Roland Park Country School has received permission from the Baltimore City Public Schools to open a public charter school for middle school girls in 2015.
Roland Park Country, a girls school, is believed to be the first private school in the nation to win approval for a public charter school, although several schools in Hawaii are trying, Roland Park Country School spokeswoman Nancy Mugele said.
The charter school, to be named for Lillie May Carroll Jackson, a civil rights pioneer and early leader of the NAACP in Baltimore, is scheduled to open in fall 2015. No location has been chosen. Roland Park Country School officials said they are looking for a site within "reasonable proximity" to their Roland Avenue campus, possibly in Remington, Waverly or the Park Heights area.
Officials said they want a diverse socio-economic student body, not to exceed 288 fifth-through-eighth-graders, a number they said was chosen to keep the school small, but large enough to be "sustainable" economically.
The public school system confirmed Nov. 22 that it approved the charter school in June, initially for the 2014-15 school year, but granted a year delay.
"The application demonstrated a clear purpose and vision, strong knowledge about academics and documented community support," school system spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said in an email.
Roland Park Country School's head of school, Jean Waller Brune is scheduled to speak about the charter school at two national conventions in February 2014 — to the National Association of Independent Schools meeting in Orlando, Fla., and to the National Coalition of Girls Schools meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. Mugele said.
A principal is expected to be named next year and a board of directors has already been chosen, chaired by Monica Mitchell, 33, a 1998 Roland Park Country School graduate and a Wells Fargo vice president, who is active in the affairs of the private school.
"I like to say I never took my uniform off," said Mitchell, of Gwynn Oak.
Also leading the effort is Carla Spawn-van Berkum, associate head of school for Roland Park Country. She said choosing a location is important because, "The area where we land needs to want us," and needs to be on major transportation lines.
She said the goal is to reach out to neighborhood families in the area that is chosen, but stressed, "By definition, we are a citywide (charter) school."
The board plans to hire an executive director in the spring and a principal by July.
The public school system will fund the school, but the board of directors will be responsible for on-site management and curriculum, officials said.
The Kennedy Krieger Institute's special education department will work closely with the board to teach things such as record-keeping, and will provide some personnel initially. Also providing support will be Expeditionary Learning, a nonprofit program based in New York that will provide professional development, curriculum writing help and new school startup support.
A theme of the charter school will be engaging students in expedition-based projects such as learning about Baltimore through the eyes of Lillian May Carroll Jackson, Spawn-van Berkum said.
Starting a charter school has been in the planning for four years and began with a meeting at which then-schools CEO Andres Alonso challenged private school leaders to help public schools.
"We see this as part of something bigger," Spawn-van Berkum said. "We are part of the community. We have a vested interest in the community."
She and Mugele said they don't know of any other local schools that are trying to start a charter school, but that Peter Metsopoulos, an upper school English teacher at the Bryn Mawr School for Girls, is on the board of the planned charter school.
They also said other area schools have long been involved with public schools through the Middle Grades Partnership and other programs. Roland Park Country School, for example, does "Growing Girls and Gardens," a summer enrichment program at Collington Square Elementary/Middle School in east Baltimore.
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Spawn-van Berkum said nationally, other schools have contacted Roland Park Country School to find out about the charter school initiative. Officials hope the model "catches on," she said, adding, "I suspect folks are going to see how it works."