Local: Education

D.C. approves four new charter schools

Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

Four new charter schools -- including the District's first Hebrew-immersion program -- have been approved to open in 2013, on top of four new schools opening their doors this fall.

On the menu: an adult-education school meant to prepare students for community college; an early childhood program with an extended day and a lengthened school year; a college-prep program; and an unusual Hebrew language-immersion school intended to serve preschoolers through eighth-graders. The D.C. Public Charter School Board also voted to allow successful charter operator KIPP DC to open another campus next year.

KIPP also is opening a new campus at the end of the summer, in addition to the four new charter schools the School Board approved last April to open for the 2012-2013 school year.

The District has seen a rapid expansion of charter schools, which serve 41 percent of the city's public school students; nationally, that rate is only topped by New Orleans. Enrollment in D.C. charters grew 8 percent this school year, atop similar and sometimes higher increases in the last decade.

And these students' selection is about to grow, with options as diverse as Hebrew immersion.

"It's very unique," said Skip McKoy, vice chairman of the Charter School Board. "The Hebrew language offers an opportunity for students to learn another language, and through the medium would teach kids about a different part of the world that a lot of kids who haven't been to Israel don't know about."

Called Sela -- Hebrew for "rock" -- the school is looking to settle in Ward 1, 4 or 5. Its leaders and the board acknowledge that it's not a growing language like Chinese or Spanish, but say that's not the point.

"In my view you don't learn a foreign language to fill out a business application," said McKoy, who also praised Sela's academic and financial plan.

Among the seven rejected applications was an Arabic-immersion program that wasn't fully thought out, charter spokeswoman Audrey Williams said.

As more charters have opened, the Board has closed underperforming schools. Three charters were revoked or surrendered last year, while two charter operators closed their high school campuses.

Currently, nearly 32,000 students are enrolled in 53 charter schools on 98 campuses in the District.

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