Saturday, February 16, 2013
As Support Fades, Gulen proposed school in Loudoun County, Virginia makes changes to application
Mustafa Sahin and Tiffany Rad, members of the founding board of the proposed Loudoun Math & IT Academy charter school, listen during a recent School Board work session. Last week, Rad presented part of the school’s IT curriculum.
As Support Fades, Charter School Introduces IT Curriculum
Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 5:30 pm
The applicants seeking to operate the Loudoun Math & IT Academy as Loudoun’s first charter school offered the first glimpse of its academic program last week, five months after the application was first presented to the School Board.
In a work session with School Board members last Thursday, Ali Gokce, Fatih Kandil and Tiffany Rad, the Loudoun County parents behind the application, promised a middle and high school curriculum with rigorous information technology courses.
Rad, a cyber security engineer who teaches a university course on the subject, was brought onto the charter’s founding board in November to head up its academic program.
“I want to tell you what will make this school special,” Rad told School Board members. She noted Loudoun County Public Schools already has the Academy of Science, which emphasizes science, and C.S. Monroe Technology Center, which teaches computer programming. “But this is going to be different.”
She told the School Board members that the academy, if approved, would offer three tracks: information security, networks and computer engineering, or programming.
Most of the courses will be fairly accelerated, she added. “The students we anticipate coming to this school are students who have exceptional skills with computers, with networks.”
The students would graduate with certifications that can secure them high-paying jobs right out of high school, or put them ahead of many of their peers in college, she said.
Rad was one of about five people who spoke during a public hearing held by the School Board’s select charter school committee in November about the need for qualified employees in the information security field.
“It’s not that [these courses] are extremely technical or difficult,” Rad told board members last Thursday. “They’re just not taught yet at the high school level, but I think they will be soon.”
School Board Vice Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) expressed concern that the charter’s curriculum would create a gap between advanced students and those who know little about computers, because students who attend the school would be chosen on a lottery system.
“You can’t assume anything,” she said, noting that enrollment is open to every student, including special education students. “You may have a student who knows nothing about computers. You may have students who don’t have computers in their homes.”
Since the review committee meetings began in October and November, there has been little public support for the charter school. Just four people spoke during a public hearing on the matter held by the School Board last Tuesday, and all of them voiced opposition to the application.
Priscilla Godfrey, former School Board member, pointed to the application’s lack of curriculum and funding details, reasons the select charter school committee cited for recommending denial of the application.
“You must think carefully before taking this risk,” Godfrey said. “What is the risk of waiting for a better, more thorough application?”
Kirsten Langhorne, founding member of the political action committee Educate Loudoun, said she was encouraged to see the School Board members, most of whom were new to the dais last year, adopt a new policy on charter schools that allowed for more time to vet applications.
But her concern is that others who wanting to start a charter school in Loudoun would be discouraged if the School Board follows its committee’s recommendation and denies the Loudoun Math & IT Academy application.
“It could discourage future applicants or the public,” she said. “I think that’s one thing they need to communicate is that they really are still open to new ideas.”
Educate Loudoun supports school choice, including charter schools, but has not backed one particular charter application. The group hosted a forum on the pros of charter schools in Ashburn last April when the Loudoun Math & IT Academy had just gone public.
Telos CEO John Wood, also a founding member of Educate Loudoun, would like to see the Loudoun Math & IT Academy as another option in the county for students who do not make it into an extremely competitive facility like the Academy of Science or Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
And if the School Board is indeed open to charter schools, Wood added, it should task school system senior staff with establishing a plan to open a charter in Loudoun no later than 2014 or 2015.
“The School Board is falling into the trap of doing school the traditional way, and it’d be nice to see them trying to do some experiments,” he said. “I think school choice provides competition, and with competition you get innovation, and with innovation you get improved outcomes, and improved outcomes are good for our kids.”
The School Board will hold its final public hearing on the Loudoun Math & IT Academy application at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the School Administration Building, 21000 Education Ct. in Broadlands. The board is scheduled to vote on the application Feb. 26.