“I support the expansion of quality schools, that’s regardless of the type of school,” Hite said. “It’s all about more choices for our parents.”
Although the charter sector is booming in the District, there are no charter schools in Northern Virginia. Montgomery County approved one last year, but it has yet to open. And a few charter schools are scattered in Frederick, Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s counties.
Hite, meanwhile, is scouting for more.
One of the latest additions to the Prince George’s cadre of charters is Chesapeake Math & IT Academy in Laurel.
At Chesapeake, housed in a nondescript office park building off Interstate 95, students gather in classes of 25. One day this month, they were learning a computer program created by MIT in a “Berkeley” computer lab and calculating kinetic energy in the “Harvard” science class.
Chesapeake opened with 300 sixth- and seventh-graders and hopes eventually to have 700 students in grades six through 12. The academic program, which focuses on mathematics, science and information technologies, aims to prepare students for college. The idea has drawn interest: The school has received 400 applications for 50 slots next school year.
“I do harder things,” sixth-grader Dorian Baldwin-Bott, 11, said of the charter’s classes. “Math is more challenging. . . . At my old school, we didn’t have computers too much. It was once a week. Here it’s once a day.”
Seventh-grader Michael Igoe, 13, adjusted the mouse on a Hewlett-Packard laptop, tapped the keyboard and began playing a computer game in Room 144, also known as the Berkeley lab.
A blue smiley face appeared on the screen and bounced from one colorful background to another while an animated voice shouted from the speakers: “Can I come and play?”
Michael created the game, part of the week’s lesson plan.
Providing an opening
About 2,500 students in Prince George’s attend charters, representing about 2 percent of the county’s public enrollment of 123,839.
State test scores for Prince George’s schools have been on the rise in recent years, but the school system’s academic performance remains uneven. Large numbers of children in the county schools come from low- or moderate-income families. Some advocates say these conditions provide an opening for charters.
“In more disadvantaged areas, whether suburban or urban, [charter schools] are being welcomed,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform in Washington. “More and more people who live outside big cities are recognizing that this is a solution for some of their issues too.”