Three hundred Prince George’s County middle school students will have the opportunity to experiment with individualized plans for a mix of in-person and online learning when College Park Academy Public Charter School, approved Thursday afternoon by the county school board, opens in fall 2013.
“Times have changed. The way students learn has changed,” said College Park City Councilwoman Denise Mitchell (Ward 4), who is also a founding board member of the charter school. “A blended learning model will be an example for years to come.”
The college-preparatory academy, a partnership between the city of College Park and the University of Maryland, College Park, will open with 100 students in each the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. One grade will be added per year until it extends through 12th grade, said Donna Wiseman, the dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Education and a member of the charter school’s founding board.
College of Education students could do internships or tutor at the school, college faculty want to participate in developing the curriculum and campus clubs could bring their activities to the academy to involve students, Wiseman said.
Students, who will be able to earn up to 60 college credits by the time they graduate from high school, will take some classes online — perhaps classes with lower demand, such as Chinese — and others in a more traditional classroom setting, Wiseman said.
“We really feel like teaching is going to be very, very different,” she said.
The blended model allows for greater flexibility in students’ schedules, said A. Duane Arbogast, the school system’s chief academic officer.
“It breaks the traditional model of schooling,” he said. “Online is really going to open up some opportunities for courses we don’t offer.”
Running the academy will cost the school system about $2.4 million, according to the resolutions presented to the board. In Maryland, charter schools, which tend to experiment with innovative curricula and have more flexibility with their daily schedules, receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional public schools, but they do not receive a facilities allotment. There are seven elementary and middle school charter schools currently operating in the county.
As a charter school, any Prince George’s County student can apply, and if the number of applications exceeds the number of open spots, students are admitted via a lottery system
Members of the school board also voted Thursday to accept the recommendation of schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. to deny charters to two other applicants, Fusion Public Charter School, which wanted to open a high school, and Summit Public Charter School. No applicant listed a specific location within the county for the schools.
Arbogast pointed to a strong governing structure, a detailed budget and a clear vision for staffing as some of the reasons College Park Academy was approved. Without these elements, the school system is not likely to OK a charter for a proposed school, he said.
The Fusion Public Charter, also known as Nexus Academy, board members will decide soon whether to appeal the county school board’s vote or to revise its application and reapply, Michael Wilmeth, a spokesman for Connections Learning, the Columbia-based digital learning company planning the school, wrote in an email to The Gazette.
“Fusion would have provided an innovative blended learning option for Prince George’s County students who are not thriving in the traditional high school environment ... gifted students who want more challenge, students at risk of dropping out ... teen parents, and any [student] who is seeking a more individualized approach to learning,” Wilmeth wrote.
Connections Learning also is working with the College Park Academy.
No contact information could be found for Summit Public Charter.