In its budget proposal for the next fiscal year, the Anne Arundel County school system has recommended allotting $3.5 million to fund the expansion of its two charter schools.
That includes adding an 11th grade in August at Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Hanover. Chesapeake Science Point officials say the grade will likely be composed solely of the school's 10th-grade class, which was added last fall.
"We're not going to add a big 11th grade; as a matter of fact, we prefer not to bring in outside students. We prefer to develop them," Chesapeake Science Point governing board president Spear Lancaster said recently. He added that the school's current 10th-grade class has about 25 to 30 students.
Chesapeake Science Point began with middle-school classes in 2005. Despite being beset with academic recordkeeping problems that landed it on probation a year later, it was allowed to expand through the ninth grade beginning in 2010.
Lancaster said that future high school classes will be larger. "Our current ninth grade, of which we purposely brought in a lot of new sixth-graders a few years ago, will be moving up, and then you're talking about 75 to 100 students per class instead of 25 to 30," said Lancaster.
The other charter school the county school system wants money for is Monarch Academy in Glen Burnie, which has plans to add fourth and eighth grades.
The charter school expansions were among the highlights in the $986.2 million operating budget proposal recommended in December by schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell for fiscal year 2013. The budget recommendation also requests authority to fill 62 classroom teaching positions and fully funds negotiated agreements.
Chesapeake Science Point's 11th grade, Lancaster said, will be geared toward accomplishing the school's aim to ensure that students graduate with 32 to 35 credits, more than the state requires.
"We already have the curriculum out, and it's an advanced curriculum, focusing highly on math and science, but just as much focusing on language arts," said Lancaster. "They will have, as we've had in the past, a very, very tough curriculum. We will grade tough.
"We are looking forward to turning out students that will graduate with more credits than the state average, but we're also looking forward to turning out students that can go to the community college and get a year's credits, or at the very least be able to be put into advanced classes without taking remedial courses," said Lancaster.
Construction will soon begin on the school's 9,500-square-foot gymnasium. Ben Karaduman, president and CEO of Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, the charter holder of Chesapeake Science Point, said that groundbreaking for the gym will be in February, and the facility should be completed before the start of the next school year.
Lancaster said that with the new gym, the school hopes to expand its 40 clubs for the new grade. But he said that though the school will add a senior class two years from now, it likely will not add activities such as band or football.
"I don't like to use the word 'never,' but we don't want our school to get more than, say, at the maximum, 600 students," Lancaster said. "We're going to specialize in trying to attract students that are academically and goal oriented and to keep it to high standards.
"We seem to think that the factory model of schools has its place and has certain advantages, but we don't think that's the kind of climate that will allow you to interact personally with the students and maximize their potential."
Karaduman, who took over as president/CEO in the fall, acknowledged that the school's efforts to expand have in the past have prompted its share of detractors, many of whom have wondered whether it is moving too fast. But he said that recent strides, particularly the academic success of its students — which include sixth-graders excelling in a national standardized test considered a precursor to college entrance exams — show the school is moving in the right direction.
"There were some difficulties, but they've made a lot of progress," Karaduman said.
"All the STEM and other choice programs were created after CSP was open, and it was the beginning of a new era in the county," he added. "On the other hand, there have been a lot of firsts happening at CPS. In the charter business, we say that we are here to make a difference, and in order to make a difference we have to be different."
The public can comment on the proposed budget at two public hearings: on Jan. 10 at Old Mill High School, 600 Patriot Lane, in Millersville, and on Jan. 12 in the board room of the Carol Sheffey Parham Building, 2644 Riva Road, in Annapolis. Both hearings will begin at 7 p.m.
The county school board is expected to finalize a budget recommendation in mid-February before sending it to the county executive, who will deliver his budget proposal to the County Council the next month.