Before the Loudoun County School Board can vote on whether to approve a charter school in Middleburg, it may receive a charter application for a second western Loudoun school.
The parents and teachers at Hillsboro Elementary School sent a letter to the School Board and Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick this month stating they were preparing an application to convert one of the county’s oldest schools into a charter school.
They recently formed the Hillsboro Charter Committee, made up of both parents and Hillsboro teachers, and expect to formally submit a charter application in late spring or early summer.
“It is our goal to move our school to a new level, creating a top-flight charter institution that leverages its talented and dedicated community to benefit children across Loudoun County,” the Hillsboro Charter Committee letter states.
Committee members are working on curriculum for what the school’s teachers call the “encounter model,” which gets students out of their desk as much as possible and involved in hands-on projects. A Hillsboro parent said the program also would allow each student to move through the curriculum at his or her pace.
The applicants’ hope is that the school’s specialized offerings would help bolster the school’s enrollment, which sits at 62 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
The Hillsboro Charter Committee’s letter made it clear the move to a charter is in response to comments made by School Board members as they searched for budget savings. It states, “With the School Board now considering closing down unique places of learning such as Hillsboro Elementary, we feel compelled to act.”
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and member Jeff Morse (Dulles), who both represent some of the county’s most crowded schools, have publicly recommended that two schools in the county that suffer dwindling enrollment—Middleburg and Hillsboro—should explore charter options or the board would consider closing them.
The majority of the School Board, including Hornberger and Morse, has voiced support for the Middleburg charter application, which is now under review by a committee of the board.
Morse said during a September meeting, “The success of this school could be mirrored across the county.”
However, a state law at is stands poses a hurdle for Loudoun to operate more than one charter school.
Even as the majority of board members view the option of charter schools favorably, the Virginia Code requires that 50 percent of a school district’s charter schools serve students at risk of not succeeding in school. According to the law, “at-risk students” include those who have a physical, emotional, intellectual, socioeconomic or cultural risk factor, of which Loudoun County, one of the nation’s wealthiest, has few.
School Board members raised this concern with the delegates and senators who represent Loudoun County during the General Assembly annual Legislative Breakfast Dec. 5.
Hornberger said the School Board is not trying to skirt any law that is meant to help at-risk students, but the requirement would most likely mean Loudoun can only operate one charter school.
Making that change is part of the School Board’s list of legislative recommendations. Del. Tom Rust (R-86), who serves on the House Education Committee, said Thursday he was not aware of any bill that aimed to amend that law. Lawmakers have until Jan. 8 to submit their bills for the 2014 session.