We are a community school and we would support becoming a permanent fixture in the town of Middleburg if the town can afford it, but the town needs more time.

The initiative to surplus the MCCS building, in advance of the Town of Middleburg’s complete assessment of the costs of building ownership, would put the school’s future in limbo and has the potential of derailing our great progress. LCPS has given us the opportunity to create an incredible educational environment for our students and they and their parents are grateful. We ask the Loudoun County School Board to reconsider this initiative and to allow MCCS to continue to serve the community and our students.

 

Robert Lisouski, Chairman

Middleburg Community Charter School Board of Directors

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