New charter, transformation schools proposed in city in 2011

Seven charter schools and four transformation programs are being proposed to launch in Baltimore next year, many of which would focus on single-gender education and unique curriculums.

Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso is scheduled to make recommendations to the city school board Tuesday on which schools to set on track to open in fall 2011.

The applicants participated in a public presentation to school board members last week, where they pitched their visions for specialized learning and expanding school options to meet the needs of city students.

"Each group was very earnest and believed they had a strong case for a school," said David Stone, a school board member who once served as the school system's director for new and charter schools.

Since September, each proposed school and program has been evaluated in an application and vetting process. The board will have to approve Alonso's recommendations for the schools to be granted charter and transformation status. The city has 29 charter schools and 13 transformation schools, the majority of which have been opened during Alonso's three-year tenure.

Among the new elementary and middle schools vying to join the city's rapidly growing network are:

•Roots and Branches School, which would host kindergarten through fifth grades and integrate the arts into its curriculum;

•Monarch Academy, which would host kindergarten through eighth grades and include a project-based learning model;

•The Baltimore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy, a kindergarten through eighth-grade program that would look to relieve overcrowding in the many existing charter schools that offer a similar focus.

In addition, two single-sex charter high schools are being proposed to open next year. They are:

•E Teach Prep Academy, an all-male high school that would focus on national and international business;

•Rare Jewels Academy, a proposed all-girls school open to students in grades nine through 12, that would focus on building young women's self-esteem.

Two existing public schools are also applying for a charter license:

•Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, which would convert to the Futures Academy at Harlem Park and adopt an integrated, themed curriculum;

•Furman L. Templeton Elementary School, which would reinvent itself as Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy and focus on "preparing youth for the 21st century" by adopting a new curriculum that includes outfitting their elementary school students with netbooks.

Stone said that what stood out about this year's round of new applicants was that they drew from successful public and charter school models.

The potential operators of Roots and Branches School represent a group of parents and professionals from across the city, who drew some of their inspiration from the high-performing City Neighbors Charter School, which emphasizes a thematic approach to education. However, Roots and Branches will place a stronger emphasis on special education, its operators said.

Jennifer Shaud, one of the founders of the school, said the idea to pursue a charter school came when friends moved out of Baltimore because there were few options for their children and the district's city charter school waiting lists were too long.

"I'm not the kind of person who can sit around and wait and take a chance in my son's education," Shaud said. "Some people believe in a certain neighborhood. We believe in the city."

The potential operators of the Rare Jewels Academy said their school was inspired by Western High School, the city's historic all-girls school, in its mission of empowering and producing strong women.

"We noticed that Maryland focuses a lot on the males," said Dondra Davenport, who is applying to open Rare Jewels. "For the most part, females are left behind. They can be just as lost."

Joining charter school applicants are four transformation school proposals. The district has a goal of opening 24 new secondary schools by next year. Transformation programs, also called "secondary schools," serve grades six through 12 and offer a college-preparatory, career pathway or accelerator program.

This year's applicants include:

•Global Purpose Academy, a career-oriented school for boys;

•The Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, a single-gender college-preparatory school;

•The Nursing Academy of Baltimore, which would prepare students for nursing careers;

•Western High School, which is proposing to expand to accommodate middle-school grades in a college-preparatory curriculum.

Alonso said his recommendations to the board will likely be the ones made by the city schools Charter Advisory Panel, which scored each of the proposed programs by an extensive rubric.

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