Middleburg Community Charter School hires principal, selects students

May 14

The transformation of one of Loudoun County’s historic community schools into Northern Virginia’s first charter program is nearly complete, after the announcement last week that the Middleburg Community Charter School has hired a principal and completed a lottery to select students.

Barbara Smith, a veteran educator and former principal at the William E. Doar Public Charter School for the Performing Arts in the District, will lead the school when it opens in the summer, the charter school’s board of directors has announced.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled,” board President David Quanbeck said in a statement. “Dr. Smith brings all of the characteristics we need to address the challenges of a new charter school: leadership, experience and enthusiasm.”

The charter program will take over the school formerly known as Middleburg Elementary, which served about 60 students and was among a group of small historic schools that were regularly targeted for possible closing during annual school budget discussions.

That possibility inched closer to reality last year, as the county School Board looked to fill a $16 million funding gap after the Loudoun Board of Supervisors adopted its budget. Outgoing School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III warned that the cost of maintaining Loudoun’s small community schools was not sustainable, and several board members agreed that the schools would need to pursue alternative plans if they hoped to remain open.

In August, members of the Middleburg Elementary community followed that advice and submitted a formal request to prepare an application for a charter program, with the goal of opening the new school in time for the 2014-15 school year. The School Board agreed to work with the community to prepare the application. In March, the board granted conditional approval of the charter program.

The school will open Aug. 4, welcoming 122 students from across Loudoun. Eighty-seven of them, including nine kindergarten students, will be new to the school, said Susana Calley, a member of the Middleburg Community Charter School Board.

The school received 172 applications before its April 30 deadline, a number that was whittled down to 122 students through a lottery last week, Calley said. The remaining students were placed on a waiting list and could be admitted if other families decide not to have their children attend. The final deadline to confirm attendance is May 23.

Calley said that some parents who chose not to have their children attend the school were concerned about the school year’s early start.

“That’s the only issue I’ve heard,” she said. “But I do know that families who have done this schedule love it.”

The charter school will implement a curriculum modeled after the Leonardo Da Vinci Project, an interdisciplinary program that is project-based and that was developed at Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington County. The program will include three classrooms with a combined group of kindergarten, first- and second-grade students, and two classrooms of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students, Calley said.

As the school prepares to hire faculty members and welcome students, Calley said, the Middleburg community is eager to see the historic school begin a new chapter under the leadership of a principal who embraces innovative teaching practices and who has served as an educator and administrator at a number of schools in Canada, the United States and Belgium.

Smith, who will soon begin working with the school’s board of directors to interview candidates for teaching and staff positions, said in a statement that she was excited to join the new community.

“Helping build a charter school from the ground up is an educator’s dream,” Smith said. “I am so impressed with the grass-roots community effort that made this charter school possible.”

The curriculum will be new, but some cherished traditions will remain: The school will host its annual country dance May 30 as a way to welcome new families and staff members.

“We’re hoping that our new principal will be there, and that our new families will come, because that’s going to be a big change for the school, to have such a big influx of new families,” Calley said. “We’re excited to welcome them and bring them into our school community.”

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