Teachers propose Fairfax charter school

Maryland has more than 50. Virginia has just four. And Fairfax County has none at all. But if a group of area educators is successful in their bid to the state Board of Education, the county could become home to Northern Virginia's first charter school by 2013.

The teachers and administrators behind the proposed Fairfax Leadership Academy -- almost all current employees of Fairfax County Public Schools -- are set to submit their charter school application to the education board within the next week. The schools's aim, backers say, is to provide at-risk students in Fairfax with resources they might have trouble accessing at a typical public school, like year-long classes, longer school days and specialized career and college-prep counseling.

"To be honest, a lot of programs in Fairfax exist like that. But it's not trickling down to the at-risk kids. It's used by the kids who are already excelling," said Eric Welch, a J.E.B. Stuart High School social studies teacher who would be the charter school's executive director.

Welch and his partners came up with the idea for a charter school about a year and a half ago and have been talking to the Fairfax County School Board, he said. While it's the state's job to determine whether a proposed charter school meets its eligibility requirements, local school boards have the final say on charter schools in their districts. State law requires all charter schools be under a local board's jurisdiction.

It's too soon to say whether Fairfax's school board will approve Welch's application. Upcoming county elections mean the board could be radically different by the time the Fairfax Leadership Academy appears on its agenda. But current school board members said they're open to the idea of a charter school in the county.

"We're very excited about the possibility of the charter school, at least in terms of it exploring some more," said board member Patricia Reed, in whose district the school would be. "We're a little concerned because people don't have much experience with charter schools in this area, so a lot of it will be about educating and answering questions."

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