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Chesapeake Science Point cleared to move ahead with high school program

Officials from the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Hanover came to a school board meeting this month eager to discover whether their fledgling high school program would be allowed to continue.

Even before the meeting began, they must have known they had reason for optimism.

School board members had been boasting somewhat about the school — during an earlier presentation before the county delegation, where lawmakers suggested Anne Arundel should have a 13th high school, board members responded that a 13th high school already existed: Chesapeake Science Point.

Officials reiterated those sentiments during the recent school board meeting, approving interim Superintendent Mamie Perkins' recommendation to continue Chesapeake's high school program without modification. The decision ended the possibility that the school might revert to middle school-only status.

Chesapeake has operated as a county charter school since the 2005-2006 school year, and until two years ago contained grades six through 10.

The plan to add junior and senior years hit a snag in June 2012, when the school board recommended a three-year charter contract extension contingent upon the high school program being placed on probationary status for last year and this school year.

The board's recommendation was the culmination of contentious discussions about Chesapeake Science Point, which gained a reputation for high-performing students but has been dogged by concerns about administrative record-keeping and transparency in such areas as report cards, student transcripts and student selection.

The board also said at the time that it would dissolve the entire school if it didn't comply with terms of a revised charter.

Chesapeake expanded to grades 11 and 12 over the past two years, but with that probationary cloud over its head.

A school system review team visited in December, and in its report to the school board, it recommended Chesapeake "raise the bar on student achievement to a level that surpasses current student outcomes." Officials also sought more input from Chesapeake parents.

Even with the vote of confidence this month, school officials said a follow-up will be conducted as part of the charter renewal process next school year. The board will reconsider renewing Chesapeake's charter in February of next year.

For now, though, Chesapeake is on target to have its first graduating class — 30 seniors are among its 176 high school students.

"We now officially have 13 comprehensive high schools in Anne Arundel County," said board member Kevin Jackson. "This class graduating this year may be only 30 students, but they are an important 30 students."

Jackson added that recent improvements in communication have ushered in newfound rapport between the school system and the school.

"The culture does not appear to be so argumentative," he said. "I believe with the right folks on the bus in the right seats, and with the driver driving the bus correctly, we've come a long way."

The school system's review staff lauded Chesapeake's overall class sizes and said with its new school athletics, "a culture is beginning to take shape for the high school program."

The review said the school should continue to ensure its current curriculum is being implemented to align with Common Core standards.

Chesapeake Principal Ilker Gurbuz praised the school board's decision, saying, "I had no doubt about this two years ago. ... At the time, we didn't have seniors, and there were a lot of questions as to whether they were going to graduate successfully and meet all the requirements.

"When [the site review team] came out, I think they saw the strength of the program as well as looked at our student data."

The students, Gurbuz said, "were already meeting the graduation requirements. [The school] proved itself, and now we're ready to go."

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