Middleburg Elementary community focused on charter application

With time running out to save a historic school from closing, the Middleburg Elementary School community is accelerating its efforts to have it approved as a charter school by fall 2014.

The tiny school — 61 students are enrolled — has long been a target for possible closing during the Loudoun County School Board’s yearly budget deliberations. This year, the warning was particularly emphatic. As the School Board reconciled its budget in March, cutting an additional $16 million to make up for decreased county funding, School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III and several board members cautioned that the county’s smallest and oldest schools could not be kept open much longer.

On Monday night, several dozen members of the Middleburg Elementary community gathered at the school for an information session. The school’s parent-teacher organization plans to submit a charter application by July 1, said Janelle Stewart, president of the school’s PTO.

At the meeting, Stewart said, School Board member Thomas E. Reed (At Large) offered a bit of welcome news to the charter committee. Their application need not be submitted first to state education officials and can be presented directly to the county School Board.

The committee had been preparing to submit the application to the state Board of Education and the board’s charter school committee. Stewart said Reed’s announcement would relieve some of the time pressure.

“It took two or three months off the timeline, so that’s significant,” she said.

Middleburg Elementary is among a handful of old, small schools in western Loudoun that have been repeatedly targeted for possible closing. The 100-year-old school’s enrollment is well under capacity. Principal Shawn Lyons splits his time between Middleburg and Aldie Elementary.

Middleburg’s charter committee envisions a school with an inter-disciplinary focus, Stewart said. Math and science would be emphasized, but the committee is also planning for a strong arts and music curriculum.

“We’re looking at bringing in the [Community Music School of the Piedmont] as a partner for an enhanced music program,” Stewart said.

In the coming weeks, the committee will conduct further community outreach and continue revising and perfecting the application before it is submitted, she said.

“If we submit by July 1, we’re hoping that it will be through and approved by the end of February or March 2014,” she said. This would allow Middleburg to open as a charter school in fall 2014, she said.

As a charter school, Middleburg Elementary would still operate as one of Loudoun’s public schools, but it would also receive funding from grants and private donations, easing the financial burden on the school system.

The review process will be complicated but will be conducted entirely at the county level, Stewart said. Loudoun school officials and School Board subcommittees will oversee the process.

Reed and School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) attended the community meeting Monday and are supportive of the effort to convert the school to a charter, Stewart said.

Other School Board members have said that they would like to offer Loudoun’s smaller schools the chance to make the switch and remain a central part of their communities.

“There’s hope that if this goes through and works out that it might be something that the other community schools might consider,” Stewart said.

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.

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