The Prince William County School Board voted last night to give a charter school applicant more time to revise its proposal, signaling that it might accept the application if some key questions are answered.
The board made clear in its 6 to 1 vote that approval of the Prince William Linguistic Academy is not guaranteed. However, board members spoke favorably of the plan, which would mingle students who are learning English with those who speak English but would like to learn French, Spanish or Arabic. The school would serve kindergarten through sixth grade.
If approved, the academy would be the first charter school in Northern Virginia. Eight such schools are open in the state, including in Richmond, Charlottesville, Roanoke and Hampton.
Thirty-five charter schools are operating in the District. Maryland has one, in Frederick County.
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Under Virginia law, they must follow many of the same rules as public schools, including hiring state-certified teachers and administering state Standards of Learning tests.
School Board members said all remaining legal and education issues cannot be worked out in time for the school to open in fall 2003, as supporters were proposing. But Samia Harris, a private school operator in the county who wants to run the charter school, took the board's vote as a victory.
"I really believe in the value of this particular school," said Harris, who runs Early Years Academy, a 150-student school in Dale City.
School Board member Steven Keen (Woodbridge), who made the motion to allow Harris and her board more time, said he believes the application is close to meeting the district's needs. County school staff members have raised concerns about staffing, the school site and the curriculum, among other things.
"If they do their job right, I certainly believe we are close enough to get a charter application in front of us," Keen said.
Joan Ferlazzo (Dumfries) was the only board member who voted against the proposal. John David Allen Sr. (Coles) was absent.
The linguistic academy would offer three hours a day in intensive English instruction to students learning the language. English-speaking students learning a second or third language would spend 90 minutes in English instruction and 90 minutes studying one or two foreign languages. The two groups, each making up half of the student body, would come together for their other subjects, according to the proposal.
The academy also would group students by ability instead of by grade level. Thus, a fifth-grader might learn math with a second-grader, while a fourth-grader might learn language arts geared to sixth-graders.