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A new charter school may be on the way to College Park as part of a University of Maryland effort to help prepare Prince George’s County students for college.
Wallace D. Loh, who has been president of the College Park campus since November, said the school — which would provide middle- and high-school students with college-level courses — will put more students on the path to higher education and strengthen ties between the university and the community.
The College Park Academy, which is now in preliminary planning stages, would be a partnership between the university, the city of College Park and Prince George's County Public Schools. Students would take core classes taught by county school system teachers as well as general education classes taught by university professors to qualify for college credit.
The school would be part of an overall plan to turn College Park in to a top-tier college town. Providing a strong charter school that prepares students for higher-level learning would also boost the image of county schools and encourage university faculty and staff to relocate to the area, Loh told The Gazette editorial board on Aug. 11.
Many on his staff choose to live outside the county because of perceptions of high crime and poor school performance, Loh said.
“We have to address the issue of enhancing public education,” Loh said of attracting residents.
Donna Wiseman, dean of the University's College of Education and chairwoman of a task force established in June to begin planning the school, said the idea of a charter school has been discussed for years, but began moving forward recently with Loh’s encouragement.
"It wouldn't necessarily be a school that's total bricks and mortar," Wiseman said, explaining that computer technology would allow some courses to be taught online.
Wiseman stressed that currently the school is "just the beginning of an idea." Details such as the cost, financing, size and site of the school, as well the curriculum and timeline for completion, have not yet been established, she said.
The school could also be a tool to research best practices for teaching and learning, she said.
The task force consists of about eight people, including representatives from county schools, the city of College Park, the school board and state Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park.
"The potential is very great for kids across Prince George's County as well as for the university," Rosapepe said. "If it's done right, it provides a world-class opportunity for student from everywhere in the county."
Since the school would be a charter school, the exact nature of the partnership between the university, county schools and the city and county governments will need to be defined, Wiseman said.
Charter schools, which receive public money but are allowed some creativity and freedom to depart from regulations and statutes that govern other public schools, generally produce mixed results for student achievement, according to A. Duane Arbogast, chief academic officer for Prince George's County Public Schools.
He added that schools formed by people with good intentions but little experience in education can be unsuccessful. Those that are most effective are the schools that focus on maximizing engagement between teachers and students, Arbogast said.
There are currently seven charter schools in Prince George’s County. The performance of charters in the county has been varied, not unlike the performance of regular public schools, Arbogast said, citing high achievement figures at schools such as Imagine Foundations Public Charter School but difficulties at Possibility Prep Public Charter School, both in Upper Marlboro. Possibility Prep had its charter revoked by the school board over low enrollment and concerns about whether its curriculum had been fully implemented.