Paul Junior High School in Northwest will be the first city school to leave the public system and convert to an independent charter school, officials announced yesterday.

A proposal by Paul administrators and teachers, along with applications by two other groups, was approved by the D.C. Public Charter School Board. The three schools will open in September 2000. The District now has 27 charter schools--which operate with public money but are independent from the rules and regulations of the central school administration.

Paul first applied for charter status to the D.C. Public Charter School Board two years ago. In order to apply, school officials had to collect signatures from two-thirds of the parents of the 730 seventh- through ninth-grade students and from two-thirds of faculty members.

Paul's application was rejected twice, last year because it lacked sufficient signatures. But yesterday, the Public Charter School Board announced its approval of Paul's plan, along with an application by Sasha Bruce Youthwork Inc. to create the Sasha Bruce Public Charter School and a proposal by a group of professionals to open the Washington Public Charter School of Academic Excellence in Ward 8.

"I think what the message to the public school system ought to be is that until parents believe that their children are getting the kind of education they need, we will continue to look for alternatives," said Virginia Walden, executive director of the nonprofit D.C. Parents for School Choice.

The conversion of Paul "means becoming a charter school is appealing to many people involved in the system," said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Public Schools.

Principal Cecile Middleton's plan for Paul is to offer a "21st Century Learning Center" in partnership with the consulting firm Booz-Allen and Hamilton, the Kennedy Center and the National Institute of Mental Health. An official familiar with Paul's charter school application said the school will offer a demanding academic program, incorporate the arts into the overall curriculum and group children by ability, said Shirley Monastra, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Resource Center.

The Sasha Bruce Public Charter School will enroll grades six to 12 and will feature the Expeditionary Learning program, based on the principles of Outward Bound, which has garnered significant results at a number of sites since it was introduced in 1993.

The Washington Public Charter School of Academic Excellence was conceived by a group of parents, educators and professionals dedicated to improving the quality of education available to Ward 8 students, Monastra said.

The 500-student school, for kindergarten through fifth grade, will be managed by Advantage Schools Inc., a Boston-based for-profit management company. Its core curriculum will be based on the Direct Instruction approach, which provides teachers with a daily script for instruction, and the school will expand each year by a grade until it reaches 12th grade.