Proposed Loudoun charter school loses supervisor’s support

A member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has withdrawn his support from a proposed charter school — which would be the first in Loudoun if allowed to open — because of “controversy” and concerns over a number of key operational issues.

Supervisor Geary M. Higgins sent a letter (see text below) to Superintendent Edgar Hatrick III and the Loudoun School Board, which will decide on the application submitted by a group of Turks to open a charter that would be called the Loudoun Math & IT Academy.

Though the supervisors don’t have an official say in the application process, it is noteworthy that Higgins, a charter supporter, withdrew his support for this particular application.

The proposed academy is said by critics to have linked to a network of charter schools inspired by Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. The applicants have said they aren’t linked to Gulen. You can read more about that here.

The applicants have gone before a three-member select committee of the School Board and have been unable to answer basic operational questions to the satisfaction of members. The full School Board is expected to decide on the application some time in Feburary. 

Here’s the text of the Higgins letter:

Dear Dr. Hatrick and Members of the School Board:

 

I am writing you about my thoughts on charter schools in Loudoun County. I believe that they can provide a valuable opportunity for the youth and parents in our county to choose a specific form of education.

 

Specifically, Loudoun Math & IT Academy (LMITA) has submitted an application to Loudoun County Public Schools and is seeking to provide students with an enhanced education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). That application is currently under consideration by your board.

 

I fully support the concept of charter schools. I also believe that enhanced STEM opportunities for Loudoun students could be of great benefit to the community. However, controversy has arisen around this application such that a closer evaluation is warranted.

 

Concerns about accounting practices, provision of special education students, hiring practices, and lack of accountability have all been brought to my attention. As a result of the worries raised to me by numerous citizens, I made direct inquiries to Anne Arundel County Public Schools — home to Chesapeake Science Point, which served as the model for LMITA — to check on those concerns. Unfortunately, some of these claims do not appear to be unfounded.

 

Because of the controversy surrounding the application currently before the Board, I am withdrawing my earlier letter of support for this application. I ask that the proper respect and attention be shown both sides, and that ultimately you base your decision on scrupulously verified facts. The bottom line is that any charter school must add value to our community for it to be a worthy investment.

 

As I understand it, the objective which Loudoun County has set forth for its charter schools is to improve educational opportunities and enhance student achievement. In the end, I understand the evaluation of any application is a responsibility entrusted to the School Board.

 

As such, I am confident that the members of the School Board will provide the due diligence and carefully consider this and future charter school applications based on their value and appropriateness for Loudoun County.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

 

Best Regards,

Supervisor Geary M. Higgins

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · December 11, 2012

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