There is much to admire about the educational leaders working to bring the Fairfax Leadership Academy (FLA) to a much-in-need part of the county. Eric Wolf, Executive Director, is currently Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program coordinator at Stuart High School. AVID is a "data-driven program" with a mission to "close the at-risk and minority student acheivement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society." According to Eric's bio, the Stuart High School AVID program had a 99% success rate getting students into two or four year colleges.
Shawn DeRose and Anthony Terrell, Vice Chairs, are experienced Fairfax County Public School administrators. Shawn is Director of Student Activities at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Terrell is Assistant Principal at Fairfax High School. Terrell is also a former Naval officer having served during Desert Storm and the Iraq war.
These three educators and the thirteen FLA board members have a "strong commitment to the academic and personal growth of each student so they will attend and succeed in a post-secondary institution." This committment to the at-risk and minority students in the eastern part of Fairfax County includes, among other features:
- A 206 day academic calendar which is considered a full-year calendar. The regular school year is 183 days long.
- An eight hour extended day schedule that allows for a "modified block 8 period schedule. A regular school day is seven hours and seven periods long.
- Small secondary school for grade 7 through 12, with no more than 75 students per grade level.
- "Dual enrollment" classes with Northern Virginia Community College and AVID program.
How is this possible? FLA, if approved by the school board this fall, will be FCPS's first charter school and will open its doors to 7th and 8th grade students September 2013. Virginia allows school districts to create public charter schools that are funded by the school district based on an average cost per student as well as a public and private grants. The current FCPS average cost per pupil is $13,654, however FLA will receive $10,432 per student. Factoring in special education funding, free-reduced meals funding, English for Speakers of Other Languages funding, Federal Charter School Start Up Grant and foundation and business partnerships the real cost per pupil could exceed $16,000. I'll note that after year 2 the Federal grant dries up which means that foundation and business partnerships will have to make up the difference.
FLA will be staffed by FCPS teachers and administrators. This is very good news for those students who are fortunate enough to enroll in FLA. (Also pretty good news for the faculty who may have more flexibility in how they teach.)
Students from all over the county will be allowed to apply to FLA. Should there be more than 75 applicants per class, students will be selected by lottery. That said, FLA leadership will market the school to the at-risk students in the Annandale, Bailey's Crossroads and Falls Church areas of Fairfax County.
By attending FLA, these students will give up a few regular school perks: No varsity sports; no summer vacation; and a longer school day.
I hope the school board has the good sense to grant FLA a charter this October (after FCPS staff and community input). FLA promises to "serve as a model for other FCPS schools to implement similar innovative strategies." This is something our students and their families sorely need. Not only will they be better for FLA, but the whole county will benefit.
Greg Brandon is Vice President, Communications for the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, Communications Chair for the Virginia PTA and a member of the Fairfax Education Coalition. The opinions expressed here are his own. Greg expresses his opinions about public K-12 education on most Thursdays.