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Baltimore County school board grants final approval for Watershed Charter School to open in September

From left, Megan Shay, interim executive director of academics, Dr. Renard Adams, senior executive director of curriculum operations, Baltimore County Public Schools, leave the building that once housed John Paul Regional High School. The Catholic school closed in 2017. Watershed Public Charter School is opening in the space next fall. Shay and Adams toured the building.
From left, Megan Shay, interim executive director of academics, Dr. Renard Adams, senior executive director of curriculum operations, Baltimore County Public Schools, leave the building that once housed John Paul Regional High School. The Catholic school closed in 2017. Watershed Public Charter School is opening in the space next fall. Shay and Adams toured the building. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore County school board voted Tuesday night to give final approval to Watershed Charter School — the only charter school in the county — to open in September in the Woodlawn area.

Watershed is only the second charter school to be approved by the school board to operate since Maryland passed a law in 2003 allowing charter schools. Unlike other areas of the state where charters have proliferated, the school system has received few applications from individuals, nonprofits or for-profit charter operators to locate a school in the county.

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The school board approved the contract with the new charter school in a nearly unanimous vote and with no discussion.

Charter schools are privately run and publicly funded. Charter schools must employ public school teachers who are paid the same salary as county teachers. Anyone operating a charter school must get the approval of the local school board.

The charter school, which is designed to get children outside into an environment of streams, woods and fields, is opening despite initial difficulties in gaining county school board approval. The board denied Watershed a charter May 8, 2018, but that decision was reversed Sept. 25 by the Maryland State School Board after an appeal by Watershed.

The two founders — both parents with children who would attend the school — visualize students exploring a campus with an orchard, gardens and a chicken coop, as well as natural spaces. The school is part of a nature-based movement in education that places emphasis on the notion that children shouldn’t spend their days on a computer or stuck inside.

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