Montgomery County again shoots down charter schools

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Ashley Del Sole, spokeswoman for one of the schools, Global Garden Public Charter School, did not attend the meeting. She did attend the meeting. This version has been corrected.

Montgomery County’s school board again swatted down the applications for what would be the county’s first two charter schools on Monday night.

But the quest isn’t over yet. Despite a strongly worded memo written by the board president, organizers of at least one of the programs plan to appeal to the state in hopes of securing an alternative public-education option in one of the country’s highest-performing districts.

In the six-page letter he read to his colleagues, school board President Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring) called the proposals short on specifics and shallow in educational strategy.

“The board takes very seriously its obligation to hold applicants accountable for demonstrating both their understanding of and ability to meet the needs of all students,’’ Barclay read, before calling the two applications “unacceptable.’’

The eight-member board later voted unanimously to reject the expansion of a Montessori program at Crossway Community in Kensington, and 6 to 2 to turn down the Global Garden Public Charter School, a K-8 program that would emphasize foreign languages. Both were first rejected in June.

Monday night’s votes were the latest development in a year-long struggle to establish charter schools in the state’s largest school district. Despite the strong foothold the special programs have  in the District, where nearly 40 percent of public schools are charters, the idea has yet to take root in Montgomery.

After the first rejection of the charter school applications, the groups appealed to the State Board of Education. The state seemingly sided with them, calling the county’s decision “vague” and seeking specific reasons for the board’s denials.

Ashley Del Sole, spokeswoman for Global Garden, wasn’t pleased with the review process, either. She said she had little contact with county staff, who she said showed little interest in the application.

“Our understanding was they were to give us some sort of substantial feedback, so we could cure any deficiencies,’’ Del Sole said before the meeting. “Instead, they fired off a letter.’’

Barclay’s letter cites specific problems with each school. He chided the Crossway application because it sought to hire teachers without state certification, and said it didn’t adequately describe expectations for students in the youngest grades.

According to Barclay’s memo, Global Garden’s application also relied too heavily on “ineffective” drills in reading and math skills. It also didn’t propose a facility large enough to house its proposed 420 students, he wrote.

Board members said they would help both sets of applicants craft better proposals, a move that Superintendent Jerry D. Weast supported.

“We are trying to help them be successful,” Weast said at the meeting.

Del Sole said her group is lobbying for state legislation that would standardize charter school approval in the state, a process she says relies too heavily on the whims of county boards. She also plans to appeal to the state again, in hopes it will mandate that the county approve the application.

“I think there’s a thought that if MCPS allows charter schools in the system, that it indicates the school system is failure,’’ Del Sole said. “But it only shows that it’s a place to allow for innovation and potential new ways of educating children.”

Robert Samuels writes for the Post’s social issues team. In Maryland, he focuses on issues affecting low-income children and families. He also covers life in the District.
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