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Posted at 04:54 PM ET, 12/19/2012

D.C. charter schools band together to form new high school with focus on foreign language

The D.C. Public Charter School Board offered support this week for a plan to open a new middle/high school that would offer International Baccalaureate programs and intensive foreign-language instruction.

The District of Columbia International School, or DCI, will open in a temporary location in 2014-15 before moving to a permanent location the following year at the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center site in Ward 4, according to a proposal submitted to the charter school board this fall.

DCI is a collaborative effort by four charter schools that currently offer foreign-language immersion programs for younger students: Washington Yu Ying (Mandarin Chinese), Elsie Whitlow Stokes (French and Spanish), Mundo Verde (Spanish) and Latin American Bilingual Montessori (Spanish).

Leaders and parents at those schools decided to band together to give their students a way to continue the immersive foreign-language instruction that they’ve been receiving in elementary school.

“There was no other way for them to do that in the whole city, essentially,” said Mary Shaffler, who served as executive director of Washington Yu Ying until leaving to head up the effort to establish DCI.

The news comes as the city’s traditional public school system plans to close 20 schools, stoking concern among some activists and parents that the city needs a comprehensive plan for the future of both school sectors.

Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, pointed out that DCI will be in close proximity to two other high schools: Paul Public Charter School and Coolidge Senior High School.

“For the city to proceed to build three high schools within one mile of one another does not make sense to me,” she said in comments prepared for a Dec. 10 public hearing on the DCI proposal.

Shaffler said she understands the concern and agrees that there is a need for more coordinated planning. But students at Yu Ying and the other four schools can’t wait for a citywide discussion and planning process to play out, she said — they need a way to continue their language education now.

Students will experience DCI as if it is one school, but will technically stay enrolled in one of the four member charters.

At full capacity, the school is expected to enroll 1,000 to 1,400 students in grades 6 through 12. Students enrolled in member elementary charters will be entitled to continue on into DCI, but there will also be room for the school to accept about 20 new students a year through grade 9.

Students will have the option of working toward the college-prep International Baccalaureate Diploma or the IB “career-related certificate,” which combines liberal arts courses with technical and vocational classes.

The city’s charter school board approved Washington Yu Ying’s request to amend its charter Monday, expanding its enrollment and the grade levels it is allowed to serve.

The charter board will have to approve similar amendments to the other schools’ charters before the project is finalized. That's unlikely to be a hindrance, given board members’ enthusiasm for the school.

“At least for me, this is a terribly exciting development,” said board member Darren Woodruff.

By  |  04:54 PM ET, 12/19/2012

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