Charter school advocates draw fire in Northern Virginia

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Officials backing what would be Northern Virginia's first public charter school defended their proposal Tuesday amid opposition from parents who fear the venture would take education funding from their children's schools.

Eric Welch, executive director of the Fairfax Leadership Academy, told his critics that the driving force behind the school's proposal was eliminating the achievement gap among students, not starting a competition. He denied claims by critics that the school would do nothing more than imitate the curriculum of nearby schools and increase traffic.

"It's not about the need for a charter school, but the needs of our students," Welch said at the first hearing before the Fairfax County School Board. "You can call the school whatever you want. ... It doesn't matter. What matters are the students who need this school and who we want to help be successful."

Many of those leading the charge to relocate -- or even eliminate -- the school were parents of Falls Church High School students who fear the charter school will take funding and students away from their own kids' school.

Lynn Petrazzuolo, president-elect of the Falls Church High School Parent, Teacher and Student Association, said the school would only be duplicating the services of Falls Church High School, which already boasts a strong program for struggling students.

"What [officials have] presented to the School Board are plans to develop a school that provides the same programs as the high school closest to their proposed location," she said. "I don't believe any of [the speakers] are from Falls Church, know what we have to offer or has even bothered to ask for our input."

Resident Vince Forcier said his main concern with the school is its location, as it will go along Graham Road and Route 50, "one of the most dangerous intersections in Fairfax County, particularly for pedestrians."

The proposed academy, backed by many Fairfax County teachers and state lawmakers, will be built at the current Graham Road Elementary School site, roughly one mile from Falls Church High School.

The school, designed to help those in danger of failing or dropping out of school, has been a source of contention among residents since January. State officials unanimously recommended the school earlier this year, but a committee comprised of Fairfax school officials rejected it last month.

Still, many teachers turned out to support the school.

"They are doing this because they care about their students and feel they know how to make a difference for them," said Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. "These people are my heroes."

The School Board is expected to vote on the proposal on Oct. 25.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner