City school board approves two new charters

The Baltimore school board approved applications this week to open the Creative City Public Charter School, an arts integration elementary school, and the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, a college preparatory program that starts in fourth grade.

The two schools were among four applications considered by the district in the last month. The school board rejected proposals for what would have been the district's first military academy and an all-girls elementary school.

The Creative City Public Charter School, a school created by a group of 25 parents with a range of backgrounds from across the city, was approved to begin operating in fall 2013 with kindergarten through second grade. The school, which will eventually expand to fifth grade and 280 students, is looking to move into a location in Northwest Baltimore.

The school will promote place-based learning, which would tie its curriculum to students' experiences as residents of Baltimore. The curriculum, hailed by the system's charter review committee, will also emphasize the arts and a cooperative environment for students and teachers.

"This really came from thinking about our own children's futures," said Caroline Harmon-Darrow, president of the charter school's board. "It's an incredibly exciting time, and we're ready to hit the ground running."

The Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys was approved to open in fall 2014 and will serve students in grades four through 12, with the goal of a 100 percent college completion rate for its students. It will focus on liberal arts.

The school will have a strong academic program, through partnerships with the University of Baltimore and the Friends School of Baltimore, which the school system identified as an asset in its application.

"It's a dream come true to be in a position to do this," said Jack Pannell, president of the Five Smooth Stones Foundation Inc., the nonprofit educational institution that will operate the charter. "And we have a vision that we can change the trajectory of the boys' lives in this city."

The approvals came after a notably more rigorous vetting process for charter applicants — the board denied all seven that applied last fall — and it was the second attempt for the four applicants Tuesday.

"These are some of the hardest decisions the board has to make, and they're very much a reflection of what we want to be, not just in the next year, but the next two to three years," said the board's president, Neil Duke.

The two new schools will bring the total number of charters to 35, many of which have opened under the administration of city schools CEO Andrés Alonso. He recently acknowledged that the large number of charter schools has become a financial burden for the district.

Last month, when the four schools made presentations in a public forum, they faced a tough crowd, including Alonso, who took issue with the charters' presentations suggesting that the system's public schools have failed certain groups of students.

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