Reviews | Montgomery County Wrongly Rejects Gaithersburg Charter School

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“I frankly think the possibility of charter schools is exciting — an opportunity to look at new ways to improve student performance,” a Montgomery County school board member said in 1998 after the board adopted a policy of opening up the county to nominations. for charter schools. But more than 20 years later, no charter schools exist in Montgomery County, and the school board recently rejected a promising charter proposal that would offer business and finance education. Getting the local school board to approve charter school applications is like asking Target to get Walmart’s approval to open a competing business — so hopefully that flawed decision will be overturned by the Maryland State Board of Education.

The county school board last month rejected MBEF College & Career Academies plans to create a business-focused school in Gaithersburg serving middle and high school students. The school, according to the group’s projections, would accommodate 700 students in grades 6 to 12 from the 2024-25 school year. There would be a six-year phased plan to reach full capacity. The idea for the school stems from the mentoring and tutoring work that institute officials have done in the community with at-risk youth and young adults. Noting that there was a lot missing in the education of these students that could not be adequately addressed outside of school hours, LaChaundra Graham, one of the group’s founders, said: “We asked ‘ how can we fill these gaps?’ philanthropic relationships, the group developed plans for the school and secured a $900,000 grant from the state Department of Education for start-up costs.

An application submitted last year was rejected, but the group in April resubmitted with modifications, including a change of location from Takoma Park to Gaithersburg. A school district committee made up of 20 people with various areas of expertise undertook a thorough review. Acting school principal Monifa McKnight recommended that the board grant conditional approval, believing that the proposal identified “a clear school vision, mission and plan” and that two of the founders had public school experience relevant to opening a charter school. Nonetheless, the board voted 7 to 1 (credit board member Lynne Harris for acknowledging the potential merits of the proposal) against the offer, citing concerns over facilities and transportation. Never mind that the conditional approval recommended by Ms. McKnight required the school to meet certain criteria in these areas.

Given the county’s dismal record with charter schools – it refused to allow the Jaime Escalante Public Charter School, and the only charter school that managed to open closed after two years – the vote came as no surprise. That, however, doesn’t make it any less disappointing for parents who would like to have a choice in their children’s education. The group plans to appeal the rejection to the Council of State. We wish them success.

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